A diagnosis of mesothelioma comes with an understandable amount of baggage. The emotional and physical toll is expected. But, you may not anticipate the upcoming financial predicament that a mesothelioma diagnosis can put you in.
Treatment costs for mesothelioma can easily rise into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if you don’t have a good health insurance plan, you can fall into debt very fast.
Making a claim against an asbestos trust fund is one way to get some mesothelioma financial assistance to help offset the cost of treatment. There are about 60 trust funds in the United States with over $30 billion in cash reserved for individuals who have been and will be diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses, like mesothelioma.
But, what exactly is an asbestos trust fund?
What Are Asbestos Trust Funds?
In order to understand asbestos trust funds, you need to know a little of the history of asbestos use in the United States. In the late 19th century, asbestos production began in earnest in the country because of the mineral’s natural fireproofing traits.
Asbestos was often put in insulation products to keep buildings, machinery, and automobiles safe from fire. An entire industry rose up around asbestos, and by the mid-20th century, hundreds of thousands of metric tons were being produced each year.
Asbestos was often found in workplaces where it would be used to provide fire-resistance to hot equipment and machinery. The substance could also be found in building materials of all types.
Asbestos was most prevalent in workplaces like:
- Construction sites
- Power plants
- Textile mills
- Industrial plants
- Oil refineries
- Auto manufacturing plants
The toxic effects of asbestos were known almost as soon as the natural mineral entered widespread use. Asbestos miners often complained of lung complications in the late 1800s. By the 1920s, lawsuits against asbestos product manufacturers began to be filed. These suits were often thrown out as the influence of the asbestos industry was strong. Cases that were successful for plaintiffs usually ended in settlements that provided financial compensation for people with asbestos-related illnesses. In many cases, however, companies would legally prohibit these individuals from discussing the toxic nature of asbestos with their co-workers.
In the 1960s, scientific links between asbestos and mesothelioma (and other related illnesses) were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Even so, production of the substance reached its peak in 1973 at 803,000 metric tons. Three years prior to that, Clarence Borel, a longtime insulation worker, filed a lawsuit against a collection of 11 asbestos product manufacturers. Borel had developed mesothelioma as a result of long-term exposure to the substance. In 1973 after his unfortunate passing, Borel’s wife received the first jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff in an asbestos-related lawsuit.
This set a precedent for future cases and also set off a cavalcade of asbestos lawsuits against companies that manufactured asbestos products. More and more people realized that they could receive asbestos compensation from these companies that had negligently used a carcinogenic material despite knowing of its hazards.
Naturally, this became problematic for asbestos product manufacturers. Those lawsuits often legally obligated them to pay out large sums of money to a growing number of plaintiffs. In 1982, the Johns Manville Corporation—a producer of roofing materials and insulation products that at one time contained asbestos—was one of the first asbestos product manufacturers to file for bankruptcy because of the volume of lawsuits they faced. In 1988 during bankruptcy proceedings, the Johns Manville trust was officially created as the first asbestos trust fund in the United States.
Over the course of the next few decades, many asbestos product manufacturers followed suit by creating their own asbestos bankruptcy trusts. It should be noted that the company’s themselves do not actually run the trusts. Trustees set up and run the trusts on behalf of companies and organizations that are liable for the development of asbestos-related illnesses. Lengthy bankruptcy court proceedings are used to determine how much money the company must legally set aside for current and future claimants. A judge has the final say on exactly how much money must be reserved.
All trusts have their own rules, procedures, and eligibility requirements for those who can file claims. They may also publish a list of approved locations where their products were known to have caused exposure to asbestos. Since the 1980s, asbestos trust funds have paid out over $18 billion in compensation.
How Do You File a Claim against an Asbestos Trust Fund?
If you are seeking asbestos compensation of some kind, you will likely want to enlist the services of a legal team that focuses on asbestos law. They will understand keenly what evidence and documentation you need and what trusts you can file claims against. Filing an asbestos trust fund claim can be confusing and difficult without professional legal assistance.
To begin the process, you and your legal team will need to compile evidence that can help make your claim more likely to be approved. Remember that you must also follow all rules, regulations, and procedures set out by each trust.
Common evidentiary materials you need to collect include:
- Documentation showing your work history
- Documentation of current and previous residences
- Proof of a medical diagnosis of a disease
- Evidence that asbestos played a large role in the development of that disease
- Proof that you were exposed to asbestos on a job site or while working with asbestos products (g., witness statements, employment records, expert depositions, etc.)
Anything that can verify your exposure to asbestos at a particular location during a particular time will help your cause substantially. Again, many trusts also provide a list of certified exposure sites. If you happened to work at one of those sites, your burden of proof would be less difficult.
It should also be noted that family members of deceased mesothelioma patients can also make claims against asbestos trust funds. These are known as “wrongful death” claims. Claims filed by mesothelioma patients themselves are known as “personal injury” claims. You may think it would be difficult to find evidence after a loved one has passed, but a mesothelioma lawyer can help in that endeavor.
After compiling all the requisite information, you will then file the claim which will be reviewed by administrators of the trust.
Reviews are undertaken in one of three different methods:
These reviews require claimants to meet certain criteria, such as very poor health or a long duration of employment at a certain company. Reviews are processed in a shorter amount of time, and compensation may also arrive more quickly. The amount of compensation with expedited reviews is average.
