What Are Asbestos Compensation Funds?
Mesothelioma trust funds and asbestos bankruptcy trusts are funds set up by corporations responsible for exposing their customers and others to asbestos. The funds ensure that victims of asbestos-related illnesses receive compensation, even if the companies have filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business. In order to fully understand how the funds work, it’s best to examine the history of asbestos compensation funds from the beginning.
History of Asbestos Compensation Funds
Employees of Johns-Manville, which mined and processed asbestos, began suing the company over lung illnesses as early as 1930. In 1982, to deal with the mounting cost of these lawsuits, the company reorganized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Johns-Manville placed funds to pay victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses into a bankruptcy trust. Since that time, other companies have created about 50 asbestos trusts in bankruptcy.
People suffering from asbestos-related illnesses, as well as spouses and dependents, are eligible for compensation from the asbestos trust of the corporation responsible for their exposure. Some companies have not sought bankruptcy protection and must be sued directly to obtain compensation.
Congress may soon make it harder for victims to access asbestos trust funds. House Republicans have introduced legislation that will place burdensome reporting obligations on the trusts, to the benefit of companies that continue to use asbestos and to the detriment of claimants.
How to Receive Asbestos Compensation Funds
To prove your claim, you will need documentation of diagnosis with an asbestos-related illness, based on an examination by a physician approved by the trust. In all but mesothelioma cases, you must also meet the criteria for Significant Occupational Exposure (SOE) to asbestos of at least 5 years total, along with 6 months exposure to the products for which each trust is responsible. Requirements may vary based on your occupation and the company or companies for which you worked. You will need to provide affidavits supporting your exposure.
Each asbestos trust is run by one or more independent trustees, who seek advice from a Trust Advisory Committee made up of attorneys from law firms that represent asbestos claimants, and a representative of future claimants. The trust reviews claims and assigns values to accepted claims based on an equitable distribution of the trust’s assets to current and future claimants. I have been been nominated by the U.S. Trustee and appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to serve as a member or as counsel to victim members in almost all asbestos bankruptcy reorganizations.
Payments are calculated based on several factors, including the severity of your illness, the age at which you were diagnosed, and the history of past settlements negotiated by your attorney. Other factors that may have contributed to your illness, such as a history of smoking, may also affect the amount of your settlement. All asbestos funds publish average payment amounts. If a trust does not have enough funds left to pay all anticipated claims, it will reduce each claim by a percentage that will allow it to continue to compensate future claimants. If you disagree with the amount of your settlement, you may dispute it.
Most asbestos bankruptcy trusts will take a few months to more than a year to process a new claim. If you accept the payment offered, the time frame for receiving payment can again vary, but it is usually around two months. Some of the larger trusts accept claim documents electronically to speed the process. For those facing financial hardship or terminal illness, most asbestos trusts offer an expedited review process that will remit funds more quickly.
Are Asbestos Compensation Funds the Only Way to Receive Help?
Asbestos trust funds were set up for two purposes: to protect the assets of corporations who exposed their employees and customers to asbestos and to provide money to compensate those suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, even if the responsible company ceases operations. The trust process provides a simpler and quicker way for claimants to receive much-needed compensation to pay for medical bills and other financial burdens of asbestos-related injuries. Trust payments, however, are generally lower than what plaintiffs could expect to recover through the courts or through negotiated settlements or jury verdicts.
Gathering and submitting the documents you need to prove your claim to an asbestos trust fund can be challenging, particularly if you are contending with health and financial concerns. If you were exposed to asbestos from more than one company, you may need to file claims with multiple trusts or pursue a combination of trust claims and a lawsuit, to receive the compensation you are entitled to. An attorney familiar with the process can take the burden off you while assuring that your paperwork is completed correctly the first time, so you receive compensation more quickly.
Some claimants may wish to pursue their claims in court. By filing a lawsuit against the company or companies that subjected you to asbestos poisoning and pursuing a trial or negotiating a settlement, you may receive a larger payment for your injuries. An attorney with experience working with clients suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can explain your choices and help you choose option that is best for you and your family.