A major development, concerning the management of negotiations to create a trust fund to compensate people made sick by asbestos exposure, brings mediation to the national legislative process. Unable to agree on the terms for creating the trust fund, U.S. Senate leaders have agreed to enter mediation. A federal judge, Judge Edward Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, is mediating.

In agreeing to participate in the mediation, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Minority Leader, wrote the following to Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Majority Leader: “An inclusive approach holds the best promise for moving toward a consensus solution of this very contentious and consequential issue.”

The legislation is needed, advocates for victims and insurers agree, as a wave of lawsuits clog the country’s courthouses. Roughly 730,000 asbestos claims have been filed, including over 110,000 last year, according to a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice (reported in The Star Ledger, 4/23/04, pg.6). The cost of the litigation is approximately $70 billion and almost 70 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection under the weight of the lawsuits. The legislation, under consideration, aimed to create a trust fund financed by businesses and insurance companies. Officials from both political parties agree that something needs to be done to improve the system but they disagree on what to provide, in structure and financial resources.

The clear and pressing need for a resolution motivates the parties, and, certainly, the agreement to engage in mediation to reach a legislative compromise is a new and intriguing turn in the dispute resolution field.