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Asbestos Industry Comes Out Ahead with New Legislation

Asbestos has killed hundreds of thousands of people and injured millions more. In fact, an estimated 1.3 million workers may end up with deadly diseases – including mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer – as a result of exposure to this toxic product.

Unfortunately, a bill was recently passed by the House Judiciary Committee that would make it harder for plaintiffs, injured by asbestos, to get fair compensation.

The bill was designed to require more transparency on the part of these asbestos trusts, paving the way for legislation that would require asbestos personal injury settlement trusts, authorized by federal bankruptcy courts, to disclose information on their claims each quarter — and to respond to information requests from parties to asbestos litigation. The trusts – set up to compensate victims for the injuries they sustained as a result of asbestos exposure – were established by Congress in 1994.

This bill will only create more hardships for those who have already been victimized by the asbestos industry. “What this bill does is allow asbestos victims to be re-victimized by exposing their health information to the public,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) said during the hearings.

The bill is supposedly designed to mitigate fraud and abuse. But, according to the New York Times, there is no persuasive evidence of any significant fraud or abuse. Before plunging ahead with this misguided attempt to protect asbestos companies from lawsuits, Congress ought to commission an objective study of whether there is even a problem that needs fixing, the Times said in a recent editorial. One-Sided Bill on Asbestos Injuries

According to the Times article:

Millions of workers were injured by asbestos over the years and thousands of suits were filed against asbestos companies, which often were aware of the dangers but concealed the risks from workers and the public. Financed with corporate money, dozens of companies declared bankruptcy and established trusts to pay the present and future health related claims filed against them. The trusts typically pay only a small percentage of the value of an agreed to claim, sometimes as little as 5% of the value, with no guarantee of any future payments to make up the difference. Additionally, plaintiffs are also allowed to sue responsible companies that have not gone bankrupt.

The Republican bill, known as the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT) of 2013, would allow asbestos companies to demand information from the trusts for virtually any reason, forcing the trusts to devote limited resources to responding to fishing expeditions that will slow the process of paying claims.

The bill would also increase the burden on claimants to supply information. But it puts virtually no burdens on asbestos companies, like disclosing the settlements they have reached with plaintiffs or requiring them to reveal where their products were used and when, so that workers know which companies or trusts might be liable for their injuries.  In other words, no requirement for transparency or facts would be required by the asbestos defendants – only the claimants.

According to the Times, fair-minded members of Congress should ask the Government Accountability Office to determine whether there is significant fraud in asbestos claims before enacting a law that makes it harder to obtain fair compensation.

We applaud the New York Times for an erudite and accurate editorial. The asbestos industry’s cover-up – and refusal to offer compensation to workers dying of asbestos-related disease — is one of the great industrial crimes of the 20th century.  This is just one more roadblock for asbestos victims – and one more way for these corporations to shirk their responsibility to the many millions they have harmed.

For a quarter of a century, partner Frederick Schenk – nationally recognized for his expertise – has led CaseyGerry’s mesothelioma and asbestos practice team.