In the past, asbestos was used in large quantities in a variety of industrial and commercial settings. Unfortunately, asbestos has been shown to be hazardous to human health, often causing diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Many companies who produced asbestos or used asbestos in their products knew that the mineral was unsafe and could cause these diseases later on in life.
In recent years, victims of asbestos exposure have been able to file legal claims against these companies, organizations, and institutions for failing to warn them about the health effects they might incur. This has led numerous patients to seek out mesothelioma legal help. A mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuit or claim can provide victims and their families with both a sense of justice and a well-deserved monetary settlement.
It’s important to seek out a mesothelioma lawyer or law firm in order to get the best representation. Someone who specializes in mesothelioma law will obviously provide the best chance for a positive outcome in a mesothelioma case. Still, it’s probably a good idea to have some knowledge of the process prior to embarking on that journey.
Filing a claim related to mesothelioma can help sufferers and their families get the restitution they deserve. A claim essentially identifies that an individual may have legal recourse for compensation after incurring a mesothelioma diagnosis.
There are three different types of mesothelioma claims:
A legal claim is the one that most people will be familiar with. It usually takes the form of a lawsuit against a company or companies for whom the claimant worked in the past. The individual with mesothelioma will be tasked with proving that they were exposed to asbestos and that they did so while in the employ of the business they are suing. Most of these lawsuits end with a settlement (usually a sum of money) or a verdict.
A mesothelioma patient may also make a legal claim to an asbestos trust fund. These funds are usually set up after companies go through bankruptcy. We’ll discuss lawsuits and trust funds more in depth later on.
Insurance claims are also prevalent. Usually, an insurance claim refers to medical insurance, which can come from an individual plan, a government-issued plan (like Medicare or Medicaid), or a work-issued plan. Plans and policies are generally different across the board, so it’s important to understand your health insurance package and what coverage you will be afforded.
Submitting medical insurance claims can be a long process that gets bogged down in internal bureaucracy. You may need to seek mesothelioma legal assistance to ensure that your claims are taken seriously.
Other types of insurance claims include:
Provides individuals with a verified disability with monthly payments. Can come from the Social Security Disability Insurance program, work-related insurance policies, or individual insurance policies
A type of medical insurance that covers additional health needs. Usually comes in the form of cancer insurance, critical illness insurance, or hospital insurance
Provides family members with compensation after a loved one with mesothelioma has passed
The third type of claim is known as a benefits claim. A common subset of this claim is workers’ compensation. These claims are often made because mesothelioma patients were exposed to asbestos on the job.
Common workplaces for asbestos exposure included:
- Power plants
- Industrial plants
- Construction sites
- Shipyards and marine vessels
- Automotive repair shops
These days, most employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance that can pay out employees in the event of an on-the-job illness or injury. There are various eligibility requirements, but asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma can be included in workers’ compensation claims.
A successful workers’ compensation claim can, to some degree, help pay for:
- Lost wages
- Treatment costs
- Medication costs
- Secondary costs like travel and lodging
Veterans’ benefits claims are similar to workers’ compensation except that asbestos exposure occurs while the claimant is on active duty in the armed forces. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a program that allows former military members to make claims for a variety of illnesses including mesothelioma.
A mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuit is one of the best ways to receive compensation after a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Again, most mesothelioma cases are work-related because asbestos was used rampantly in numerous industries prior to the 1970s.
There are two primary types of mesothelioma lawsuits:
These suits are filed by the mesothelioma patient are brought against companies and organizations that negligently used asbestos in their products and consequently caused the development of the patient’s disease.
These suits are filed by family members of mesothelioma patients who have passed away. Again, the claims focus on companies and organizations at which the patient worked. These suits allege that their loved one’s death was preventable.
Both of these options can help patients and family members pay outstanding medical costs (including travel and lodging), recover lost wages, and provide compensation for pain and suffering. Wrongful death suits may also cover funeral expenses.
