Trump Scrutinizing Asbestos Trust Funds
As a show of concern for the validity of claims made to the asbestos trust funds established by more than 50 U.S. companies, President Trump has ordered the Justice Department to request documents pertaining to these trusts and those seeking money from them.
This is all part of a civil investigation aimed at eliminating fraudulent claims, which the administration says harm the real victims of asbestos exposure.
“The actions take aim at a system that over decades has paid out billions of dollars to the sick and cancer-stricken, but that critics say is opaque and prone to fraud and manipulation by well-connected lawyers,” wrote NBC journalist, Eric Tucker. “The government’s intervention aligns it with business groups who have long complained about the process.”
Indeed, there’s been plenty of controversy about the validity of claims made against the vast funds of companies like Johns-Manville, which established the first asbestos trust in 1988, as well as other companies with trusts, such as Armstrong, H.K. Porter, National Gypsum, Asarco, Babcock & Wilcox, Kaiser Aluminum, Keene Corporation, Owens Corning, Raymark, Tuner & Newell, and many more.
“We have an interest in fraud and consumer protection, so if there is fraud happening out there that is cognizable under federal law, that’s the type of thing the Justice Department tends to get interested in,” acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio said in an interview with the press.
However, many disagree that fraud is a problem in this system that has compensated so many victims of asbestos exposure. Asbestos victims’ advocate groups, in particular, say there’s “scant proof” that claims are being paid to those who don’t deserve them.
As a matter of fact, they point out that there are plenty of checks in place to make sure that the asbestos victim applying for and receiving the compensation is truly sick with an asbestos disease.
Asbestos victims, of course, are thankful for the trusts. Many opt to apply for compensation from those funds rather than become involved with a long lawsuit. It’s not the right choice for all but ideal for some, especially for those in need of a quick settlement to pay medical bills or other expenses involved with such a serious diagnosis as mesothelioma or other kinds of cancer.
So far, it’s worked quite well.
A 2011 Government Accountability Office report identified 60 trusts formed between 1988 and 2010 that it said had paid about 3.3 million claims valued at more than $17 billion.
“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.