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House passes FACT Act but bill faces many hurdles

Defenders of the asbestos industry have been pushing Congress to enact legislation that would make pursuing class actions and recovering damages from asbestos trust funds more difficult. The ultimate future of these measures is murky at best, but the House of Representatives last week took the first steps toward enactment by passing two bills as a single law, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (the so-called "FACT Act"). If finally enacted, the bill would affects lawsuits and asbestos trust funds in North Carolina and the other forty-nine states.

Most observers recognize the legislation as a pro-business attempt to increase the difficulty of obtaining reasonable recoveries by victims of asbestos product exposure. The class action provisions require the trial judge to certify that all plaintiffs in the class have suffered the same type and scope of illness as the named class representatives. This requirement creates an obvious barrier to gathering a class of qualified class members and obtaining certification of the class under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The second prong of the legislation requires each asbestos company settlement trust fund to file a quarterly report with the bankruptcy court that approved initial establishment of the fund. The report must contain formation about claimants, including names, addresses, description of illness and any payments made. Critics of the legislation point out that much of the required information is already part of the public record and that preparation of the reports will drain the trust funds of moneys that could be used to pay claims.

The proponents of the legislation concede that the bill will face severe hurdles. The Senate has not yet scheduled hearings on the bill, and most observers expect a presidential veto if the legislation were to pass both houses. Pro-business organizations mostly support the legislation, and advocates for victims of asbestos exposure are actively lobbying against the bill. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, persons who believe they have contracted an illness caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma, can still assert their claims by obtaining a reliable medical diagnosis and contacting an attorney who specializes in handling such claims.

Source: Business Insurance, "Asbestos class action bill faces hurdles," Mark A. Hoffman, Jan. 17, 2016

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