BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Let me thank the ranking member for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, with all of the protests, I think there is nothing more that we can say other than that it is a
very cruel decision to move forward this particular legislation. It really implodes and violates the process of litigation between plaintiffs and defendants, petitioners and those who are in opposition, because we have an infrastructure of a court system that allows those who participate in that court system to guide the evidence that is being presented under the representation of their counsel.
The Sixth Amendment provides for individuals to have a right to counsel, and what this legislation is trying to do is implode that relationship and ask for information that could be given in the regular order of a court process.
This is intrusive legislation under the false guise of transparency and, in actuality, would invade the privacy of asbestos victims by requiring the posting of personal exposure and medical information online and erect new barriers to victims receiving compensation for their asbestos diseases.
This cancer-driven disease, this asbestos-driven disease, is a silent killer. For a long time, the victims don't even know that they are being impacted by asbestos that is causing cancer.
We have witnessed decades of uncontrolled use of asbestos; and even after its hazards became widely known, disease and death still persist because people work in it and they do not know. And so they have been forced to hire counsel merely to provide for their families or themselves in the waning hours and days of their life.
Hundreds of thousands of workers and family members have been exposed, suffered, or died of asbestos-related cancers and lung disease; and the toll continues. And yet we have legislation like this that wants to clearly undermine the legal system, the justice system, which means I go into a court, I have a lawyer, there is someone opposed to my position, they have a lawyer, and we submit information under the basis of that litigation or that settlement or that negotiation.
Why do Americans have to be subjected to another abuse while they are suffering and dying?
This is an abuse. H.R. 982 is asking for information that can already be gotten. As I indicated, these individuals have been exposed, suffered, or died from asbestos-related cancer. It is estimated that, each year, 10,000 people in the United States are expected to die from asbestos-related diseases. How much more of an outrage do we have to place on their families--and burdens--to ask them to give information about their sicknesses and other issues that are squarely within the realm of their counsel? Call up their lawyers and ask for it. This is an outrage that they have to deal with this onerous provision.
Time and again, asbestos victims have faced huge obstacles, inconvenient barriers, and veiled but persistent resistance to receiving compensation for their diseases. That is why they organized in the manner that they did. It is because they were dying, dying, dying, and there was no response.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. JACKSON LEE. It is particularly galling that many of the major asbestos producers refuse to accept responsibility and that most declared bankruptcy in an attempt to limit their future liability.
I ask my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this legislation. How much more can we put on these poor victims? If you want information, go to their counsel. Go into the courthouse. They will provide it. Let's give them relief. I oppose this legislation.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to H.R. 982, the F.A.C.T. Act. This intrusive legislation which misuses the word ``transparency,'' would invade the privacy of asbestos victims by requiring the posting of personal exposure and medical information online and erect new barriers to victims receiving compensation for their asbestos diseases.
We have witnessed decades of uncontrolled use of asbestos, and, even after its hazards became widely known, disease and death still persist.
Hundreds of thousands of workers and family members have been exposed to, suffered or died of asbestos-related cancers and lung disease, and the toll continues. It is estimated that each year 10,000 people in the United States are expected to die from asbestos related diseases. This is an outrage--and to add to their misery--they have to deal with the onerous provisions of H.R. 982.
Time and time again, asbestos victims have faced huge obstacles, inconvenient barriers, and veiled but persistent resistance to receiving compensation for their diseases and it is important to note that asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort litigation in the United States.
It is particularly galling that many of the major asbestos producers refused to accept responsibility and most declared bankruptcy in an attempt to limit their future liability. In 1994 Congress passed reasonably balanced special legislation that allowed the asbestos companies to set up bankruptcy trusts to compensate asbestos victims and reorganize under the bankruptcy law.
But these trusts don't have adequate funding to provide just compensation, and according to a 2010 RAND study, the median payment across the trusts is only 25 percent of the claim's value. With compensation from these trusts so limited, asbestos victims have sought redress from the manufacturers of other asbestos products to which they were exposed--the original tortfeasors.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as OSHA noted two decades ago that
``It was aware of no instance in which exposure to a toxic substance has more clearly demonstrated detrimental health effects on human than has asbestos exposure.''
