Shortly after the most recent round of midterm elections, we predicted that one of the priorities of the new Congress would be to enact as many tort reform measures as possible. We suggested this might include both a push to enact the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA) and the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act, both of which passed the house in 2013.
Only a few months later, this entire projection has come to pass. In May, The Hill began covering the FACT bill, “that lawmakers claim would reduce fraud in asbestos lawsuits,” as it passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 19 to 9. Reuters adds that LARA passed through the same committee by a 19 to 13. Now both bills will go before the entire House for consideration.
The sponsor of this bill, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, frames the bill as one that will protect individuals with legitimate claims: “Every dollar taken through double-dipping or unscrupulous legal practices is a dollar less for those victims who face mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. The FACT Act will shine sunlight into the opaque asbestos trust system to fight this fraud and abuse.”
The problem? There has been no fraud in these casesclass
As the New York Times editorial board explained upon the “misguided” bill’s introduction in 2013, “The bill is supposedly designed to root out fraud and abuse, but there is no persuasive evidence of any significant fraud or abuse. ” Perhaps Congress’ time would be better spent reconsidering the legality of the toxic and carcinogenic substance (whose lobbyists have spent about $100 million on various campaigns since the 1980s).
An asbestos expert, on the other hand, explains that “this bill does nothing to address” the 12,000 asbestos-related deaths in this country every year. “Instead, it creates new hurdles for victims seeking justice, benefiting the same corporations responsible for causing this national health crisis.”
The CEO of the American Association for Justice agrees, arguing that the bill “will grant a handout to the very corporations that poisoned and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, while doing nothing to prevent further exposure to this deadly toxin. The asbestos industry is the only supporter of the FACT Act, and to date, this committee has refused to hear testimony from people who have experienced the ravages of asbestos diseases.”
The second bill, LARA, is aimed at imposing sanctions on parties who file “frivolous lawsuits,” sometimes forcing them to pay the legal fees of parties they sue. While the courts already have the power to impose such sanctions, this law would require them–taking the decision out of the hands of judges. It is worth noting that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has already issued a statement that claims that “implementing the bill would result in no significant impact on the federal budget.”
These two bills certainly seem to disproportionately favor large corporations and special interest groups at the expense of individuals’ right to access the civil justice system. Perhaps the New York Times put it best when its editorial board opined that Congress should “commission an objective study of whether there is even a problem that needs fixing.”