House advances bills on asbestos transparency, frivolous lawsuits

The House voted Wednesday to advance two tort reform bills, including one the House should pass later today that requires more transparency on claims for asbestos injuries.

Members voted 223-194 in favor of the rule for the two bills: the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act (H.R. 982), and the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 2655).

ADVERTISEMENT
The FACT Act would require the 60 asbestos trusts that have been set up to pay injury claims to report each quarter on who is making claims and who is being paid. Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure duplicate or fraudulent claims are not being paid out.

"When those trust funds are depleted, they're gone forever," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.). "This bill requires a degree of transparency, a quarterly report from the trustees of these trust funds, to see who is making claims on these funds, who's receiving claims out of these funds, again, just so we can be good stewards of those trust funds and ensure that they're available for future years."

But Democrats have argued that there is very little fraud associated with the trusts, and that the bill would run the risk of publicizing information about asbestos injury claimants.

"Risking employment discrimination and identify theft for asbestos poisoning victims just because my colleagues on the other side want to stick it to the trial lawyers seems awfully crass to me," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would require judges to fine lawyers who bring frivolous lawsuits. The two parties are split on this bill as well — the GOP says companies need more protection from the time- and money-wasting frivolous suits brought against them, but Democrats say judges already have the option of imposing fines for wasteful legal actions.

The vote will allow the House to debate and vote on the FACT Act today, and consider the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act on Thursday. The rule makes in order three Democratic amendments to the FACT Act.