We see the harm that asbestos causes when people become sick--ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things to get this disease--like go to work every day to support their families.
And although the proponents of this legislation assert that it is intended to protect asbestos victims, I have not heard of a single asbestos victim who has expressed support for the H.R. 982, the FACT Act.
As the widow of our former colleague Representative Bruce Vento (D-MN), who passed away from mesothelioma, stated H.R. 982 ``does not do a single thing'' to help asbestos victims and their families.
H.R. 982 does not help and actually disturbs a reasonably well-functioning asbestos victim compensation process. Entities facing overwhelming mass tort liability for causing asbestos injuries may, under certain circumstances, shed these liabilities and financially regain their stability in exchange for funding trusts established under Chapter II of the Bankruptcy Code to pay the claims of their victims, under certain circumstances.
H.R. 982, however, interferes with this longstanding process in two ways. The FACT Act would require these trusts to: (1) file a publicly available quarterly report with the bankruptcy court that would include personally identifying information about such claimants, including their names, exposure history, and basis for any payment made to them; and (2) provide any information related to payment from and demands for payment from such trust to any party to any action in law or equity concerning liability for asbestos exposure.
I urge my colleagues to vote against this utterly intrusive legislation.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Chairman, we are here today for several reasons, and my friends on the other side of the aisle have their high calling and reasons of great merit that they argue, but I think we have a more devastating and prevailing reason that we are opposed to this legislation.
Frankly, as I indicated earlier in my remarks, there are thousands and thousands of asbestos victims who are suffering from lung disease or cancer. Many of them were diagnosed late. Many of them, unfortunately, have passed. Their families are still victims. They have lost everything that they have had in trying to treat them, and now we add what we are used to saying in the community: insult to injury.
We come with an enormously burdensome and unfair initiative. So today I rise to introduce an amendment that I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to consider because it is fair.
The amendment would apply the transparency rules that they are seeking from those victims who are barely receiving dollars out of a trust that is the final result of numbers of bankrupt companies. We are asking to equally apply these transparency rules to asbestos industry defendants by requiring asbestos companies to report information about the location of their asbestos-containing products; and the amendment, out of respect for trade secrets, will exempt that.
So today we are asking for transparency on both sides. H.R. 982 is one-sided in that it maintains the rights of asbestos defendants to demand confidentiality of settlements and protects an asbestos defendant's right to continue to hide the dangers of their asbestos products from asbestos victims and the American public. A typical asbestos defendant who settles a case in
the tort system demands the utmost confidentiality along with the right to file for bankruptcy as a condition of the settlement in order to ensure that other victims cannot learn how much they paid or for which asbestos products the defendant is paying compensation.
By no means do we want to help those who are hurting. We certainly don't want to give them a leg up by understanding what the process of compensation is.
These same defendants now, under this particular bill, want the victims to disclose specific settlement amounts with the trusts along with product exposure information and work history. How unfair is that? On my dying bed, I have to offer and find a basis of giving you a settlement, or my family has to give it to you in the midst of our crisis.
The asbestos health crisis is the result of a massive cover-up; therefore, we are asking today for simple fairness. If there is confidentiality on the defendant's part and they ask for information on those who are suffering, then I believe, minimally, defendants can give information about the location of the asbestos-containing products to ensure that our victims are not exposed any longer.
Furthermore, the trust information is already public, and I would ask why this bill is even necessary. And then the further point of controversy is that this bill seeks to override State law regarding discovery disclosure of information.
So I am asking my colleagues to be fair, to recognize the hurt and the pain, and to support the Jackson Lee amendment, which simply asks for those defendants, those companies, to give us the location of the asbestos-containing products.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Jackson Lee amendment which would require the Asbestos Industry to Report Information about Dangerous Asbestos Products.
