(a) The General Assembly finds that:
(1) Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used prior to the 1980s for insulation, fire-proofing, and other purposes;
(2) Many American workers and others were exposed to asbestos, especially during and after World War II, at shipyards and other sites, prior to the advent of regulation by the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the early 1970s;
(3) Exposure to asbestos is associated with various types of cancer, including mesothelioma, as well as nonmalignant conditions such as asbestosis and diffuse pleural thickening;
(4) Diseases caused by asbestos exposure often have long latency periods;
(5) Silica is a naturally occurring mineral and is the second most common constituent of the earth's crust. Crystalline silica in the form of quartz is present in sand, gravel, soil, and rocks;
(6) Silica related illnesses, including silicosis, can develop from the inhalation of respirable silica dust. Silicosis was widely recognized as an occupational disease many years ago;
(7) Concerns about statutes of limitations may prompt unimpaired asbestos and silica claimants to bring lawsuits to protect their ability to recover for their potentially progressive occupational disease;
(8) It is proper for the General Assembly to support and protect the Georgia courts from the massive litigation expense and the crowding of trial dockets caused by asbestos and silica litigation;
(9) The cost of compensating exposed individuals who are not sick and legal costs spent on their claims jeopardize recoveries both now and in the future by people with cancer or other serious asbestos related injuries; threaten the savings, retirement benefits, and jobs of current and retired employees of the defendants; and adversely affect the communities in which the defendants operate;
(10) In February, 2003, the American Bar Association Commission on Asbestos Litigation, with input from ten of the nation's most prominent physicians in the area of pulmonary function, adopted the “ABA Standard For Non-Malignant Asbestos-Related Disease Claims,” which sets forth medical criteria for demonstrating asbestos related impairment that provide the underlying framework for the criteria set forth in this chapter and in similar legislation adopted in several other states;
(11) Ohio, Florida, Texas, Kansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee have enacted legislation similar to this chapter that, among other things, sets medical criteria governing asbestos or silica claims or both, tolls statutes of limitations, and requires persons alleging nonmalignant disease claims to demonstrate physical impairment as a prerequisite to filing or maintaining such claims; and
(12) Sound public policy requires deferring the claims of persons exposed to asbestos or silica and who are not presently impaired in order to give priority to those cases that involve claims of actual and current conditions of impairment; preserve compensation for people with cancer and other serious injuries; and safeguard the jobs, benefits, and savings of workers.
(b) It is the purpose of this chapter to:
(1) Give priority to claimants who can demonstrate actual physical harm or illness caused by asbestos or silica;
(2) Preserve the rights of claimants to pursue asbestos or silica claims if an exposed person becomes sick in the future;
(3) Enhance the ability of the courts to supervise and control asbestos litigation and silica litigation; and
(4) Conserve resources to allow compensation of claimants who have cancer and others who are impaired as a result of exposure to asbestos or silica while securing the right to similar compensation for those who may suffer physical impairment in the future.
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