Mesothelioma lawsuits can also be classified further into 3 sets:
One plaintiff bringing a claim against a company or organization or group of such entities
Similar to an individual case except that it uses the framework of numerous other mesothelioma lawsuits. MDL 875, which is managed out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, handles most asbestos-related lawsuits and has heard nearly 200,000 cases since 2006.
A rare option for mesothelioma cases, class action suits involve anyone and everyone who has a complaint against a common defendant or common Members of the “class” can choose to drop out at any time.
In order to have an effective case, patients and their families will need to compile evidence to support their claims. Evidence usually involves proof of work history, medical records, proof of union membership, witness statements, and other documents. The entire process of a lawsuit can be lengthy (1 to 3 years on average), and with a median life expectancy of between 1 and 2 years for mesothelioma patients, it’s important to pursue legal assistance as soon as possible.
All lawsuits come down to either a settlement or a jury verdict. If a case makes it to trial, you should be prepared for a barrage of questions from the defendants’ lawyers that are designed to make you seem less credible. Opposing attorneys will try to poke holes in your evidence and insinuate that you are lying or only telling half-truths.
Of course, the best option for coming out victorious in a mesothelioma lawsuit is to hire a lawyer who specializes in asbestos and mesothelioma cases. They can help you compile your evidence, defend you in a trial, and generally guide you through the process from start to finish.
Statute of Limitations
Filing a legal mesothelioma claim early is important because each state in the United States has a statute of limitations. This basically means that you only have a certain amount of time after a diagnosis or death to file a lawsuit. Obviously, when filing a mesothelioma claim for a personal injury lawsuit, the figurative clock starts ticking the second you are diagnosed with mesothelioma. For wrongful death suits, the amount of time you have starts the day a loved one passes.
There’s no question that filing a lawsuit after a major diagnosis or death in the family is not something many people are thinking about. But, again, it’s important to consult a mesothelioma lawyer as soon as possible because time is not on your side.
Some states, like California, have a statute of limitations of only 1 year after diagnosis or death. The average is around 2 to 3 years, but there are a few outliers that go up to as many as 6 years. For some states, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is longer than the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit.
Wrongful death suits also often run into complications, because family members must compile evidence often without firsthand knowledge of where their loved one lived or worked and where they might have been exposed to asbestos. So, again, an experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you in this regard so that you don’t have to feel so lost.
It is possible to file a claim in a different state or location than the one you reside in. Most people might think you will be required to file a claim in the court where you currently live, but you can also file a claim based on:
- Past residences
- Past work facilities
- Former job sites
- Location of military bases in which you were stationed
- The headquarters of the company responsible for your exposure to asbestos
For example, if you worked for several years at an oil refinery in North Dakota where the statute of limitations for a personal injury mesothelioma lawsuit is 6 years and you believe you were exposed to asbestos while working there, then you can file a claim there even if you have lived most of your life in California where the statute of limitations is only a year.
Many people are unaware that they can file a legal claim, and, by the time they realize they can, the statute of limitations has expired. But, there are options like the example above that can keep your claim alive.
Settlements and Verdicts
Lawsuits will generally end with either a settlement or a verdict (unless the plaintiff decides to drop the case entirely). Settlements are offered before or during a trial. Early in the process, defendants (companies or organizations responsible for asbestos exposure) will try to offer low settlement amounts to the plaintiffs (mesothelioma patients and/or their families).
Later in the process, they may offer larger amounts especially if they suspect they will not win a trial. In general, however, payouts from settlements are almost always less than payouts from verdicts.
Verdicts are delivered by a judge or jury at the end of a trial. If the verdict rules in favor of the defendant, then the plaintiff will likely walk away with nothing. If the plaintiff wins, however, there will be a separate verdict to decide on adequate compensation.
Judges usually base that decision on a variety of factors, including:
- The patient’s diagnosis
- The patient’s history of medical issues
- Whether evidence of negligence exists
- Where the trial takes place
- The total amount of expenses including lost income and medical bills
- The number of companies involved in the case
Again, a positive trial verdict usually results in higher settlement payouts for mesothelioma patients. In fact, the average amount is around $2.5 million while the average award for a settlement is typically less than $1.4 million. So why do patients and their families ever accept settlements?
There are a variety of valid reasons to do so, including:
- The length of a trial – The average is a little over a month, but some can last over 100 days
- The threat of appeals – Defendants can appeal the decision, which can take years and can keep much-needed money out of your hands
- The health of the patient – Settlements are generally paid immediately, and can obviously help fund cancer treatments
- The possibility of a negative verdict – Companies often have good legal representation, meaning that they can convince juries to side with them
- Lack of strong evidence – In some cases, mesothelioma patients may not have definitive proof that a company was responsible for their asbestos exposure, making settlements a more attractive option
Settlements are often offered in the pretrial “discovery” phase of a lawsuit. They usually allow companies to avoid paying more at the end of a trial, and they also allow patients to get much-needed cash in hand to pay for medical treatments and hospital bills.
As you might have guessed, it’s always important to consult a mesothelioma attorney about the option that best suits your case. Major mesothelioma verdicts have doled out awards in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but there’s always a risk that you will end up with nothing at the end of a trial. So, it’s best to take mesothelioma legal help from an expert counsel.
Asbestos Trust Funds
Asbestos trust funds are generally set up during bankruptcy proceedings for companies who once manufactured or used asbestos products. They are designed to help compensate patients and family members with asbestos-related illnesses. Many of these companies no longer exist as they once did, so a standard lawsuit usually isn’t an option. An estimated $30 billion is available in a variety of asbestos trust funds in the United States.
In general, however, payouts from asbestos trust funds are much smaller than payouts from lawsuits. Most trusts only pay out an average of 25 to 30% of the individual’s claim, partially because requisite funds need to be available for future claimants.
Of course, it is entirely possible to make claims against multiple trusts to increase awards. There’s also no rule that prohibits you from filing lawsuits against still existing companies while making a claim against an asbestos trust fund. Filing a claim against a trust fund, however, may affect the award you receive during a lawsuit. “Setoffs” (or deductions from settlement or trial payouts) are used in cases where a claimant has already received an award from a trust.
As with any other mesothelioma claim, you will need to provide evidence in order to qualify for a payout from an asbestos trust fund. Many of these bankruptcy trusts lay out their rules, qualifications, and a list of validated exposure locations.
Generally, the evidence you will need to provide includes:
- Verification that you worked for the company at one or more of the approved exposure sites, or
- Verification that you used asbestos-containing products manufactured by the company
- Proof of diagnosis with an asbestos-related disease
- Statement from a qualified physician
- Documentation verifying that asbestos was involved in the formation of the disease
As with lawsuits, there is a statute of limitations for filing a claim against asbestos trust funds. Again, the statutes are unique to each state and the average is about 2 years. Both personal injury and wrongful death claims can be made against bankruptcy trusts. While trusts generally pay an average of 25 to 30% of the original claim, they are permitted to pay as little as 1.1% and as much as 100% of the claim. Trustees review each case to decide on appropriate payments.
There are usually three types of reviews:
- Individual review – standard review process that allows trustees more time to consider the case
- Expedited review – shorter review process provided to claimants who meet specific qualifications. Payouts are usually received faster as part of these reviews
- Extraordinary basis – process is similar to individual review in terms of length, but it is treated as an expedited review and moved to the “top of the pile.” Claimants must meet certain qualifications
Veterans make up nearly one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses. This is largely because asbestos was used in great abundance in buildings and vehicles of all varieties built by the military between the 1930s and 1970s. As a result of the large number of veterans affected by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has created a process through which patients can make benefits claims.
There are two main categories of disability benefits offered by the VA:
Paid out to veterans who suffer from a disease or injury that occurred during their service or developed as a result of their service.
Paid out to surviving family members of veterans who died while on active duty or because of an illness developed as a result of their service.
You can think of disability compensation as a “personal injury” claim and dependency and indemnity compensation as a “wrongful death” claim. But, how do you go about making a claim against the VA?