WHAT DOES THE AMENDMENT DO?
The Amendment would apply the transparency rules in the bill equally to asbestos industry defendants by requiring asbestos companies to report information about the location of their asbestos-containing products. And the amendment includes a ``trade secrets'' exception.
WHY SUPPORT THE AMENDMENT?
H.R. 982 is one-sided in that it maintains the rights of asbestos defendants to demand confidentiality of settlements and protects an asbestos defendant's right to continue to hide the dangers of their asbestos products from asbestos victims and the American public. A typical asbestos defendant who settles a case in the tort system demands confidentiality as a condition of settlement in order to ensure that other victims cannot learn how much they paid or for which asbestos products the defendant is paying compensation. These same defendants now want the victims to disclose specific settlement amounts with the trusts, along with product exposure information and work history, that they do not themselves provide nor would have provided before the trusts were created. If transparency were the true goal of this bill, then why doesn't the bill require settling defendants to reveal information important to public safety and health?
The asbestos health crisis is the result of a massive corporate cover-up. For decades, asbestos companies knew about the dangers of asbestos and failed to warn or adequately protect workers and their families. ``The 1966 comments of the Director of Purchasing for Bendix Corporation, now a part of Honeywell, capture the complete disregard of an industry for its workforce that is expressed over and over again in company documents spanning the past 60 years. `..... if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products, why not die from it?' ''
Now, the same industry responsible for causing this crisis is asking Congress to protect them from liability. If such a bill is going to pass the U.S. House, the bill should at least force asbestos defendants to reveal information about their asbestos products, where they are in use, and how many Americans continue to be exposed to those products.
Trust information is already public. Trusts already disclose far more information than solvent defendants do about their settlement practices and amounts--the settlement criteria used by a trust and the offer the trust will make if the criteria are met are publicly available in the Trust Distribution Procedures (``TDP'') for that trust. Trusts also file annual reports with the Bankruptcy courts and publish lists of the products for which they have assumed responsibility. If asbestos victims are going to be forced to reveal private medical and work history information in a public forum, to the very industry that caused their harm, asbestos defendants should at least be required to reveal which of their products contain asbestos and how many people are being exposed.
The bill seeks to override state law regarding discovery/disclosure of information. State discovery rules currently govern disclosure of a trust claimant's work and exposure history. If such information is relevant to a state law claim, a defendant can seek and get that information according to the rules of a state court.
What a defendant cannot do, and what this bill would allow, is for a defendant to engage in fishing expeditions for irrelevant information which has no use other than to delay a claim for as long as possible. Thus, the bill must be amended to only apply to defendants willing to reveal important information about their asbestos-containing products.
Lastly, let me add that the asbestos defendants would not be required to disclose trade secrets under the amendment. The asbestos defendants would only be required to disclose information about which of their products contain asbestos, where they are in use, and how many people are being exposed. The amendment would not force asbestos defendants to reveal industry trade secrets or place them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. Instead, this amendment ensures transparency from both the asbestos victims and asbestos defendants since transparency is the stated goal of the bill.
I urge my colleagues to Support the Jackson Lee Amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time. Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank the distinguished gentleman for his important remarks.
Mr. Chairman, let me quickly say, Mr. Conyers, Mr. Ranking Member, you were superbly right. The plaintiffs in litigation have had their right of exchange of information. What our friends are trying to do on the other side of the aisle is to make the trusts, now, a courtroom where information is dragged out of the victim, but it is not asked for from the defendants, the ones who have filed for bankruptcy, the ones who have left the victims to suffer and to fend for themselves.
I ask my colleagues to make this fair and require the asbestos company to give us where the asbestos-remaining products are so that we can save lives. If there is transparency, if the FACT bill would be fair, they would then have information coming from both parties, not only the victims, the plaintiffs, but they would have it coming from the asbestos companies that have driven up the numbers of those suffering from lung disease and cancer.
I ask my colleagues to support the Jackson Lee amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT