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Congress May Attack Trusts in Asbestos Litigation

Congress buildingWhile the issue of asbestos litigation is nothing new for members of Congress, lawmakers on the Hill have decided to initiate another examination of such cases, this time going after the trusts set up by companies to pay compensation to victims who deserve it.

According to a recent article in the National Law Journal, Republicans on Capitol Hill, led by Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), are considering making changes to the trusts. The publication reports that the trusts – of which there are approximately 50 – were created in federal court by companies facing asbestos lawsuits that filed for bankruptcy.

One of the most prominent examples of this kind of trust, according to the Law Journal, is USG Corp., which originally funded its trust with $4 billion with the intention of being able to cover costs of asbestos litigation in the future. Corporations such as USG are not as concerned about their trusts anymore at this stage of the game.

Unlike USG, however, there are still some “solvent co-defendants” that face regular asbestos accusations, and still have a major stake in their trusts. Defendant attorneys for these companies have said that plaintiffs can sue the corporation in state court as well as the trust itself, while the lawyers have difficulty accessing information used in the cases against the trusts, according to the publication.

Attacking Trusts the Latest Attempt by Defendants to Shed Blame

As members of Congress debate the merits of requiring more transparency with trusts in asbestos litigation, the one certainty that remains is that defendant companies are still responsible in the long run.

Steven Kazan, the managing partner of Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman in Oakland, California, told the Law Journal that going after the trusts is just the latest example of defendant corporations trying to mask the blame that truly falls on them.

“None of them want to acknowledge their responsibilities,” Kazan explained. “They’ve been trying to get legislative relief for decades. That hasn’t worked. Now they’re talking about the trusts.”

Bottom line: Asbestos Exposure has Serious Consequences

The responsibilities of these defendant companies are as clear as the hazards posed by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos litigation is supported by decades of scientific research that has determined exposure to the carcinogenic material leads to the development of a number of serious illnesses.

These diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, typically do not manifest themselves until decades after initial exposure, with diagnoses often being made too late for effective treatment.

Still, asbestos attorneys and plaintiffs will closely monitor the discussion on Capitol Hill, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that years of talks have not yet led to any reform legislation.

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