Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March, the U.S. Senate is now expected to address the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act) sometime in the coming weeks.
While some believe this legislation in necessary to avoid potential abuse of asbestos trust funds, critics of the FACT Act believe it will only succeed at making the claims process more difficult — if not impossible — for asbestos victims.
What Changes are Being Proposed?
For decades, companies used asbestos in a wide variety of products, thereby exposing countless victims to this dangerous, carcinogenic material. Realizing that they may be subject an enormous number of potential lawsuits as victims started developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions, these companies sought protection through bankruptcy.
As a result of these bankruptcies, asbestos bankruptcy trusts were set up to compensate victims of asbestos-related medical conditions.
However, the FACT Act is now attempting to change the process for filing claims with these trusts, possibly making it more difficult for asbestos victims to obtain the compensation they deserve. Specifically, the FACT Act, if passed, would require asbestos trusts to disclose personal information about each claimant, including their names, demands, exposure history and any payments they received from the trusts by:
- Filing a quarterly report with the bankruptcy court, which would be available to the public
- Providing the claimant information, upon request, to any party involved in an asbestos liability action
Critics of these changes believe they simply force claimants (asbestos victims) to reveal their personal information in order to get any of their medical bills paid — thereby exposing them to potential risk of identity theft.
In addition, there are fears that requests by defendants for victim information will simply delay the payment process, meaning some victims will be forced to settle for lower amounts due to their desperate need for money to finance their medical treatments.
Interestingly, while this bill requires more “transparency” when it comes to asbestos victims, it does not place any additional burdens on asbestos companies, which some believe simply illustrates that this bill is not meant to help asbestos victims.