Will proposed asbestos fund reform hurt my chances for compensation?
FACT Act reforms may be geared at manufacturers and not asbestos victims
In the 1990’s, Congress set up funds to provide payment and compensation for persons exposed to deadly asbestos. The funds were intended to compensate victims at the time and future victims, such as veterans, firefighters and first-responders, of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Establishing the funds for future victims was particularly important due to the nature of asbestos-related diseases. Namely, after exposure it can take 20 to 50 years before health problems are revealed.
The funds have been reduced since the 2000’s and as a result, the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act” ( FACT Act) has been introduced as a means of reform. Supporters of the FACT Act claim that the funds have been depleted due to fraud, abuse and inconsistent claims. Supporters state that changes made by the FACT Act will reduce fraudulent claims and help victims get the compensation to which they are entitled. Alternatively, opponents believe that the proposed reforms are aimed at making it harder for veteran victims to receive compensation for their asbestos-related cancer and other diseases.
Changes proposed by the bill
This raises the question, what changes would be made by the bill if passed? There are a few main changes proposed by the FACT Act, including:
- An amendment to Federal Bankruptcy Code section 524(g), requiring quarterly reports from asbestos-related trusts to the bankruptcy court.
- Required reports would be available on the public docket and include information on the claimants (injured victims), including names, reason for the claim and the amount of compensation paid.
- Asbestos trusts would be required to provide claim and payment information upon written request; the party making the request would pay any associated costs.
Supporters contend that the information provided in the reports are in the interests of transparency and will discourage fraudulent claims in order to help protect victims of asbestos in the future.
Potential impact on veterans
According to some opponents of the bill and victim’s groups, the FACT Act’s proposed reforms may make it more difficult to receive fair compensation for a number of reasons, such as:
- Providing personal information on asbestos victims will expose them and their families to identity fraud and other predators. The information that can be publically disclosed includes the victim’s name, birth date, address, last four digits of his or her social security number, employment history, salary and financial information, information about his or her medical condition (not records) and even information about the victim’s children or spouse.
- Requirements would drain trust funds. Costs to produce the required reports would be paid from asbestos trusts, which would reduce the funds available to future victims.
- Reports would cause additional paperwork and additional time and delay for victims to receive their compensation. With the dire nature of mesothelioma and other cancers, this delay could mean that victims would not live to receive the payment they are due.
Opponents argue that the proposed reforms would not only make it more difficult for victims to receive fair compensation, but also does not go to the heart of the problem. Thousands of asbestos victims have had hurdles and delay to overcome when pursing payment for their claims. Asbestos producing companies have denied responsibility and then declared bankruptcy as an attempt to avoid liability. It is the belief that this bill helps manufacturers continue down that road and increases vulnerability for victims by making private information public.
Legal options for victims today
The FACT Act has not been passed as of yet and the reforms proposed in the bill are not in place. It is unclear whether the bill will be passed in the future and what affect it may have on victims of asbestos-related diseases. Today, the sad reality is that many veterans are still plagued by cancer and other illnesses caused by asbestos exposure contracted years ago while serving our country. Victims have a right to fair payment and compensation for sustained injuries. Whether or not the FACT Act is enacted, that fact will not change.
If you or a loved one is a veteran suffering from mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer or other asbestos-related diseases, it is important to speak to an attorney. At Wallace & Graham, P.A., we have over 20 years of experience helping victims of asbestos-related injuries. We will act with urgency to get victims the compensation they need and deserve.