These reviews do not meet the requirements for an expedited review and undergo a longer but more in-depth review process. Because of the added time to study the case, administrators may offer awards that are higher than payouts for expedited reviews. Of course, awards may also be smaller.
These reviews look at claims that qualify for an expedited review but are reviewed as thoroughly as they would be with an individual review. Compensation is often higher than in expedited and individual reviews.
After the review process is complete, you will be notified that the trust either approved or denied your claim. If they approve your claim, you will be compensated.
Asbestos Trust Fund Payouts
After a successful claim against an asbestos trust fund, you will be able to access a designated payout. Again, every trust has different rules for this. Technically, most trusts are willing to pay out anywhere from 1.1% to 100% of your claim. The average amount you can expect with asbestos trust fund payouts is around 25%. This means that an initial claim of $200,000 against the trust would probably yield around a $50,000 payout.
It is rare to get the full 100% of your claim because the trusts need to ensure that future claimants will also be able to get money. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can take decades to start showing symptoms. So, people who were exposed to asbestos in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s may be getting their diagnoses at some point in the near or far future. At that time, they may also be entitled to compensation from these trusts. Other factors may also influence how much is paid out.
- The severity of the disease
- The duration of time the claimant worked at a company where asbestos exposure occurred
- The amount and quality of evidence submitted
- Medical treatment costs
- Funeral expenses (for wrongful death claims)
- Pain and suffering
Again, there is no fixed amount that you can expect from a claim against asbestos bankruptcy trusts. It is, however, likely that only portion of your claim will be awarded.
Asbestos Trust Fund Statutes of Limitations
Each state has a different statute of limitations laws as they apply to legal claims for mesothelioma and asbestos. This means that you only have a certain period of time to file a claim before you forfeit your right to do so. For personal injury claims, the statute of limitations starts at the time of the mesothelioma diagnosis. For wrongful death claims, the statute starts at the time of a loved one’s passing due to mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.
The average amount of time you have in most states is about 2 years. Some states, like California, have statutes of limitations as short as one year. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to contact a qualified asbestos litigation team to get started on your claim as soon as possible.
Other Types of Asbestos Compensation
In addition to filing an asbestos trust fund claim, you may also be able to seek out compensation in a variety of other ways.
Common options include:
- Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits
- Workers’ compensation benefits
Lawsuits are another type of legal claim that you can pursue. There are, of course, major differences between filing a lawsuit and filing an asbestos trust fund claim. For starters, lawsuits are usually filed against existing companies who have yet to acknowledge asbestos liability. Asbestos trust funds, on the other hand, are set up by companies who have already acknowledged their liability.
Lawsuits can also take time (usually between 1 and 3 years) which can delay your retrieval of compensation drastically. Most asbestos lawsuits end in a settlement before the case ever goes to a trial. The average payout for a lawsuit of this variety is about $1.2 to $1.3 million. If a case goes to trial and you receive a successful verdict, you can expect payouts as high as $2.5 million.
These payouts are substantially higher than what you would receive with an approved asbestos trust fund claim. But, appeals and other delays can keep you from those payouts for years on end. Most asbestos trust fund payments are delivered fairly quickly.
You can also file for VA benefits or workers’ compensation benefits. Veterans comprise one of the largest groups of mesothelioma sufferers in the United States because of the prevalence of asbestos use in the military. The VA has a process through which you can retrieve income if you can provide evidence that you were exposed to asbestos during your military service. Workers’ compensation is similar except that you file a claim with the governing board of your state, and they decide whether your employer is liable for payments due to injury or illness.
It is possible to file a claim using more than one of these avenues. In fact, you can file a lawsuit, an asbestos trust fund claim, a VA claim, and a workers’ compensation claim simultaneously in most states. There are legal implements that may affect your payout awards, however.
For instance, if you receive a settlement in a lawsuit but you already received awards for asbestos trust funds, then the amount you received from the trusts may be deducted for the settlement award. That is to say if you received $50,000 from asbestos bankruptcy trust and earned a $500,000 settlement payout, the defendant in that lawsuit would only have to pay $450,000. This is known as a “setoff.” Some states allow them and others do not.
With all these mesothelioma financial assistance choices, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer who understands the options that are best for you.
Prominent Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts
As mentioned previously, there are about 60 asbestos trusts with a combined amount of over $30 billion in assets.
Some of the most prominent trusts include:
- Johns-Manville Corporation (established 1988 with $2.5 billion in initial assets)
- R. Grace and Company (established 2001 with $2.9 billion in initial assets)
- Western Asbestos (established 2004 with $2 billion in initial assets)
- DII Industries (established 2005 with $2.5 billion in initial assets)
- United States Gypsum (established 2006 with $3.9 billion in initial assets)
- Owens Corning Corporation (established 2006 with $3.4 billion in initial assets)
- Armstrong World Industries (established 2006 with $2 billion in initial assets)
- Babcock and Wilcox (established 2006 with $1.8 billion in initial assets)
- Owens Corning/Fibreboard Subfund (established 2006 with $1.5 billion in initial assets)
- Pittsburgh Corning Corporation (established 2011 with $3.4 billion in initial assets)