The Department of Justice has announced that it will be taking a closer look at the administration of asbestos trust funds, and that has alarmed many mesothelioma victims and their advocates. The asbestos trust fund system was established decades ago in response to asbestos companies filing for bankruptcy as they faced increasing legal liability for their role in causing asbestos-related diseases. The establishment of these bankruptcy trusts has provided a safety net for people who have become ill by exposure to the carcinogenic material, but the asbestos industry has long fought these trusts claiming that it is too easily manipulated. It’s not clear what impact this action by the notoriously business-friendly Trump administration will have on the ability of mesothelioma victims to get the compensation they deserve.
The asbestos bankruptcy trust funds have paid out billions of dollars to those diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related diseases. The companies that have established these trusts were forced to do so prior to being allowed to enter bankruptcy: the courts wanted to ensure that asbestos exposure victims would be treated fairly. The Justice Department’s recent actions are alarming for many even though the system has worked well for many, and still has billions of dollars in reserves that are earmarked for those who may be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases in the future. They recently slowed the appointment of an attorney to oversee a trust, opposed the creation of another trust, and have been demanding documentation regarding trust operations. While those against the trust process claim that it is vulnerable to fraud, advocates for mesothelioma victims say that it has provided tremendous benefits to those who have been victimized, and that additional oversight and investigation may take the funds that were specifically set aside for those who are ill. University at Buffalo law professor S. Todd Brown said that additional oversight “could lead to money going to complying with this oversight rather than going to the victims.”
“There is incredible irony in the fact that an industry that covered up the dangers of a known carcinogen for decades, leading to the ongoing deaths of 15,000 Americans a year, is now claiming that its victims are committing systemic fraud against the trusts — even though no court has ever found evidence of such fraud,” Peter Knudsen, spokesman for the plaintiffs’ lawyers group American Association for Justice, said in a statement.
If you have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and you need information about how asbestos trusts work, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.