CM Publisher Updates AG Probe Into Asbestos Trusts

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Posting at The Huffington Post, Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner updates an investigation by 13 state attorneys general into what they are calling potential abuse and mismanagement in four of the nation’s largest asbestos bankruptcy trusts. Billions of dollars are held by dozens of trusts and a key issue is is required re-payments to Medicare and Medicaid programs may have been missed.

See the HuffPo blog here:

Link to post: Asbestos Trusts Strike Back, Calling AGs Medicaid Fraud Probe ‘Overreach’

Asbestos Trust Filings An Issue In California Legislative Push

Photo credit: Northern California Record report, 4/10/17

Photo credit: Northern California Record report, 4/10/17

Tort reform advocates are pushing a new California proposal that would require victims’ attorneys to disclose filings with asbestos bankruptcy “trusts,” or face longer times awaiting trial in the state’s crowded civil court docket. The Norcal Record, a legal-issues newspaper owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reports that the new law is scheduled for a vote in the Judiciary Committee of the California Assembly on April 25.

The Record explains that AB105 “… would require lawyers to reveal that they have filed for awards with asbestos bankruptcy trusts, established to compensate victims of exposure, before receiving ‘preference’ when filing a separate action in a civil court. Absent preference, a civil action in California’s  overburdened courts can take three years for a case to come to trial, legal experts say.”  
 
Nothing under current California law requires a lawyer to reveal to a court that a separate action for compensation has been filed with a trust, resulting in documented cases of lawyers and their clients receiving awards both from the trusts and the courts. The so-called ‘double dipping’ leaves trusts with fewer funds for those with legitimate exposure claims, critics of the practice say.

Asbestos victims’ cases are the nation’s longest running civil tort litigation, lasting more than four decades. The trusts are a special aspect of federal bankruptcy laws that allows companies facing asbestos liability to form special trust funds that operate separately from the civil courts system. Recently, those trusts have come under fire for offering victims a chance to tell one exposure story in the trust system and another in the separate civil courts system. 
Some states have passed, and the U.S. Congress is considering, new laws aimed at reconciling how the trust funds interact with the civil courts.

See the Record story here:
Asbestos transparency legislation set for committee vote next week

Health Care Funds Enough To Warrant Trust-Fund Lawsuit?

Photo credit: Legal News Line online report, 3/29/17

Photo credit: Legal News Line online report, 3/29/17

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed Newsline website has published a deep-dive (well, “deeper” anyway) into the mushrooming state attorney generals investigation into asbestos trust funds, including speculation that U.S. Justice Department attention would be a “whole new ballgame.” The story broker recently when Forbes’ Daniel Fisher wrote about the probe.

(Sara Warner, publisher of this website, echoed some of his reporting in a Huffington Post piece.)

The Newsline report quotes Mark A. Behrens, who co-chairs Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Washington, DC-based public policy group: “If these cases get the attention of the Department of Justice, then it’s a whole new ball game.” That report background that “… In one case, Utah’s Attorney General recently sued four of the largest asbestos bankruptcy trusts to make them comply with civil investigative demands from 13 states on whether they are failing to reimburse states for Medicare and Medicaid. Federal law requires those who oversee settlements to pay outstanding bills for Medicare coverage” and added that “… the federal government and the states may have similar interests with regard to reimbursement of health care costs, business interests believe. It is estimated that some 30 percent of asbestos cases involve veterans. Many of these individuals would receive treatment at VA hospitals at the government’s expense. Given the age of many asbestos plaintiffs, many also would receive Medicare benefits, a federal health care coverage program.”

The Newsline piece is here:

http://legalnewsline.com/stories/511099428-business-lawyers-expect-spillover-from-actions-against-asbestos-trusts-plaintiffs-lawyers

Forbes: State AGs Probe Asbestos Trusts Over Medicaid Payments

Asbestos wallboard on a job site: Who pays when workers get sick? (Shutterstock)

Asbestos wallboard on a job site: Who pays when workers get sick? (Shutterstock)

Daniel Fisher at Forbes is reporting that attorneys general from 13 “Republican-leaning states” are involved in a lawsuit against several big national asbestos bankruptcy trust funds, seeking “… information on whether they are squandering money and failing to reimburse states for Medicare and Medicaid expenditures.”

Fisher’s report says that the lawsuit follows “… demand letters to the Armstrong World Industries, Babcock & Wilcox, DII and Owens Corning/Fibreboard bankruptcy trusts on Dec. 12. So far none have responded, Utah says in the complaint filed March 7 in state court in Salt Lake City.”

The report also notes that “… The AGs cite the Medicare Secondary Payer law, a little used federal statute that carries stiff penalties for insurers and others who arrange for lawsuit settlements to be paid directly to claimants without making sure they first settle outstanding bills for Medicare coverage. Penalties can include double damages and even plaintiff attorneys can be liable, said Frank Qesada, an attorney with MSP Recovery, a Miami law firm that has filed numerous national class actions on behalf of private Medicare providers.”

