House panel passes asbestos trusts transparency bill

By Chris Dickerson | May 21, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed legislation requiring more transparency from asbestos trusts.

The measure -- The Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act -- passed without proposed amendments from House Democrats who feared the bill would be a threat to privacy of asbestos victims. The committee voted 17-14 - along party lines - to pass HR 982.

The legislation would require asbestos personal injury settlement trusts authorized by federal bankruptcy law to disclose information on their claims on a quarterly basis and respond to information requests from parties to asbestos litigation. The bill also would require the trusts to file public reports providing information with each claim for compensation they receive and would require the trusts to provide information about claims to parties in an asbestos suit upon request.

The measure is co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

Democrats proposed amendments mostly meant to limit what information about claimants could be made public.

"What this bill does is allow asbestos victims to be re-victimized by exposing their health information to the public," Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) said during hearings Tuesday.

The House panel passed a similar bill last year, but it never went to a full House vote.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform praised Tuesday's action.

"The asbestos compensation system should not allow fraud and abuse to drain the funds available to deserving claimants," ILR Executive Vice President Harold Kim said in a statement late Tuesday. "Exploitation of the system also saddles solvent companies, their shareholders, and employees with paying unjust claims.

"Asbestos bankruptcy trusts have operated without adequate oversight for too long. Courts around the country have uncovered examples in which plaintiffs' lawyers have filed inconsistent or fraudulent claims with multiple trusts and in the court system. The bipartisan FACT Act would discourage such wrongdoing."

Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

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