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Owens Corning to appeal asbestos ruling

TOLEDO, Ohio-Owens Corning will ask a Florida trial court to reduce the $32.8 million in damages a Florida jury awarded to an electrician who developed cancer from asbestos exposure.

Last month's ruling against the Toledo-based manufacturer consists of $1.8 million in compensatory damages and $31 million in punitive damages.

A spokesman for Owens Corning said the company will seek to reduce the award, which he described as "a wildly unjustified verdict," and also appeal the case. He also pointed out that the amount of punitive damages exceeds three times the compensa-tory award, the limit under Florida law.

Owens-Corning has $1.4 billion in reserves to pay for its asbestos-related claims, the spokesman said.

In other asbestos-related activity, the company has filed a second suit asserting thousands of asbestos suits were filed against the company based on fraudulent medical testing.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, claims a medical lab generated false pulmonary tests designed to make people appear to suffer from asbestos-related disease. Last year, the company filed a similar suit against three testing labs in Louisiana (BI June 24, 1996). That suit is still pending.

Louisiana considers hurricane cat fund

BATON ROUGE, La.-Louisiana insurance regulators are considering the creation of a fund that would limit the payout by insurers if a catastrophic hurricane struck the state.

"We are in the discussion stage," said Rich Piazza, an actuary with the Louisiana Department of Insurance. No formal proposals have been drafted that would outline the structure of a catastrophe fund.

"We're trying to figure out what the best program would be," Mr. Piazza said, and discussions among regulators, insurers, intermediaries and others have focused on a range of alternatives.

A fund could be state-run, similar to Florida's catastrophe reinsurance fund for hurricane risks, which is supported by an annual premium assessment on insurers (BI, Nov. 8, 1993), or to the California Earthquake Authority, in which insurers and reinsurers participate in various layers of an approximately $7.5 billion pool (BI, Dec. 23, 1993), Mr. Piazza speculated.

The discussions are partly a response to moves by State Farm Group and Allstate Insurance Group to restrict their homeowners writings in the state. State Farm holds about 35% of the homeowners market, while Allstate writes about 17% of the total.

Kaiser consolidates California operations

OAKLAND, Calif.-Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals plans to consolidate its northern and southern California operations into a single California division, said a spokesman.

The consolidation process, which already has begun, is expected to be completed in about another 12 to 18 months, said the spokesman, who noted the new division will have close to 5 million members.

"The consolidation will continue our successful efforts to keep our costs low so that the negligible rate increases over the past couple of years will likely continue," he said.

Kaiser Foundation's president and chief operating officer, Richard Barnaby, will serve as interim division president for the next 12 to 18 months as a permanent division president is recruited.