Who Needs to Take Risk with an Asbestos Settlement?

asbestos settlementThis is a guest post by Patrick Collins of Schultz Collins Lawson Chambers, Inc., the firm we hired to advise us on how to handle Kazan Law’s pension funds, our charitable foundation’s funds, and that some of our partners hired to advise them on personal money management.

The horrible byproduct of taking investment risk with your asbestos settlement is that losses may trigger considerable regret. Had you not taken the risk, the money would still be in your pocket. Damn.

Here are some propositions for you to consider regarding your asbestos settlement:

Proposition One: Wealthy folks don’t need to take investment risk. If you have a sufficient amount of money to support your spending and bequest needs, you don’t need to earn high investment returns. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett do not need to make risky investments—even if they never earn an additional dime, they will never be able to spend all of their wealth. This is why the super-rich give hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes. If you are super-rich, you don’t need more money. No need = no reason to take risk.

Proposition Two: The amount of risk you need to take with your asbestos settlement depends on the budget required to support a target standard of living for yourself and your family. All else equal, the higher your monthly budget, the more you may need to supplement existing wealth with money earned from future investment returns.

Proposition Three: It is not just your level of spending that determines the amount of investment risk that you need to take with your asbestos settlement. Rather, it is the level of spending relative to your existing wealth.   If you have a million dollars and want to live in a cabin in the woods and be self supporting, you probably do not need to send much, if any, of your current wealth into the future. If you have a million dollars and want to live like Donald Trump, you probably need to consider how to fund a great many future expenses.   A need for money to pay future bills = a reason to take investment risk today.

Proposition Four: Without risk there is no reward; taking risk with your asbestos settlement, however, does not guarantee that you will be rewarded. The whole idea of risk is that the value of an investment might shrink instead of grow. As a consequence, you must plan your investments carefully and take only the risk that you really need to take—not too much, not too little.

The first step is to figure out a budget—even if you do it on the back of an envelope. Write it down. Look at it. Chances are you’ve forgotten some important items so bump it up. Put in a margin for unexpected expenses. You are on your way to determining if you have the luxury of avoiding investment risk; or, if you need to become an investor.

The posts provided by Schultz Collins Lawson Chambers, Inc. [SCLC] convey information on basic investment concepts.  They are intended to facilitate prudent investment decision making.   They should not, however, be the sole factor in making investment decisions; and, they are not intended to act as advice or recommendations for any specific investor.    SCLC acts as Independent Investment Counsel and is a Registered Investment Advisor.  It does not provide legal, accounting or tax advice; and the opinions expressed in the posts are solely those of SCLC.  You can find additional information about SCLC, their personnel, and client services at

Related posts:

Your Asbestos Settlement and Investing

Your Asbestos Settlement and Financial Risk


Proving Previous Employers In An Asbestos Lawsuit

asbestos lawsuitOne of the most important pieces of proof needed for a successful asbestos lawsuit is proof that you worked in a place where you were exposed to asbestos.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is absolutely because you were exposed to asbestos. Asbestos causes mesothelioma. It starts when asbestos fibers, so tiny they cannot be seen by the human eye, become airborne and get inhaled into the lungs. Construction and maintenance workers are all at increased risk because of asbestos lurking in building materials, especially older buildings. Auto repair and parts workers are similarly at risk from asbestos used in brake linings and brake pads.

But once asbestos fibers settle into the lungs and begin to cause damage, it can take years – decades, even – for the damage to make itself known through mesothelioma symptoms.

By the time you receive a mesothelioma diagnosis, it may be years since you worked for the company responsible for causing your disease. But to launch a successful asbestos lawsuit you are going to need to show solid proof that you in fact worked there.

How do you do that? In other circumstances, you might go to the IRS website to get transcripts of your tax returns. But the IRS only keeps returns for seven years. And the asbestos exposure that caused your mesothelioma probably goes back longer than that.

If you didn’t keep copies of your old W2 forms and/or tax returns – and why would you, you weren’t expecting to get mesothelioma – your best bet is the Social Security Administration. From their website, you can:

Or you can contact our office. We have years of experience doing this and would be happy to help you retrieve this important information for your asbestos lawsuit.