For starters, you have to ensure that you are eligible to make such a claim. Eligibility requirements include:
- Evidence that exposure to asbestos occurred during military service
- No dishonorable discharge
- Verified diagnosis made by a qualified physician
Of course, evidence also plays a role in veterans’ benefits claims. The VA usually requires documentation of the location you served or your specific occupation while in the military. In some cases, you may need to prove that you spent time on specific vessels or in specific barracks or other buildings.
Military occupations that were prone to asbestos exposure include:
- Vehicle and aircraft mechanics
- Shipyard workers
- Anyone who worked in an engine room on a marine vessel
- Insulations workers
- Flooring installers
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it gives you a good idea of just how many people could have been exposed to asbestos as a result of their military experience. If the evidence you provide the VA is deemed to be inconclusive, they will likely ask for more evidence to provide a full review. You can also opt to file a “Fully Developed Claim” which basically lets the VA know that there is no further evidence available. Not everyone’s evidence will be considered sufficient, and some claims have been denied.
It bears repeating that a mesothelioma lawyer can help with this process, as well. They will understand how much evidence will be reasonably expected and what documentation to include in order to receive a full VA award.
Workers’ compensation is another type of benefits claim that mesothelioma patients can file. These claims are reserved for injuries and diseases that occurred while working at a specific job.
Asbestos-related illnesses are covered under workers’ compensation benefits. It should be noted that this type of claim can only be levied against a direct employer. If the claim is successful, the claimant relinquishes all rights to bring a lawsuit against their employer in the future. Patients can, however, bring lawsuits against specific asbestos manufacturers after a successful workers’ compensation claim against their employer.
As mentioned above in the claims section, claimants will need to provide evidence in order to receive payouts. Every state has a different set of rules and regulations when it comes to workers’ compensation, so, again, it is useful to contact a local mesothelioma legal team that is familiar with those laws.
Your claim will be reviewed by the governing board in charge of workers’ compensation in the state where the claim was filed. In some cases, the claim will be denied.
If it is accepted, the board will look at all of the following to determine payouts:
- Submitted evidence
- The worker’s salary
- Lost wages due to the illness
- The cost of medical bills
- Secondary costs related to the illness or injury
A small minority of states has special provisions in their workers’ compensation laws to allow for individuals with asbestos-related illnesses to be provided with more expedient compensation.
In general, the expediency with which you will receive payments is wholly dependent on the insurance company your employer contracts. Some insurance companies pay out in a timely manner while others may be slower. Companies may also get their workers’ compensation insurance through a government fund.
In general, having an experienced asbestos lawyer on your case can ensure that you get your payment when you need it.
Mesothelioma Law Firm
When seeking out mesothelioma legal assistance, you may simply opt for a lawyer you already know or a local law firm you have heard of. But, as we have mentioned many times before, you’re best bet at getting a positive outcome is to go with a qualified, experienced mesothelioma lawyer or law firm. The law as it relates to mesothelioma and asbestos requires special expertise that most law firms just don’t have.
Asbestos litigation is not something every lawyer is familiar with. When deciding on a law firm, make sure their lawyers exhibit distinct knowledge of mesothelioma and how asbestos can cause it. They should have information on the most cutting edge treatment options and clinical trials for mesothelioma. They should also be up-to-date on all the laws (federal, state, and local) and have a broad understanding of numerous companies and organizations known to have used asbestos in their products or facilities.
Experience is also key. Your mesothelioma law firm needs to know intuitively how all legal avenues work in relation to the disease.
Some things they should know include:
- What specific evidence to provide
- Whether a settlement is more advantageous than going to trial
- If a patient should file a workers’ compensation or VA benefit claim
- What to expect from opposing parties
- Where to file a claim
- How to properly defend you in court
If your lawyer seems as confused as you about all these legal proceedings, then it may be time to look for a team with more experience, knowledge, and resources. It may be beneficial to look at online reviews, ask members of the mesothelioma community, and shop around before deciding on the best mesothelioma lawyer for you.