The New York Times Editorial Board
Republicans rammed a bill through the House Judiciary Committee last month that would make it harder for plaintiffs injured by asbestos to get fair compensation. The bill is supposedly designed to root out fraud and abuse, but there is no persuasive evidence of any significant fraud or abuse.
Before plunging ahead with this misguided attempt to protect asbestos companies from lawsuits, Congress ought to commission an objective study of whether there is even a problem that needs fixing.
Millions of workers were injured by asbestos over the years and thousands of suits were filed against asbestos companies, which often were aware of the dangers but concealed the risks from workers and the public. Dozens of companies declared bankruptcy and established trusts, financed with company money, to pay the present and future claims against them. The trusts typically pay only a small percentage of the value of a claim. Plaintiffs are also free to sue companies that have not gone bankrupt.
The Republican bill, known as the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT) of 2013, would allow asbestos companies to demand information from the trusts for virtually any reason, forcing the trusts to devote limited resources to responding to fishing expeditions that will slow the process of paying claims.
The bill would also increase the burden on claimants to supply information. But it puts virtually no burdens on asbestos companies, like disclosing the settlements they have reached with plaintiffs or requiring them to reveal where their products were used and when, so that workers know which companies or trusts might be liable for their injuries.
Fair-minded members of Congress should ask the Government Accountability Office to determine whether there is significant fraud in asbestos claims before enacting a law that makes it harder to obtain fair compensation.
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