Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LAWW) Executive Director Melissa Landry | Photo courtesy of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch
It is no secret that frivolous litigation filings have skyrocketed in recent years. As more and more personal injury lawyers seek to use and abuse our legal system, Americans have grown tired of paying the costs and have begun calling for reform. Fortunately, Congress is listening.
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed reform legislation that included the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (FACT Act), which will help reduce fraud that effectively steals compensation from people who are or will become sick from asbestos exposure. This reform legislation is desperately needed and I hope the U.S. Senate will act on it soon. It is estimated 60 different bankruptcy trusts collectively paid out more than $17 billion since 2008 in compensation funds previously set-aside for veterans and others exposed to asbestos. But the long-term financial viability of these trust funds is being threatened.
In many instances, the same plaintiffs’ attorneys who profit from these trusts are responsible for managing them, in essence allowing the fox to guard the hen house. Furthermore, a lack of coordination between the trusts and the tort system provides for the unseemly practice of “double dipping” — whereby some attorneys file conflicting claims about their clients’ asbestos exposure and collect multiple awards from different trusts and companies for a single asbestos-related injury.
The FACT Act will bring sorely needed transparency to this process and help protect veterans and others sickened by asbestos by requiring trust funds to disclose information on claims made to the trusts while taking measures to protect claimants’ personal information. By weeding out bad actors that are abusing the current system, the FACT Act will preserve existing funds and ensure all deserving future claimants receive the maximum relief for their illnesses and injuries.
To be sure, this bill does not prevent asbestos claimants from receiving payouts from multiple sources. Indeed, there may be some instances where veterans or industrial workers were exposed to several different asbestos containing products throughout their years of service. The bill simply requires disclosure of that information to the courts so that judges and juries can consider it when compensating asbestos claimants. That’s why the majority of Louisiana’s House Delegation—including Majority Whip. Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson), Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Port Barre), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Benton), Rep. Ralph Abraham (R–Mangham), and Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) — voted in favor of the FACT Act and should be applauded.
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the FACT Act in the coming weeks. I urge U.S. Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to support these commonsense reforms as well.
Melissa Landry is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), a grassroots legal watchdog dedicated to improving the state’s legal climate. Learn more at www.LLAW.org.