The so-called “PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act” appears on the surface to have been written for people harmed by asbestos. Sadly, this new bill has nothing to do with implementing long-awaited protections these people deserve – it only protects the companies responsible for their suffering.
Authored by Senators Tom Tillis (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), this legislation is the latest (and very misleading) move in ongoing efforts to support the asbestos industry’s financial interests. In reality, it will deny justice for asbestos victims and their families.
What Does the Bill Claim to Achieve?
Companies with histories of mining or using asbestos, while hiding the lethal risks of exposure, are currently faced with a mass of lawsuits claiming personal injury or wrongful death. But in some cases, these companies are unable to pay the settlements and instead file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the hopes of limiting their liability.
In 1994, Congress started requiring these companies to establish bankruptcy trusts. These trusts are meant to contain enough money to pay out current and future victims’ compensation quickly and efficiently. Congressional leaders’ concern now, however, is that some victims have filed their claims fraudulently.
Introduced on March 15, the PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act is described as “commonsense” legislation designed to oversee these trust funds and “ensure victims receive just compensation” by criminalizing fraud.
“Because there is no effective oversight of the trusts, there are widespread reports of fraud and mismanagement,” the bill claims. “Fraudulent claims deplete the fixed amount of money in the trusts, potentially causing compensation for future victims to be reduced or unavailable altogether.”
Sounds fair? Perhaps on the surface.
The Protect Asbestos Victims Act Is Not Good for Victims
In reality, it’s not the victims the bill aims to protect – it’s the $30 Billion dollars’ worth of trust money. By accusing genuine victims of trying to obtain money without firm evidence they were exposed to asbestos, asbestos companies limit their liability even further. The victims – many of whom struggle with the costs to treat their debilitating diseases – might never see a dime.
Meanwhile, companies continue to import asbestos without a care for who it kills next, and an estimated 300,000 Americans have already died from preventable asbestos-related diseases in the last 2 decades.
The new legislation follows several pro-industry bills disguised as protective legislation for asbestos victims. They may be packaged differently, but all are rotten to the same core. The agenda: Manipulate public health authorities into keeping asbestos legal, and stop victims from getting the justice they deserve.
“Whether you call it the FAIR Act, the FACT Act, or the new ‘PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act’ – it’s always the same industry-driven legislation to delay and deny justice to present and future asbestos victims,” said Linda Reinstein, president and founder of anti-asbestos advocacy group ADAO, which is preparing to host its 14th Asbestos Awareness Week next wek. “The time is now to protect public health and our environment – not the companies who knowingly exposed and killed Americans.”
Legal experts urge asbestos victims and their families to stay alert to these schemes. If you’re not sure on the best course of action for you or your loved one, get the facts from a licensed asbestos attorney.