Vampire capitalism at its most typical

Private equity firms are quietly buying up a literal toxic asset: companies’ liabilities for decades of asbestos poisoning. Some Wall Street firms are scoring huge payouts to take on the hassle and financial risks of people getting sick and dying from asbestos exposure — and they can use threadbare oversight and cutthroat legal maneuvers to delay and deny these victims’ claims.

While assuming asbestos liabilities might seem like a losing proposition — lawsuits from people with asbestos-related diseases have cost companies billions — private equity firms can demand huge payments for the service and are not required to abide by traditional insurance regulations regarding how they manage and invest this cash.

“I don’t think there’s any oversight to this,” said Michael Shepard, a Boston-based attorney who represents victims seeking damages for asbestos exposure. Investors have “hit upon this ability to have access to a deep well of cash and handle it the way they want to handle it without any oversight whatsoever.”