The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today will begin discussing the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency (FACT) Act — despite growing, widespread opposition.
Groups of veterans, teachers, firefighters, municipal, county and state workers delivered letters Monday to ranking Senate Judiciary Committee members, voicing their disapproval.
The bill would require new, stiffer requirements for those seeking compensation from asbestos trusts. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code established asbestos trusts to compensate victims of asbestos exposure. These trusts are worth an estimated $30 billion.
Earlier this year, the FACT Act was folded into a larger proposal and renamed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2016 (H.R. 1927). The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed that version.
For this legislation to be enacted, the Senate must pass the bill and the approval of President Barack Obama, who already vowed to veto the proposal. Although the House passed similar legislation three times in the last four years, the Senate struck down each proposal.
Opponents of the FACT Act believe it unfairly targets military veterans.
Because of the military’s past reliance on asbestos products, diseases related to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, have hit veterans in disproportionate numbers. An estimated 30 percent of all mesothelioma lawsuits involve veterans.
“The bill is a cynical ploy by the asbestos industry to avoid compensating its victims who are seeking justice in court, many of whom are veterans who were doubly exposed; first while in uniform and then when they went on to work for companies that knowingly exposed them to the deadly fiber,” read one letter signed by members of 17 different veterans organizations.
The organizations against the bill include Vietnam Veterans of America, National Defense Council and the Air Force Sergeants Association.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, National Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees co-wrote another letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Victims of asbestos exposure, including first responders and teachers, among many other dedicated public employees, are entitled to compensation through companies that caused their illnesses,” that letter stated. “The measure actually is designed to help the asbestos industry avoid paying victims through delay tactics and waste of scarce trust resources set aside for victims.”
Opponents delivered the letters to Judiciary Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the committee’s ranking member, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Proponents of the bill say it is designed to protect the asbestos trusts from fraudulent claims and save the funds for those entitled by law to be compensated.
The Senate’s version of the legislation, known as S. 357, would require public disclosure of asbestos exposure history, basis for compensation and complete work history. It also would require personal data such as partial social security numbers.
Opponents say it exposes the victims to possible identity theft, slows an already tedious process and places an undue burden on the victims.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is leading the fight against the FACT Act, vowing to block it from proceeding through the Senate. Schumer is a member of the Finance Committee’s subcommittee on Health Care. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., officially introduced the bill in the Senate.
Schumer was especially bothered by the bill’s effects on veterans, who comprise 8 percent of the adult population, but one-third of those who file mesothelioma lawsuits.
State and federal laws currently view trust fund payments as confidential and private, not admissible in court. Under the FACT Act, the trust funds would be required to release quarterly reports with information that could be used in asbestos liability cases.