Asbestos News: Money from Travelers Insurance Raises Questions about Warren's Consumer Protection Credibility

Travelers Insurance paid Elizabeth Warren, consumer protection adviser to President Barack Obama and potential Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts against U.S. Senator Scott Brown, a sum of $168,000. The company was seeking protection from future lawsuits from asbestos victims, and the revelation of Warren’s ties to their efforts could greatly harm her credibility as an advocate for consumers.

Warren, an attorney and professor at Harvard Law School, defended Travelers in a 2008 Supreme Court case concerning future lawsuits from asbestos victims. She argued in 2008 that Travelers, which insured Denver-based asbestos mining company Johns Manville Corporation, should be protected from future lawsuits after the company finalized $500 million settlement to asbestos plaintiffs in 2004. Warren has defended this action by saying that she actually protected consumers because allowing future lawsuits would have lowered confidence in the asbestos trust created for victims following Johns Manville’s bankruptcy filing in 1982.

Attorney Justin Shrader, who has provided legal representation for thousands of asbestos victims as a mesothelioma attorney, said that the kind of asbestos trust that Warren defended in the case usually provides asbestos victims with very little financial compensation and allows for the offending companies to make a quick and easy settlement to provide them immunity from future legal action from asbestos law firms.

“Travelers saw the handwriting on the wall in the ’80s. They were looking at thousands of victims who were going to get cancer over the next several decades and tried to get out on the cheap. Instead of answering for what they did in front of regular people on a jury, they want a bankruptcy court to bail them out,” Shrader said.

Warren also headed the effort to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was begins operation this July, and is currently considered a leading candidate to be nominated as its administrator, though she is expected to face significant Republican opposition should she be nominated.

A Travelers Insurance spokesperson declined to comment on the story.

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