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Minnesota governor vetoes asbestos bill


Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed legislation that would have shielded a Philadelphia manufacturer from corporate liability in asbestos lawsuits.


The Innocent Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act would have established limits on legal claims that result from corporate mergers or consolidations. The legislation was sought by Crown Holdings Inc., which says it has already spent $700 million on asbestos litigation and has 50,000 claims pending, potentially worth another $250 million or more.


Crown never manufactured asbestos-containing products, but merged in 1966 with another firm, Mundet Cork, that once made insulation containing asbestos.


The Minnesota bill reflects model legislation drawn up by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-friendly non-profit. ALEC says its proposed legislation addresses “the injustice” of holding one corporation liable for lawsuits that are attributable to the actions of a “dissolved predecessor.”


ALEC has succeeded in winning similar corporate protections in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming. A bill passed earlier this month in Idaho, if signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, will limit Crown’s asbestos-related liabilities to the fair market value of Mundet’s gross assets, circa 1966 — effectively ending the prospects of big payouts in the future.


In Minnesota and elsewhere, advocates for victims of asbestos-related illness and plaintiff’s attorneys staunchly opposed the legislation, which they said would harm victims and set a dangerous precedent.


The World Health organization estimates that more than 107, 000 people worldwide die each year from asbestos-related disease, largely due to exposure on the job. More than 2,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure.


In his veto letter, Dayton wrote, “Minnesotans should expect fairness in the courtroom and demand legislation that does not change the course of litigation when potential injuries are known to exist. Having met with many Minnesota families and workers who have suffered from deadly asbestos-related illnesses, I will not allow that outcome.”