NEW YORK -- The trust set up by Manville Corp. to compensate victims of asbestos poisoning, out of cash and unable to pay seriously ill people for decades, announced a plan yesterday for a quick settlement of tens of thousands of asbestos personal injury cases.
Under the proposal, Manville Corp. would provide an additional $520 million over seven years to the trust and lift restrictions on the trust's ability to sell a $1.8 billion Manville bond.
In addition, fees for plaintiffs' lawyers, which had consumed tens of millions of dollars, would be cut to a maximum of 25 percent of what their clients recover.
The proposal would give priority to the more seriously ill people -- an estimated 23,000 who have cancer and other debilitating diseases -- over those with less severe asbestos-related ailments, who would get nothing in the first year.
Up to 37,500 of the less severely ill could receive a maximum of $2,000 in the second year of the plan.
If, as expected, the plan is approved by a U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Brooklyn, it would remove more than 90,000 cases from hundreds of state and federal courts around the nation and slash the legal fees that have taken most of its available funds. This would be accomplished by combining all the cases against the trust into a single class action.
The Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust has become a symbol of the legal difficulties facing many former asbestos makers and their victims.
Manville, for decades the nation's leading producer of asbestosproducts, set the trust up two years ago to enable the company to rise out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
Experts said yesterday that the new plan marked a significant development in the law governing product liability and was likely to provide a precedent for the handling of asbestos cases, which are clogging many courts across the nation.