On February 15, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is expected to begin “marking up” two key pieces of legislation that could affect mesothelioma patients’ ability to receive compensation.
The first bill is the Fairness in Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act. First introduced in 2012 by then-Congressman Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), the bill has been reintroduced several times over the years. Last year, it managed to pass in the House, but it remained stalled in the Senate.
Now that both Congress and the White House are controlled by the GOP, supporters of the FACT Act are hoping that they have the numbers to push this detrimental piece of legislation through. Although President Trump has not stated whether he will sign the bill, given his previously stated views on asbestos, it seems likely that he will do so.
Supporters of the FACT Act claim that it will provide transparency around compensation for victims of asbestos exposure, including individuals who have developed mesothelioma, asbestosis, and related diseases and conditions. However, the FACT Act is supported by asbestos industry interests, and many of the provisions could hurt victims even more if they are put into place.
For example, under the guise of transparency, the bill will require asbestos trust funds to report personal information related about those who receive compensation, which could include medical records and partial Social Security numbers. This information would subject asbestos-exposure victims to a number of privacy and safety-related concerns, including the possibility of harassment, identity theft, and dissuasion from seeking the compensation they are entitled to receive.
The second bill scheduled to be marked up next week is the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act. This bill is aimed at changing the way courts handle class action lawsuits, including those related to asbestos exposure.
Specifically, the bill would prohibit courts from proceeding with class action lawsuits unless the people filing the suits could show that everyone in the class suffered the same type and degree of injury.
One of the big problems with this potential change is that it places an extraordinarily large burden on plaintiffs in a potential class action to collect and present evidence up front, rather than using long-established court procedures to introduce and argue about specific pieces of evidence.
Furthermore, the requirement that all members of a class need to suffer the same type and degree of injury is an extremely high bar for many class actions. Almost nobody is affected in exactly the same way by dangerous or defective products, but that reality should not prevent manufacturers, employers, and others from being able to come together to file a common complaint.
For example, asbestos exposure can lead to any number of diseases and conditions, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer, and other problems. Depending on how long it takes for the disease to manifest – which can be a matter of decades – how old the person is when it starts to show symptoms, and the stage at which it is diagnosed, the effects for each individual can be extremely different. However, these people should still have the ability to file a lawsuit against the companies responsible for their exposure.
With the markup happening in the middle of next week, there is still time to contact the members of the House Judiciary Committee as well as your local representatives to let them know how you feel about these two bills.