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ND Law Change Prompts Urgency in Asbestos Screenings

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021   

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Opponents of a new North Dakota law, which places restrictions on suing companies over asbestos exposure, say time is running out for screenings ahead of the changes.

The new law goes into effect August 1, but labor unions and veterans groups urged anyone who thinks they were exposed to asbestos should schedule a screening before July 15.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, said a screening before the deadline would give them enough time to be covered under the old statute if they feel they have a legal case, allowing court proceedings to take shape if needed.

He added it will be a whole new ballgame this fall.

"You basically can't sue unless you have cancer now," Larson pointed out. "But it also put a whole bunch of procedural roadblocks in front of those people to make it almost impossible for them to get any kind of compensation while they're still alive."

Supporters of the law say it will weed out fraudulent claims, and push those who are able to demonstrate an illness caused by asbestos to the front of the line.

The material, linked to mesothelioma, had a large presence in various products and buildings between the 1940s and 1990s, as well as U.S. Navy ships. It eventually led to scores of legal settlements for victims.

Jim Nelson, president of the North Dakota Veterans Legislative Council, said he believes he was exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

Nelson has been told his breathing problems were caused by smoking, but noted there are barriers for veterans to getting an asbestos-related diagnosis. Nelson asserted the new law doesn't help.

"Listen to your constituents and forget about the big bucks," Nelson stated. "That's what it's all about; it's about the big business."

Nelson and others speaking out against the law emphasized it can take decades for symptoms to surface.

They see adding roadblocks to compensation as an insult to those suffering, especially when they are older, but the law sailed through the Legislature by wide margins and was signed by the governor in April.

Disclosure: North Dakota AFL-CIO contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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