The 2015 Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) this week with a 19-9 Judiciary Committee vote of approval. According to Farenthold, its goal is to decrease fraud in asbestos lawsuits by requiring asbestos trusts to file quarterly reports on their public bankruptcy dockets, including demands for payments and basis for payments made.
“There are more than 12,000 U.S. deaths each year from asbestos-related disease, and this bill does nothing to address that,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “Instead, it creates new hurdles for victims seeking justice, benefiting the same corporations responsible for causing this national health crisis.”
“Every dollar taken through double-dipping or unscrupulous legal practices is a dollar less for those victims who face mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses,” said Farenthold. “The FACT Act will shine sunlight into the opaque trust system to fight this fraud and abuse.”
These trusts were set up under the bankruptcy code in 1994 for bankrupt manufacturers and their insurers to be able to compensate workers and their families who were affected by companies’ asbestos exposure on the job.
Asbestos Nation, the Environmental Working Group Action Fund campaign to create public awareness of the hazards and health risks of asbestos, said the legislation results in legal barriers purposefully created to make compensation for victims much longer and much more difficult.
According to lawmakers, there are about 60 asbestos trust funds and almost $40 billion in assets being paid out right now so people are able to obtain numerous payouts by filing different conflicting claims.
Past lawmakers have tried to stop the FACT Act claiming it obstructs justice for victims dying from asbestos diseases while giving a handout to the corporations who caused the problems in the first place.
In fact, Congress has lost one of its own to mesothelioma. The late Rep. Bruce Vento died of mesothelioma cancer in 2000 due to his previous employment as a laborer. Rep. Vento had his lung removed and was undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic, but still passed 14 months after his diagnosis.
According to Vento’s wife, Susan Vento, “This bill would force asbestos bankruptcy trusts to release asbestos victims’ personal information and would add additional procedural burdens that delay compensation for dying victims, meaning many victims will not live long enough to see justice served.”