Asbestos lawsuits represent the nation’s longest-running personal injury civil litigation and has been ongoing for about 40 years. Read the Forbes story here: State AGs Probe Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts To Recover Medicare Payments

NCM Taking Part In New Asbestos ‘Double-Victims’ Group

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

The National Courts Monitor is helping organize a new workgroup to look into how the asbestos litigation system treats cancer victims and other families impacted by the substance. In particular, the group hopes to help discover if the practices of some special bankruptcy trust funds, and the attorneys who work with them, leaves families vulnerable to charges they have shortchanged insurance companies or other health-care providers like Medicaid.

NCM Publisher Sara Warner explains that the group is organizing as civil racketeering lawsuits are popping up around the country, based largely on the revelations from the “Garlock” case in North Carolina where a federal judge found “evidence suppression” as he looked into 15 different asbestos cases.

The issue is especially important for our nation’s veterans because more of them are at risk from asbestos disease.

As the Military.com website put into context:
“While veterans represent 8% of the nation’s population, they comprise an astonishing 30% of all known mesothelioma deaths that have occurred in this country… virtually every ship commissioned by the United States Navy between 1930 and about 1970 contained several tons of asbestos insulation in the engine room, along the miles of pipe aboard ship and in the walls and doors that required fireproofing…”

You can read more about Sara’s views here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-asbestos-victims-group-exploring-litigation-scandals_us_58aee259e4b0ea6ee3d03622

And the group’s website: http://www.asbestosdoublevictims.org/

And more about the veterans’ issue here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-warner/a-sad-truth-for-veterans_b_9417622.html

Texas Judge Keeps An Old Secret

A Texas judge has refused to make public a 19-year-old deposition that some think would shed light on recent asbestos litigation issues. The Southeast Texas Record website, which covers litigation from a pro-business POV, reported that the judge did not make the ruling on the “merits” but because of jurisdictional problems.
 

What Trump Could Mean To Asbestos Lawsuit Scandals

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

What will the Trump administration mean in terms of reform for the nation’s longest-running injury lawsuit industry? Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner has some thought published in The Huffington Post:
 

UnSettled: Inside the Strange World of Asbestos Lawsuits

Filmmaker Paul Johnson will show a work-in-progress documentary, UnSettled, this week. Photo Credit, Huffington Post 12/12/16 Post

Filmmaker Paul Johnson will show a work-in-progress documentary, UnSettled, this week. Photo Credit, Huffington Post 12/12/16 Post

For the past year, the Canadian journalist Paul Johnson has been making a documentary on the asbestos litigation industry. Entitled “UnSettled: Inside the Strange World of Asbestos Lawsuits,” it examines how the “business” of asbestos litigation has evolved over the years and focuses on just how politically aligned lawyers are on reform issues. Courts Monitor publisher, Sara Warner, spoke with Paul about the project and you can read the full interview in the Huffington Post.

Note: UnSettled will be screened for audience feedback at the Edward R. Murrow Room at the National Press Club, Washington D.C. this Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 3:30 p.m. Paul Johnson will hold a Q&A immediately following the screening. You can see the trailer at www.unsettledthemovie.com.

Asbestos Bankruptcy Settlement, Conflicts & Racketeering Clouds Loom

In the latest HuffPo piece by Courts Monitor Publisher, Sara Warner, she writes about Garlock’s asbestos bankruptcy settlement which has multiple implications for the $10 billion per year asbestos-lawsuit industry:  

“In the insular world of civil litigation, watershed events usually arrive on an installment plan, trickling in at the pace of… well, at the pace of civil litigation. Yet, sometimes disruption arrives quickly, like last week’s landmark settlement agreement between a North Carolina gasket maker called Garlock Sealing Technologies and asbestos victims’ attorneys. 

While the ink has yet to dry and the court has not considered, let alone approved, of the deal, the nation’s asbestos litigation community quickly noted that the announced settlement not only addresses the precedent-setting bankruptcy case but seems to include multiple civil racketeering allegations against high-profile plaintiff’s firms.”

Read more on the Huffington Post… 

Silver Trial Headed For Closing Arguments Monday

 
The federal criminal trial of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is expected to enter the closing arguments stage on Monday, with his defense team opting to call no witnesses. They did grab headlines with a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case – which is actually a routine step in such trials. While a criminal trial, the Silver case is being closely watched by the civil trial bar, in part because lots of the case rests on his referral arrangement with an asbestos litigation firm.
 
That firm has said that Silver was “of counsel” for many years but performed no legal work while receiving more than $3 million in referral fees. The government contends that the then-Speaker steered government contracts to a clinic that helped with the referrals.
 
See a good Wall Street Journal recap here: