Legislation & Litigation

Minnesota Governor Vetoes Legislation That Would Have Restricted Asbestos Liability Claims

Written By:
Apr 12, 2012
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
April 12, 2012

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton did what his counterparts in other states were afraid to do — stand up to big business and its lobbying efforts — and vetoed legislation this week that would have reduced the liability of companies capitalizing on past use of asbestos.

Dayton vetoed Senate Bill 1236, which had passed by a narrow margin and originally was drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business, anti-labor group already has pushed through similar legislation in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Mississippi, where governors failed to protect victims of asbestos-related diseases.

“The true impact of this legislation should not go without comment,” Dayton wrote in his strongly worded veto. “I opposed efforts in the United States Senate to limit exposure of asbestos manufacturers, and to shift the cost of these injuries to taxpayers and others.”

According to Minnpost.com, it was the seventh bill that Dayton vetoed in this legislative session that was drafted by ALEC, and all were designed to limit the rights of individuals in favor of business.

The most recent bill was referred to as “The Innocent Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act.” It would have protected companies from liability if they merged with, or bought, other companies still facing asbestos issues. It would have been a blow to individuals seeking compensation from long-ago exposure to asbestos.

Victim advocate groups were adamantly opposed to the bill, citing the long latency period (10-50 years) between an exposure to asbestos and the most serious asbestos-related diseases.

An exposure to asbestos fibers can cause a wide-range of long-term health issues, including mesothelioma cancer, which has no cure.

In Minnesota, the Bill would have greatly benefited — and was pushed by — Crown Holdings, Inc., which has Crown, Cork and Seal.  Crown, which is based in Philadelphia, has operations in 41 countries and net sales of $8.6 billion. It has three plants in Minnesota and is a leading supplier of packaging products for consumer marketing  companies around the world.

Crown already has paid out an estimated $700 million from asbestos-related liability claims. It believed the law would have reduced its future liability in Minnesota, much like it has done in other states.

Crown actually never made asbestos-related products, but it acquired Mundet Cork Corporation for $7 million in 1963 to obtain its bottle cap business. It also agreed to obtain all of its assets — and all of its liabilities. Among those liabilities were asbestos-related lawsuits caused by the asbestos insulation products it previously produced.

Proponents of the legislation believe the current laws protecting individual rights are outdated. The Senate Bill passed by a 34-27 margin. The House Bill 1418 passed counterpart bill passed 69-56.

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