Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa joined Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina in introducing the PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act, commonsense legislation that provides much-needed oversight of asbestos bankruptcy trusts to ensure victims receive fair and just compensation. The bill is also cosponsored by senators John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
“Fraudsters and poor management cannot be allowed to cheat victims of asbestos-related diseases out of the assistance Congress established for them years ago through the Asbestos Bankruptcy Trust system. We need commonsense accountability measures to ensure that the trust fund is not syphoned away from the victims it was intended to help. And we need independent oversight to protect against any waste, fraud, and abuse. This bill accomplishes these much needed reforms,” Grassley said.“Asbestos bankruptcy trusts were created to compensate asbestos victims, not trial lawyers,” said Senator Tillis. “The PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act will reform the asbestos bankruptcy trust system by adding in layers of oversight, accountability and transparency, which in turn will help eliminate fraud and ensure that trusts are able to compensate present and future asbestos victims.”
“Fraud has run rampant in the system, eroding victims’ ability to access the compensation they deserve,” Sen. Cornyn said. “By increasing oversight, we can help ensure asbestos victims receive the support they need during their treatment.”
“Ensuring that victims of asbestos exposure can receive the compensation they are due is a bipartisan priority,” said Senator Crapo. “Asbestos trust funds have been targets for fraud by people with no legitimate claim to the funds. This measure will create safeguards to ensure the fund is stable and able to compensate victims both today and into the future.”
In 1994, Congress created a system of bankruptcy trusts to ensure that current and future victims of asbestos-related diseases could receive compensation from corporations with liability exposure. Unfortunately, the asbestos bankruptcy trust system lacks any independent oversight by a neutral third party to ensure that the trusts are not deceived into paying erroneous or false claims for compensation.
Because there is no effective oversight of the trusts, there are widespread reports of fraud and mismanagement. In fact, one former trial lawyer turned whistleblower has described the schemes used to cheat trusts as “institutionalized fraud.” Fraudulent claims deplete the fixed amount of money in the trusts, potentially causing compensation for future victims to be reduced or unavailable altogether.
The PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act protects future asbestos victims by implementing several key reforms to the bankruptcy trust system.
- Empowers the US Trustee Program of the Department of Justice to investigate fraud against asbestos trusts, which they are prevented from doing under current law.
- Makes it a crime to knowingly submit a false claim to a trust.
- Allows for the appointment of a special representative to advise future victims in a bankruptcy case – this person must be completely disinterested to ensure the most effective advocacy for future victims.
- Mandates that trusts report claims information to CMS to ensure Medicare and Medicaid are properly reimbursed. Currently, the Medicare and Medicaid programs are being financially harmed because asbestos trusts have failed to reimburse the programs.
- In order to prevent fraudulent claims in both state and federal proceedings, requires trusts to comply with subpoenas from state courts seeking information (under seal) related to trusts payments and ensures that the party requesting the information pays reasonable costs to the trust.