I am writing to express the strong opposition of the AFL-CIO to H.R. 526, the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act” (FACT Act). This legislation would invade the privacy of asbestos victims by posting personal exposure and medical information online and create new barriers to victims receiving compensation for their asbestos diseases. The AFL-CIO urges you to oppose this harmful bill.
Decades of uncontrolled use of asbestos, even after its hazards were known, have resulted in a legacy of disease and death. Hundreds of thousands of workers and family members have suffered or died of asbestos-related cancers and lung disease, and the toll continues. Each year an estimated 10,000 people in the United States are expected to die from asbestos related diseases.
Asbestos victims have faced huge barriers and obstacles to receiving compensation for their diseases. Major asbestos producers refused to accept responsibility and most declared bankruptcy in an attempt to limit their future liability. In 1994 Congress passed special legislation that allowed the asbestos companies to set up bankruptcy trusts to compensate asbestos victims and reorganize under the bankruptcy law. But these trusts don’t have adequate funding to provide just compensation, and according to a 2010 RAND study, the median payment across the trusts is only 25 percent of the claim’s value. With compensation from these trusts so limited, asbestos victims have sought redress from the manufacturers of other asbestos products to which they were exposed.
The AFL-CIO is well aware that the system for compensating asbestos disease victims has had its share of problems, with victims facing delays and inadequate compensation and too much money being spent on defendant and plaintiff lawyers. We have spent years of effort trying to seek solutions to make the asbestos compensation system fairer and more effective. But H.R. 526 does nothing to improve compensation for asbestos victims and would in fact make the situation even worse. In our view, the bill is simply an effort by asbestos manufacturers who still are subject to asbestos lawsuits to avoid liability for diseases caused by exposure to their products.
H.R. 526 would require personally identifiable exposure histories and disease information for each asbestos victim filing a claim with an asbestos trust, and related payment information, to be posted on a public docket. This public posting is an extreme invasion of privacy. It would give unfettered access to employers, insurance companies, workers compensation carriers and others who could use this information for any purpose including blacklisting workers from employment and fighting compensation claims.
The bill would also require asbestos trusts to provide on demand to asbestos defendants and litigants any information related to payments made by and claims filed with the trusts. This would place unnecessary and added burdens on the trusts delaying much-needed compensation for asbestos victims. Such a provision allows asbestos defendants to bypass the established rules of discovery in the civil justice system, and provides broad unrestricted access to personal information with no limitations on its use.
Congress should be helping the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are suffering from disabling and deadly asbestos diseases, not further victimizing them by invading their privacy and subjecting them to potential blacklisting and discrimination. The AFL-CIO strongly urges you to oppose H.R. 526.
William Samuel, Director
Government Affairs Department