Kazan Law Partner Frank Fernandez Honored By La Raza Centro Legal

Frank FernandezKazan Law is proud to announce that our partner and colleague Francis “Frank” E. Fernandez has been honored by San Francisco La Raza Centro Legal, a group he helped found in 1973 while he was still in law school. La Raza Centro Legal is a community-based legal organization dedicated to empowering Latino, immigrant and low-income communities of San Francisco to advocate for their civil and human rights, combining legal services, organizing, advocacy, and social services to build grassroots power and alliances towards creating a movement for a just society.

The nonprofit organization’s new Frank Fernandez Endowment was announced at their 41st Anniversary Gala, an event co-sponsored by the Kazan Law Foundation. “The Frank Fernandez Endowment will allow us to hire an immigration attorney fellow in the coming year. Such is only possible because of the many donors who believe in our work and more importantly believe in honoring our founder Frank Fernandez,” said Carlos Osorio, La Raza’s Senior Law Program Coordinator. “We are truly honored that the Frank Fernandez Immigration Attorney Fellow will be possible.

Back in the old days, Frank was a labor lawyer working with the United Farm Workers of America, the group started by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s to support and empower Latino agricultural field workers. Frank’s experience working with the UFW and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the AFL-CIO, and the California Department of Occupational Health & Safety (Cal-OSHA), showed me he was a lawyer who like me also was passionate about protecting the rights of workers to work in safe healthy work environments., someone who not only would fight for justice for workers when their rights were violated but who also was skilled enough to win.

I knew Frank was a great fit for the kind of firm that we were trying to build. And I was right.  I did not realize then that by 2014, Latinos for would become California’s largest ethnic group, making up 39% of the state’s population, but that only 4.2% of the state’s lawyers would be Latino, as the California State Bar reported in a recent diversity study.  Diversity has always been one of the firm’s goals. We believe that our staff should reflect the people we serve.

I am proud of all that Frank has accomplished on behalf of victims of asbestos exposure through his work at Kazan Law. I am equally proud of his pioneering work on behalf of the Latino community in his founding and ongoing work with La Raza Centro Legal and of the support he has received from Kazan Law’s foundation for this vital organization.

The U.S. Asbestos Ban That Wasn’t

asbestos banMy sister Laurie Kazan-Allen, a global anti-asbestos advocate based in London, just reminded me that July 12 marked the 25th anniversary of the asbestos ban that wasn’t. On that date in 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule.

In 1981, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had requested information from American companies regarding the asbestos content of their products. The result was the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule. This was a common sense response to a lethal hazard that endangered public health. All types of asbestos fibers are known to cause fatal illnesses in humans.

However, in 1991, thanks to the efforts of the asbestos industry lobby, this rule was vacated and remanded (no longer exists and sent back) by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned. The case was Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5th Cir. 1991). This ruling which overturned a sane and sensible law leaves many consumer products still legally allowed to contain trace amounts of asbestos.

As a direct consequence of the appellate decision, a further 250,000+ tons of asbestos was used in the U.S. just between 1991 and 2010, according to data from the United States Geological Survey reported by Laurie in the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat newsletter.

Wikipedia clearly states, “The United States remains one of the few developed countries that hasn’t yet fully banned asbestos.” Despite several attempts by members of Congress to ban asbestos through legislative means, no ban has been adopted.

Examples from the EPA’s own website of asbestos-containing products not banned:

  • Cement corrugated sheet
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Clothing
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Cement shingle
  • Millboard
  • Cement pipe
  • Automatic transmission components
  • Clutch facings
  • Friction materials
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Brake blocks
  • Gaskets
  • Non-roofing coatings
  • Roof coatings

For me, this is a sad anniversary as I think of my clients who have died as a direct result of asbestos exposure. My firm often achieves awards and settlements of huge sums of money for asbestos victims because money seems to be the only thing that the companies responsible care about. While money helps balance the scales of justice, it does not compensate for the loss of a human life. And these companies continue to place no value on that.

