Class Action Asbestos Bill Faces Uncertain Future

The future of the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, also known as HR 1927, remains uncertain. The bill has faced a great deal of criticism since its introduction and could end up dying before it makes it out of the Senate.

HR 1927 would change federal class action lawsuit rules and require compensation funds related to personal injury lawsuits concerning asbestos-related injuries to publicly report sensitive information on the Internet. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a thin margin earlier in 2016.

Mesothelioma Victims Affected

In addition to the posting of information, the bill would also require federal courts to certify plaintiffs actually suffered the type and scope of injuries named by the class representatives, and it would require asbestos settlement trusts to file quarterly reports with bankruptcy courts.

The negative effects of being exposed to asbestos vary, but one of the primary concerns is the development of mesothelioma, a rare and extremely fatal form of cancer. It is an aggressive form of cancer that is rarely diagnosed until it has progressed. The five year survival rate for the disease is less than 10%.

The primary risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is why so many veterans and those working in certain industries, including construction, are so affected. The risk for developing mesothelioma is also increased if a parent or sibling had the disease, or if someone with whom you lived was exposed to asbestos.

Bill Faces Criticism and Support

Proponents of the bill, including the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America in Washington (PCI), claim it is intended to prevent those who are “double dipping” into more than one compensation trust from doing so. They see the bill as a means by which to ensure victims are fairly compensated and trusts are able to help victims who can prove their illness.

Some point out the system for compensation is disorganized and reporting procedures inaccurate. They believe improper trust payment have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars – money that will now not be available to future legitimate claimants. The insurance groups are hoping momentum will build and result in a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. According to a representative of PCI, the group believes the bill is “… common sense legislation… needed to discourage fraudulent, abusive, and inconsistent asbestos trust claims.”

Opponents of the bill view it differently. Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice, recently urged the Senate to reject the bill, claiming it “… helps corporations that killed and cheated people…” She claims the bill shields companies from accountability for fraud and also protects companies that knowingly harmed customers. She called the bill a corporate giveaway and offensive to veterans, a view shared by many.

Though the future of the bill remains unclear, many familiar with it assume it is unlikely to pass the Senate, and if it does, President Obama is unlikely to sign it. The administration has already issued a statement in opposition to the bill and made it clear the president’s senior advisors would recommend veto.