What a Trump Presidency Means to Asbestos Victims

Change was a common theme of Donald Trump’s candidacy – big, sweeping change in Washington and America. Now, that promise is coming to fruition. A quick review of the President’s ambitious 100-day plan shows just how quickly and broadly change will come.

In his first 100 days on the job, Trump plans to jumpstart the NAFTA renegotiation process, work with Congress to repeal Obamacare and overhaul U.S. the tax code. And that’s just one small glimpse.

It’s clear that Trump’s proposals are decidedly “pro-business.” Many of these measures are designed to spark economic growth through tax cuts and deregulation. The U.S. business community has already laid praise on the plan.

Yet, Trump’s pro-business leanings tend to leave consumer protection groups worried. One such group, asbestos attorneys, are certainly nervous about the coming four years.

Why? For one, President Trump and, more importantly, the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives have long been proponents of tort reform – or legislative measures that make it harder for victims to bring cases against negligent plaintiffs. With a Republican super majority, the political climate is just right for anti-victim measures to become law.

Plus, Trump, himself, has long praised asbestos as a building material. Asbestos – the substance that’s been scientifically linked to cancer again and again, and which the OSHA says is not safe at any level of exposure – has a champion in the White House.

What’s more: Recent EPA measures to outright ban asbestos may be under siege during Trump’s presidency. Former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the President’s pick for EPA administrator, has a storied record of fighting environmental regulations. Pruitt offers clear evidence of Trump’s aspirations of environmental deregulation.

Filing Asbestos Lawsuits May Be More Difficult Under Trump

In the last three years, Republicans have taken up a number of tort reform bills. In many cases, these bills have passed the House, and are awaiting consideration by the Senate.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2016 (FACT), for example, passed the House one year ago. Not a single Democrat voted for the legislation. Why? The measure is an attack on asbestos victims. FACT would make it more difficult for class actions to be certified and slow down the filing process for victims. FACT would also require victims to make public personal financial information, a clear invasion of privacy.

asbestos claim transparency

According to a post on The Hill’s Congress Blog, veterans, first responders, and teachers have all condemned the FACT Act due to its gross invasion of privacy. Veterans are particularly opposed, with 17 U.S. veterans groups publicly stating their opposition to the legislation, writing in a statement that the FACT Act is “a cynical ploy by the asbestos industry to avoid compensating its victims who are seeking justice.”

Additional measures are similarly more pro-business. The Lawsuit Reduction Act of 2015 would require attorneys to pay damages for frivolous complaints. And the Fraudulent Joinder Prevention Act would make it more difficult to transfer cases from federal to state courts, which are historically more favorable to plaintiffs.

In Texas, we have a prime example of what tort reform can do to victims. There, it is especially difficult for asbestos victims to file lawsuits, and the state also hears many lawsuits against asbestos victims’ attorneys. A 2013 measure, for example, required victims to establish “substantial factor causation,” placing a much higher burden on victims to provide evidence that their disease was caused by a negligent business.

Ultimately, Republicans and the President have a lot of legislation on the plate for the coming years. Is tort reform a top priority? It’s not, but when you add up all the factors – a GOP supermajority, pro-business climate, tort reform legislation already being considered, etc. – there’s a strong likelihood that pro-business measures will pass in the next four years.

Trump Takes a Decidedly Pro-Asbestos

Another cause for alarm: President Trump has strongly defended asbestos as a building material. Despite the decades of research linking cancer and asbestos, Trump has said its flame-retardant properties outweigh the potential exposure risks, going as far as to speculate that the World Trade Center would not have collapsed had more asbestos been used in its construction.

In 2012, Trump tweeted, “If we didn’t remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.” In all actuality, more than 400 tons of asbestos were used in the construction of the World Trade Center, according to a Mother Jones report, which was released into the air when the towers collapsed on 9/11. Today, thousands of first responders suffer from asbestos-related diseases.

That’s not even the strangest Trump asbestos theory. Trump also stated that the asbestos was banned due to a mob conspiracy. In his book The Art of the Deal, he speculated that the mob pressured politicians to push for asbestos removal to benefit public health, even going as far as to call asbestos 100 percent safe once installed.

Even more shocking, the billionaire has also shown disregard for asbestos victims that were exposed when building Trump Tower. In the early 1980s, more than 200 Polish laborers were hired to demolish an existing building to make room for the tower. During demolition, dense clouds of asbestos dust were common on the job site, and workers did not have proper safety equipment, according to a report in The New York Times. Trump pledge ignorance about the unsafe working conditions in depositions.  Finally, after a decades-long legal battle, Trump settled in 1999.

EPA Pick Pruitt Could Undo Asbestos Progress

Trump saying anti-asbestos laws are “stupid” runs contrary to the EPA’s policies. Recently, for example, the EPA named asbestos one of its 10 high-risk chemicals to be evaluated under the Lautenberg Act.

Under the law, the EPA will determine if asbestos – a known carcinogen – presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” If asbestos is deemed to present an unreasonable risk, the EPA is required to mitigate the problem within two years with new regulations or a complete ban.

Trump’s pick for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, though, might not be a proponent of enacting new regulations. Remember, Pruitt, as Oklahoma Attorney General, sued the EPA – not once, but 13 times. Under Pruitt, some are worried the evaluations will be abandoned or sabotaged. Mild regulations, for instance, are one strategy Pruitt could use to undermine the process.

Asbestos Victims, Victims’ Rights Groups Have Cause for Alarm

Inauguration day has passed, and the next 100 days will offer clear evidence of how swiftly President Trump will move on his ambitious plans. For asbestos victims, there is cause for concern. Trump’s past comments on asbestos, Republican efforts to pass tort reform and the pro-business leanings of the administration will create an ideal political environment for passing strict, anti-victim reforms.

Yet, there may be hope. After all, Trump did run on a populist, for-the-people platform, and protecting American workers who are suffering would fit into that narrative. Plus, the administration has a long to-do list, and tort reform isn’t high priority. Ultimately, asbestos victims, attorneys and victims right groups will remain cautiously optimistic over the next four years.

Matthew Davis

Author

Matthew Davis has studied journalism at the University of Colorado and has covered civil litigation for a variety of publications. He joined Mesowatch in 2016 and covers asbestos litigation developments in the U.S., as well as newsworthy asbestos cases.