Kazan Law Wins Precedent-Setting California Supreme Court Victory in Ford Asbestos Case

ford asbestosAs reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Supreme Court has rejected Ford Motor Company’s petition for review of a published appellate decision in favor of Kazan Law clients Patrick and Sharon Scott (Scott v. Ford Motor Company (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 1492).  Mr. Scott’s mesothelioma cancer was caused by prolonged asbestos exposure from automotive brakes.

Ford desired a “nationwide shield” from punitive damages liability for all asbestos exposure, merely because Ford’s executive offices are in Michigan and that state’s law does not allow punitive damages.  But the correct rule is that when a company exposes people to the risks associated with asbestos — or any other toxic substance or dangerous product — in California, a California jury has the right to apply punitive damages law to the case.

According to the media article about this new favorable development in the Scott case, it is “also a precedent for future cases.”

This will not be the first time that Kazan Law has set legal precedents in the area of asbestos law. But what matters to us most here is the justice that we are helping to achieve not only for the Scotts but for every one of us.

Otherwise big companies with out-of-state headquarters would get a free pass to sell defective products in California and every other state without fear of punishment. That would be a nightmare not just for mesothelioma victims but for everyone injured by driving a car with defective parts, using appliances that malfunctioned or products containing harmful substances, when the manufacturer ignored the health and safety of its customers

A jury awarded Patrick Scott $1.5 million in damages and legal costs against Ford in November 2012 after the trial team, led by Kazan Law partners Justin Bosl and Joseph Satterley, presented clear evidence that Ford had known of the asbestos exposure risks in their products before Mr. Scott did, and failed to warn him. The former Bay Area service station owner had sought damages from Ford for exposing him to brake-lining asbestos.

In March, a California appellate court upheld the $1.5 million judgment for the Scotts. Kazan Law of counsel Ted Pelletier led our appellate team in that phase.

Kazan Law associate Michael Stewart, who headed this current round of the Scott asbestos case, aptly summed up the California Supreme Court victory by saying, “The Scott decision will help to protect all types of consumers in California because the availability of punitive damages will encourage all manufacturers to design safer products and share hazard information.  It should not matter whether a manufacturer is from California or some other state or country.”

Kazan Law Attorney Frances Schreiberg Honored with Annual Award

Frances SchreibergA passionate Kazan Law attorney just received a special honor from a workers safety group and all of us at Kazan Law feel honored and proud. Frances Schreiberg, a longtime Kazan Law Of Counsel attorney who works on pro bono cases for us, has just had a new annual award launched in her honor. It is aptly called the Frances Schreiberg Pro Bono Award.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines moral compass as “a naturalfeeling that makes peopleknow what is right and wrong and how they should behave.” In the workday world, where workers continue to be put at risk for death, disease and injury whether due to asbestos exposure, faulty machinery, chemical fumes or myriad other causes, Fran serves as a moral compass for the community. She gives a voice to those who are too fearful to speak up and she empowers the unempowered.

Before I convinced her to work for Kazan Law in 1991, Fran worked for:

  • the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, training administrative law judges, attorneys and investigators
  • the State of California, Department of Industrial Relations, and among other tasks, managed the criminal Bureau of Investigations at Cal/OSHA where she prosecuted companies when workers were killed or maimed as a result of unsafe or unhealthful conditions on the job.
  • the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, developed an occupational safety and health program for them, and was involved with a variety of construction trade union issues

Since 1984 she has been an active member of numerous Cal/OSHA regulatory advisory committees, including ones for asbestos, lead and other workplace safety hazards. In 1987, Fran and I were part of a concerned group trying to restore Cal/OSHA when powerful business interests temporarily succeeded in dissolving it. That group was the nucleus of WorkSafe and Fran has been involved with WorkSafe ever since.

WorkSafe, headquartered in Oakland, California, remains dedicated to eliminating workplace hazards. It is fitting that the group has created an annual Frances Schreiberg Pro Bono Award to be presented at their annual anniversary celebration. This year’s inaugural recipient at WorkSafe’s 31st anniversary celebration was Julius Young, a partner at the Oakland firm Boxer & Gerson.

Sophie Noero, Worksafe’s program administrator commented afterwards, “It was a wonderful event, and I am so thrilled that we were able to acknowledge and celebrate Fran’s and the firm’s invaluable support of Worksafe in front of so many members of our community.”

We are too.

Seven of Kazan Law’s Asbestos Lawyers Named to Super Lawyers 2014

 asbestos lawyers

Top left: Steven Kazan, David McClain, Joseph Satterley, Gordon Greenwood. Bottom left: Justin Bosl, Michael Stewart, William Ruiz

I am proud to announce that Super Lawyers, a national attorney rating service, has selected seven Kazan Law asbestos lawyers for their 2014 list:

Gordon Greenwood: Super Lawyer 2004, 2006-2014

Steven Kazan: Super Lawyer 2004-2014

David McClain: Super Lawyer 2004-2014

Joseph Satterley: Super Lawyer 2013 (Kentucky) – 2014 (California)

Super Lawyers recognizes the top up-and-coming attorneys in their Rising Stars list. The selection process for Rising Stars is the same as the Super Lawyers selection process, except to be eligible for inclusion in Rising Stars, a candidate must be either 40 years old or younger or in practice for 10 years or less. No more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state are named to this list. We are very proud of the three Kazan Law attorneys named Rising Stars this year:

Justin Bosl: Rising Star 2011-2014

William Ruiz: Rising Star 2012-2014

Michael Stewart: Rising Star 2013-2014

Super Lawyers annually selects outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high level of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

The list is published in Super Lawyers Magazine which is distributed to attorneys and accredited law school libraries. The magazine is published in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., reaching more than 13 million readers. Super Lawyers also publishes the list as a supplemental special section in many city and regional magazines across the country.

Although this is not the first time we have received this prestigious recognition from our peers, each time I feel it is a privilege and an honor. This year is no exception.

When I first started my career as a personal injury lawyer, asbestos law as we know it today did not exist. There were plenty of personal injury lawyers but no asbestos lawyers. After taking on and winning one of the first asbestos cases ever in the U.S., I was gratified to realize that I had helped achieve justice for people who previously had none – victims of asbestos exposure. I knew I had found my calling.

I hung out my shingle for Kazan Law in Oakland California in 1974 and was soon joined by David McClain. Today Kazan Law is still headquartered in Oakland. Kazan, McClain, Satterley  & Greenwood now has 22 attorneys, including me.  As Kazan Law celebrates its 40th anniversary, the firm continues to excel at pursuing justice for mesothelioma victims and others exposed to asbestos.  Kazan Law daily puts its 40 years of experience in pioneering asbestos lawsuits and setting precedents to work for its clients today with the same zeal for justice as when we first started.

While we are pleased at the many accolades we have received, including this latest one from Super Lawyers, our greatest satisfaction as asbestos attorneys continues to come from helping our clients and their families receive due compensation for their suffering.

GM Responds to Ignition Switch Glitches but Not to Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureAn Open Letter to Ken Feinberg, settlement administrator for GM, and Mary Barra, GM CEO:

When will you accept full responsibility for those whom you are killing slowly through asbestos exposure? Why are the lives of those killed through flawed engineering more important to you than those killed through flawed choice of materials? Is it because you only care to do the right thing if it involves consumers who buy your products and not the mechanics you knowingly subjected to asbestos exposure?

GM has just recalled another 8.5 million vehicles, including more than 8 million for ignition-switch defects, and said it knew of three deaths in accidents involving the affected cars.

This boosts to about 29 million cars and trucks that GM has recalled in North America this year—a number greater than the company’s combined U.S. sales for the years 2005 through 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ken Feinberg, you explained to the media all about the GM fund you’ll oversee to compensate for deaths and injuries. You are quoted in USA Today as saying there is no limit on the amount you can award individual claims, nor on the total amount of GM’s money you can spend. “GM delegated to me full and sole discretion to decide which claims are eligible, and how much money they should get.” you said.

Why then did GM declare bankruptcy in 2009 to avoid compensating those suffering from malignant mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure from working on GM cars?

