On March 20, 2013, the furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency H.R. 982 (FACT ACT) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives for consideration. The FACT ACT is spearheaded by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Chamber of Commerce to pass certain federal and state legislation as it relates to asbestos lawsuits filed by victims of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma.
Specifically, the bill, if enacted would require asbestos trusts to publicly disclose information about the settlement terms between trusts and claimants. Under current state and federal rules, the terms of and negotiations surrounding settlements of cases are treated as private and strictly confidential information, not subject to discovery or admissible in court cases. The FACT Act would require asbestos trust administrators for the first time, to reveal openly and publicly this private confidential information from claimants. It also would allow asbestos companies to demand any additional information from the trusts at any time and for virtually any reason. However, asbestos defendants' non-public confidential information will continue to be private.
Harder For Victims To Get Compensation They Deserve
The legislation's proponents claim that the legislation is necessary to ensure transparency of the asbestos claims process to protect against alleged double-recovery by asbestos victims - more than what they allegedly deserve - from the companies responsible for their diseases. However, the real purpose is to make it more difficult for people suffering from mesothelioma, and their families, to recover adequate compensation for this fatal disease.
The FACT Act would require personally identifiable exposure histories and disease information for each asbestos victim filing a claim with an asbestos trust, and related payment information, to be posted on a public docket. This public posting is an extreme invasion of privacy. It would give unfettered access to employers, insurance companies, workers compensation carriers and others who could use this information for any purpose including blacklisting workers from employment and fighting compensation claims.
The bill would also require asbestos trusts to provide on demand to asbestos defendants and litigants any information related to payments made by and claims filed with the trusts. This would place unnecessary and added burdens on the trusts delaying much-needed compensation for asbestos victims. Such a provision allows asbestos defendants to bypass the established rules of discovery in the civil justice system, and provides broad unrestricted access to personal information with no limitations on its use.
There is nothing comparable under Kentucky or Federal law, which would require an asbestos defendant to disclose their confidential documents, which show the asbestos content of their products or demonstrate their decades long knowledge that asbestos kills. Yet, asbestos victims would be subjected to a breach of privacy merely because they contracted a deadly disease and sought compensation for it.
On November 13, 2013, H.R. 982, the FACT Act, passed the U.S. House 221-199. However, the Bill seems unlikely to progress to a vote in the Senate. If it does and passes, President Obama will most likely veto it. However, the fight is not over. Asbestos companies, their insurance carriers and lawyers have been trying to eliminate victims' rights to recover adequate compensation for years. They will not stop even if their current efforts are unsuccessful.
How You Can Help Victims of Asbestos Disease
I urge you to contact your state and federal representatives and let them know that you oppose the FAIR Act and any legislation which negatively impacts a victim's right to receive fair and adequate compensation. Contact us if you have any questions or comments about this legislation or if you or a loved one are a victim of asbestos disease.