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Do Asbestos Victims Deserve Compensation? And Other Questions the Wall Street Journal Never Asks

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Is the Wall Street Journal afraid to make an affirmative statement about so-called "fraud" in asbestos cases? They should be. Their passive voice headline: "As Asbestos Claims Rise, So Do Worries About Fraud" is typical of a media source that can't stand behind their work. Here's how to make this an example of real journalism: the WSJ reporters should fill us in on who is worrying and how those fears arose. Turns out it's actually the WSJ reporters who are working overtime to raise the alarm over the "avalanche" of litigation and claims that "pile up" at the rate of 85 per day. As I previously reported, there is good reason for this increase in cases filed. In fact, the entire article's premise of rampant fraud seems to rest on an example of one fraudulent claim filed by one individual out of the 850,000 claims and cases over 30 years that they analyzed for the article.

This latest bucket in the water-carrying series previews a hearing scheduled by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia on the "Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency" bill. Bill sponsors Reps. Blake Farenthold (R., Texas) and Jim Matheson (D., Utah) profess to be motivated by the concern that the trusts will be prematurely depleted by fraudulent victims leaving deserving victims without sufficient funds for compensation. Attorneys who have actual experience litigating cases on behalf of victims, however, vocally disagree. One such attorney, Elihu Inselbuch, a member of New York's Caplin & Drysdale, testified at the hearing:

"These laws are simply the latest stratagem by corporations that produced and distributed asbestos-containing products to avoid responsibility for the deaths and injuries of millions of Americans caused by those products," Inselbuch testified. "Legislators should not allow public policy to be hijacked by special interests, and should be vigilant to protect the rights of injured workers and their families."

Meanwhile, the legislators who introduced this bill and their partners at the the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a lobbying group started by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been tirelessly working at the state and federal level to put as many barriers as possible between victims of asbestos exposure and compensation.

The bill is just the next step in the insurance industry's coordinated campaign to make this debate about lawyers vs. poor, beleaguered corporations. The real story, of course, is not that there is * gasp * "rampant fraud," but that there is an uptick in asbestos claims because people are suffering and dying form asbestos exposure. And the WSJ conveniently leaves out the well documented fact these people and their families were not exposed to asbestos by accident, but were knowingly exposed to a toxic substance in hopes of increasing coporate profits as far back as the 1930s.

This article highlights the misleading "smoking gun" that more than 2,000 victims "said they were exposed to asbestos working in industrial jobs before they were 12 years old." Sadly, as the WSJ and their allies are well aware, this latest wave of asbestos victims represent the children of workers who were exposed by asbestos tracked home daily on the clothing of their fathers -- workers with the highest daily 'on the job' exposure levels. Children exposed at a secondary level generally have a long latency period (about 25 years). Given the WSJ's tenacity on this subject, if there were genuinely 2,000 cases of blatant fraud, it's likely that another news organization would have picked up on that as well.

What's the huge crime here? Among the "fraudulent" claims singled out in the article for more detailed explanation, the single supposedly suspicious claim resulted in a payout that could have been "as much as $75,000." The real scandal here is that over 850,000 lost lives have been valued so cheaply.