Thousands of people have developed asbestos-related illnesses as a result of GM. By 2009, the company was liable for an estimated $636 million in asbestos claims, and GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Following the bankruptcy reorganization in 2009, GM’s debts were transferred to Motors Liquidation Company. This included all present and future asbestos liability claims. The Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos PI Trust officially opened on April 30, 2012 to settle any present and future asbestos lawsuits paying only pennies on the dollar.

Mary Barra, when you took the reins of GM you admirably said GM has a “civic and moral responsibility” towards those harmed. Why the double standard that embraces responsibility for those harmed by driving your cars but sidesteps responsibility for those who worked on them? As I’ve said before, the end result of both is death and bereaved families.

It’s good that GM recognizes part of its moral responsibility to some of those Americans it has and will kill and maim. But ignoring all its asbestos victims isn’t moral; it’s hypocrisy. Shame on GM. Shame on Ken and Mary.

Why Every Mesothelioma Patient Needs Two Power of Attorney Documents

mesothelioma patientYou may be a mesothelioma patient but in the eyes of the law you are still an independent adult. And that’s a good thing. But it has its downsides.

What if you are not feeling well – which your medical treatment as a mesothelioma patient makes very likely — and you need a prescription picked up from the pharmacy? Or test results from a lab? Because of well-intended federal rules to protect patient privacy, even your spouse or adult offspring will not be able to get these for you. Unless you have a signed durable power of attorney for health care matters authorizing them to do so.

Or what if you need to have an IRA or savings CD cashed out to help pay for your medical expenses? And you are unable to go to the bank to sign all the papers? Someone you trust can do it for you if you have given them power of attorney for your finances.

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone you choose the power to act on your behalf. In case you become mentally incapacitated, you’ll need what are known as “durable” powers of attorney for medical care and finances. A durable power of attorney simply means that the document stays in effect if you become incapacitated and unable to handle matters on your own.

You need separate durable power of attorney documents for health care and your finances. It is important to keep copies (keep the original in a safe deposit box or with your attorney) of both of these handy because every pharmacy, doctor’s office and financial institution will want a copy on file before they will interact with your designated representative. Every receptionist or hospital technician will want to know whether your spouse or son or daughter is the “P.O.A.” (the abbreviation for “power of attorney”) before they will give them information they need for your care and well-being.

Do not delay on getting these documents in place. Without them, if you become too ill to take care of your health and finances, your family will have to go through expensive and lengthy court proceedings just to be able to take care of you.

Even though you should make separate power of attorney documents for health care and finances, it makes sense to name the same agent under both documents. Just make sure that the person you choose understands the responsibility for your care that they are agreeing to and will be able to be present when needed to act. Your life depends on it.

How Much Asbestos Exposure is Dangerous?

asbestos exposureBecause of my expertise in asbestos, I am often asked, “How much asbestos exposure is safe?”

The short answer is none. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets an asbestos-related disease. Similarly not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer or emphysema. People sometimes say, “Oh my Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe smoked two packs a day and lived to a hundred.” That very well may be but the odds are highly against it. Are you willing to take that chance and risk your life that you are one of the very few not vulnerable? I hope not.

Although asbestos exposure does not guarantee that you will get sick, anyone exposed to asbestos has a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. These include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – all require very extensive medical treatment and are unlikely to be cured.

Even very small amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. We have had many cases of family members developing mesothelioma from asbestos dust a worker in the family unknowingly brought home on his or her clothes.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell when asbestos is in the air and damaging your lungs. Asbestos does not make you cough or sneeze. It will not make your skin or throat itch. Asbestos fibers get into the air when asbestos materials are damaged, disturbed or handled unsafely. When asbestos is crushed, it does not make ordinary dust. It breaks into microscopic fibers that are too small to see or feel.

Asbestos fibers are so small and light that they can stay airborne days after they were released into the environment. While these particles are airborne, anyone could unknowingly inhale them. Because the fibers are so tiny, they can travel deep into the lungs where they can remain for years without you knowing they’re there.

All asbestos diseases have a latency period – a gap between the time you breathe in asbestos and when you actually start to feel sick. It may take 10 to 40 years after asbestos exposure, for you to feel symptoms of asbestos-related disease.

If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor about getting a chest x-ray or CAT scan. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos.   And remember, there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure.

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