BATON ROUGE — A Louisiana government watchdog activist said she hopes the U.S. Senate will pass legislation that will crack down on attorneys who siphon off of damage claims for people who suffer from work-related asbestos exposure.
The Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act) passed the U.S. House of Representative in March and now goes before the U.S. Senate for consideration.
“The FACT Act is a common sense reform bill,” Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. “The bill is designed to bring sorely needed transparency to asbestos bankruptcy trust funds.”
Asbestos, a toxic chemical commonly used in the past in work places and often breathed in by sufferers, can take years to cause potentially fatal illnesses, including cancer. Many of those who develop illnesess have been military veterans who were exposed during work in shipyards, industrial sites and other places.
Landry said 60 different bankruptcy trust funds have set aside more than $17 billion for victims of asbestos exposure for veterans and others since 2008, but the funds are threatened by unscrupulous attorneys who take advantage.
“The long-term viability of these trust funds is being threatened,” she said. “In many instances, the plaintiffs’ attorneys who profit from these trusts are responsible for managing them. That’s like allowing the fox to guard the hen house.”
Landry said a common tactic that some attorneys use is to “double-dip,” make conflicting and multiple claims against different trusts and companies for a single asbestos-related injury—unethically profiting from the system. She said reformers crafted the FACT Act to clamp down on the abuses by requiring trust funds to disclose information on all claims made to the trusts while protecting the personal information of the claimant.
“The vast majority of companies that made the asbestos products are bankrupt and out of business now,” Landry said. “There are finite resources in these trusts. By weeding out the bad actors who are abusing the current system, the FACT Act will preserve existing funds and ensure that all deserving claimants receive the compensation they deserve.”
Landry said the bill does not prohibit multiple payouts in which a sufferer was exposed to asbestos from differing worksites. It simply provides disclosure information so courts and judges can provide greater oversight in the awarding of damages.