Bill Aims To Run Out the Clock on Calif. Asbestos Victims

For Immediate Release: April 23, 2015

Contact: Alex Formuzis: 202.667.6982 or alex@ewg.org

Sacramento, Calif. – The EWG Action Fund has joined a growing coalition of worker, consumer, and health groups opposing a California legislative proposal that threatens to deny compensation to dying victims of asbestos exposure, one of the nation’s worst industrial scourges and cover-ups.

The “Asbestos Tort Trust Transparency Act,” AB 597, authored by California Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), would force plaintiffs and attorneys to file paperwork and pursue claims with many of the roughly 60 asbestos trusts around the country. The victim would be required to go through this arduous process before he or she could file a lawsuit suit in California state court. The bill will be heard for the first time in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday April 28, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 4202 of the State Capitol.

On behalf of EWG Action Fund, EWG’s California Director of Government Affairs, Bill Allayaud, wrote a letter to Assemblyman Mark Stone who chairs the Judiciary Committee opposing the Cooley bill. “In practical terms, the effect of AB 597 will mean the victim and his/her family will be denied fair compensation and the corporate bad actors who poisoned the victim enjoy a financial windfall and avoid full accountability,” wrote Allayaud. “And, in California, unlike many other jurisdictions, when the plaintiff dies, there is no recovery for pain and suffering.

“This proposal is designed with one goal in mind — run out the clock on asbestos victims so they die before their cases even make it to court,” said Alex Formuzis, vice president for strategic campaigns at EWG Action Fund and director of the group’s Asbestos Nation campaign. “California sees more deaths from mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease than any other state, and if this proposal becomes law many current and future victims and their families will see justice denied. They will be forced to jump over legal hurdles put in place by the asbestos industry itself.”

The concept of this one-sided legislation began at the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. A group heavily funded by a number of major companies, including Koch Industries, and supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ALEC incubates and disseminates legislative proposals for use by state legislators. Legislation similar to the Cooley bill is being considered or already enacted into law in a dozen states.

In California, the bill is being sponsored by the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC), a group tied to subsidiaries of Koch Industries as well as other corporations that rely on asbestos. In 2014, CJAC honored Cooley, the bill’s author, with its “Leadership Award” for his work to “protect individuals and businesses from unwarranted lawsuits in California.”

Asbestos is still legal, lethal and found almost everywhere — homes, schools, shipyards and buildings across the country. It kills at least 12,000 Americans every year. Over the last decade, 8 million pounds of the deadly substance have been imported into the U.S. and made their way into communities across the country, including many in California.

Asbestos can linger in the body for decades before illness strikes. Patients who develop asbestos-related diseases today were exposed a generation ago, when the asbestos industry was fully aware of the dangers but failed to warn and protect industrial workers, construction laborers, military personnel, and others dealing with the deadly mineral.

Now those victims are being told they must scramble to their dying day to seek justice in court. Under the proposed law, if a victim of asbestos-related disease dies before a court considers his claim, the victim’s family would also be denied fair compensation. Legal claims for pain and suffering damages die with the victim.

“It is regrettable to see Assembly member Cooley carry the water for ALEC and the asbestos industry,” Formuzis added. “A vote in support of Cooley’s bill is a vote against those Californians currently suffering from asbestos-related disease, and the memories of those who already lost their battles.”

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EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.

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