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Legislation protecting asbestos offenders moving through Congress

In February, we wrote that asbestos offenders are going on the offensive by proposing a bill called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, or FACT. The name of the bill would suggest that companies who have exposed workers to harmful asbestos would be required to disclose that information and to help former workers seek medical attention. There are about 12,000 deaths each year in the United States from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.

But the name of the bill is misleading, and probably intentionally so. In reality, FACT seeks to add legal and procedural hurdles that will likely make it more difficult for asbestos victims to pursue legitimate claims and compensation. And it's all happening under the guise of rooting out fraud, which has not been shown to be a significant issue, if it's an issue at all.

Since 1994, the bankruptcy code has allowed former asbestos manufacturers and their insurers to establish bankruptcy trusts. There are currently about 60 asbestos trusts with close to $40 billion in assets; funds which are set aside to compensate asbestos victims and their families.

The FACT Act seeks to force asbestos trusts to file quarterly public reports listing information on "demands for payments and the basis for payments made." Opponents of the bill have said that this requirement would violate the privacy rights of asbestos victims in addition to making it more difficult to pursue claims.

Lobbyists pushing for the bill have said that the FACT Act is meant to prevent fraud and "double dipping." They have created a narrative in which opportunistic individuals present unsubstantiated claims or try to file claims with numerous trusts in attempts to get more money.

In general, Americans should be wary of nearly any legislation that claims to protect against "fraud" and "frivolous lawsuits" or that protects companies by placing more obstacles in the way of average citizens seeking legal justice. Unfortunately, the FACT Act is currently working its way through the House of Representatives and seems to have support. We must hope that a majority of legislators will see this bill for what it is: Legislation created by lobbyists to unfairly protect companies and insurers from liability.

Source: The Hill, "Bill to protect trusts for asbestos victims advances in House," Lydia Wheeler, May 14, 2015

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