What “Lies” Beneath the Wall Street Journal Asbestos Article, Myths and Facts Exposed

On March 11, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an article that fits neatly in the play book of Big Asbestos’ campaign to avoid compensating the asbestos victims they deliberately harmed by vilifying the victims and accusing them and their families of “fraud.”  The goal of this campaign, led by asbestos corporations, their insurers and their front groups, is to delay and deny until asbestos victims die.  

Rather than focusing on these victims and their families who have been devastated by asbestos disease, the WSJ article perpetuates the same deceptive and inaccurate claims about the asbestos trusts that Big Asbestos has been campaigning on for years.  At no point does the article claim to have actual evidence of widespread fraud; instead, the article relies on unnamed, unidentified “politicians, judges and defense lawyers” that claim that the “opportunity for abuse flourishes.”  What the WSJ's data analysis does show that the trusts have a very low anomaly rate and are operating efficiently, especially for such a massive system. 

These unfounded accusations are used by Big Asbestos to push legislation at the state and federal levels that would add significant time and costs to the justice process for victims.  The following are some of the most deceptive claims in the article: 

Myth: There are too many asbestos lawsuits and claims.  

Fact: There are many asbestos lawsuits and claims because Big Asbestos knowingly exposed millions of Americans to this deadly product and covered up the dangers for profit.  Asbestos has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and 10,000 more are killed each year.  Lives could have been saved and lawsuits prevented if Big Asbestos was transparent about the dangers decades ago.  

Myth: Asbestos victims recover windfalls of money from asbestos bankruptcy trusts.

Fact: The majority of asbestos victims are grossly undercompensated for the astronomical medical costs and loss associated with asbestos disease.  

Asbestos corporations that admitted they are responsible for killing thousands of Americans have taken advantage of a special bankruptcy process that allows them to shed all of their asbestos liability through the creation of a trust and go on to make huge profits.  The trusts were underfunded by the corporations when they were created and the number of people made sick by asbestos was underestimated.  As a result, asbestos victims only recover pennies on the dollar from those trusts.  Even the asbestos-industry funded RAND study found that most “trusts do not have sufficient funds to pay every claim in full.”  The median payment percentage to victims is 25 percent, but some trusts pay as low as 1.1 percent of the value of a claim. 

Myth: Asbestos victims are inappropriately recovering from multiple asbestos corporations. 

Fact: Most victims were exposed to multiple asbestos products.  Multiple corporations are responsible and should be held accountable for their portion of the blame. State laws exist to ensure that every defendant, whether a traditional defendant or a trust, only pays its share of liability.  Defendants routinely seek and are awarded off sets in accordance with state law.

Myth: Fraudulent claims run rampant in the asbestos trust system.  

Fact: First, there is no record of fraud and abuse in the trust system.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into this question and found none. Additionally, at no point does the WSJ article claim to have actual evidence of systemic fraud.  Instead, the the article relies on unnamed, unidentified “politicians, judges and defense lawyers” that claim that the “opportunity for abuse flourishes.” 

Second, data anomalies are not fraud.  It is a misinterpretation of the data to conclude that data entry cases constitute fraud.  Even if the WSJ’s numbers are accurate, they only prove that out of nearly 1million claims filed, the anomaly rate is 0.35%, an amount far lower than similar large trust systems.  What the WSJ's data analysis does show is that the trusts have a very low anomaly rate and are operating efficiently, especially for such a massive system.

Myth: Federal legislation is necessary to prevent fraud and abuse in the trust system. 

Fact: Federal legislation is unnecessary and offensive.  Proposed federal legislation would require private asbestos trusts to publicly release extensive individual information about asbestos victims and would slow down asbestos cases by allowing asbestos defendants to bury the trusts in information requests, no matter how unnecessary or irrelevant.  

Asbestos corporations are already able to obtain all relevant information without this legislation.  State courts can and routinely do demand that both sides turn over all information relevant to a pending action.  The WSJ article admitted that judges across the country have granted defense requests to subpoena bankruptcy trusts.  The article notes that corporations that have been found guilty by jury of knowingly killing Americans want the additional data from the trusts so they can save “hundreds of millions of dollars in jury verdicts.”  What asbestos defendants really want, beyond what they can get now, is information irrelevant to a case that would only serve to delay compensation to victims and shift blame.  In other words, asbestos defendants want to delay and deny until the asbestos victim dies.

Myth: Trusts are ripe for fraud because they do not require any real proof from claimants. 

Fact: Asbestos corporations that have taken advantage of the trusts system already admit that their products are responsible for asbestos diseases. The only proof claimants need to show is that they were exposed to that corporation’s asbestos and that they are sick with asbestos disease.  The trusts examine evidence of claims before payments are made and according to GAO, trusts have a system in place to address allegations of fraud.  Additionally, state courts are fully equipped to handle such allegations.  

Myth: There is no limit to how many trusts a person can tap.

Fact: Claimants must prove they were exposed to the corporation’s asbestos product and that they were harmed by that exposure in order to file a claim with that corporation’s trust.