There is nothing more terrifying than receiving a diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening disease. It is something that everyone dreads, and it can also change the course of you and your family’s lives forever. Mesothelioma is one such disease that can alter your life indefinitely. Unlike many other diseases, however, you can seek out mesothelioma legal assistance to help you pay for medical expenses and other costs incurred after diagnosis.
A mesothelioma lawsuit is an ideal way for mesothelioma patients to accumulate funds. But, why are these lawsuits an applicable way for victims to seek compensation?
Why Mesothelioma Lawsuits Occur
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs- medically known as pleural mesothelioma, the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), and the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). It is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, a toxic, naturally-occurring mineral. Asbestos use in the United States was extremely prevalent between the early 20th century and the 1970s because of its fireproofing capabilities. This was especially true in workplaces. Many employers and product manufacturers used asbestos-containing materials, which often left workers susceptible to exposure.
Inhaling or ingesting asbestos is extremely toxic to the human body, a fact that was commonly known among asbestos producers as early as the 1920s. Even so, asbestos-containing products and materials were used in virtually every building constructed between the 1930s and 1970s. They were also used as insulators for machinery and equipment like engines and boilers.
Because of this, many asbestos manufacturers and employers who used asbestos products are liable for any damages incurred by their workers. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses tend to have long latency periods. This means that the amount of time from the initial exposure to asbestos to the onset of the disease can be anywhere from 10 to 50 years. So, an individual exposed to asbestos on the job in 1970 may develop mesothelioma now and file an asbestos lawsuit against a company or companies. Some common workplaces where asbestos exposure was highly likely include:
- Construction sites
- Industrial plants
- Power plants
- Oil refineries
- Automotive manufacturing plants
- Auto repair shops
One could also develop mesothelioma based on secondhand exposure to asbestos. Many workers who were employed at facilities or locations that contained high amounts of asbestos often brought the substance home on their clothes, inadvertently exposing their families to it. It is also possible to have been exposed to asbestos simply by living near a facility, mine, or other location that had high concentrations of the substance. These individuals can also file a mesothelioma lawsuit against asbestos product manufacturers or other companies, even if they never directly worked with the substance.
Types of Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lawsuits
There are several types of lawsuits that mesothelioma patients and their families can file. Broadly, the two main types are personal injury and wrongful death suits. Personal injury mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by the mesothelioma patient against a company (or companies) after they have been diagnosed with the disease. Potential awards are based on:
- Medical treatment expenses
- Travel costs
- Lost wages as a result of the disease
- Pain and suffering
- Some legal costs
As the name suggests, wrongful death mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuits are filed by family members after a mesothelioma patient has unfortunately succumbed to the disease. Compensation for these lawsuits is based on all of the items in the list above along with the loss of income potential and funeral expenses. Both of these lawsuit types can be further categorized by their scope. Additional types include:
These are lawsuits that are filed by a single plaintiff (mesothelioma patient or their families) against a defendant or defendants (company or companies). Plaintiffs and defendants both provide evidence and make their case during a trial unless a settlement is reached beforehand.
A large group of victims or family members that brings a suit against one or more asbestos producers. These suits can potentially include thousands of members, although any individual can drop out of the suit at any time. Class action suits are rare with mesothelioma or asbestos-related cases
These suits operate similarly to individual claims, but often use a standardized legal framework. MDL 875 out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania covers all Asbestos Products Liability Litigation. The process is generally more efficient as the MDL has heard almost 200,000 asbestos-related cases since 1991
A qualified mesothelioma lawyer can help you decide which option is best for you and will have the best outcome.
What is the Lawsuit Process?
If you are considering mesothelioma litigation, it’s important to consult an attorney who specializes in asbestos and mesothelioma law. Most of these lawyers will offer a free consultation to look at the facts of the case and see if you have any recourse moving forward. If they take your case, the next step will be to research your employment and medical history. Evidence compiled during this period usually includes:
- Medical documentation that verifies a mesothelioma diagnosis
- Documentation of employment history including pay stubs or work schedules
- Documentation of any potential union membership to further verify employment history
- Depositions provided by mesothelioma and asbestos experts
- Statements from eyewitnesses (g., colleagues, family, friends, etc.) who saw firsthand exposure occur or who can further verify employment history
- If applicable, documentation verifying military service
Once this information has been collected, your legal team may look into retrieving compensation from other avenues. Asbestos trust funds are one option. These trusts were set up by companies who admitted liability during bankruptcy proceedings. Around 60 trusts exist in the United States with a total of about $30 billion available to victims of asbestos-related illnesses. Even if you receive an award from one of these trust funds, you may still pursue a lawsuit from a company that has yet to admit asbestos liability. Other compensation options may include workers’ compensation or Veterans’ Affairs benefits claims.
If you decide to pursue asbestos litigation against a company, your lawyer will then look into choosing a venue for the lawsuit. In general, a venue can be chosen based on:
- Anywhere you have lived (especially your current residence)
- Anywhere you have worked
- Anywhere you have served in the military
- The location or headquarters of an employer
- The location or headquarters of an asbestos product manufacturer
A lawyer may choose a venue based on factors that make it more favorable for you. For instance, some districts have historically sided with plaintiffs during asbestos product litigation. Some states may also offer a more feasible statute of limitations. For example, California has a statute of limitations of 1 year after diagnosis for a personal injury suit and one year after a death related to mesothelioma for a wrongful death suit. If a year has passed after either of these events, filing a suit in California would not be an option. Lawyers will also take into account travel time and scheduling concerns when choosing a venue.
The final phase of the pre-trial lawsuit process is known as the “discovery phase.” This occurs after the lawsuit has been filed in the chosen venue. Your complaint will include information such as:
- The name of the defendant or defendants (g., the companies responsible for your asbestos exposure)
- Details of the legal causes of this action
- Details of the specific claims
Lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant(s) will provide evidence to support their claims during the discovery phase. The goal will likely be to settle before the lawsuit goes to trial. Most mesothelioma lawsuits never make it out of the discovery phase into a full-blown jury trial because plaintiffs often accept settlement deals. The average payout for a mesothelioma lawsuit settlement is around $1.3 million.
If the lawsuit goes to trial, the chance of a higher award is possible. But, there is an inherent risk in going to trial. There is no guarantee that a jury or judge will side with you even if the defendant had already offered you a settlement. In other cases, mesothelioma patients are willing to settle, because they desperately need funds to pay for their medical expenses. Additionally, it can take months or even years to receive compensation as the defendants can file endless appeals. The average asbestos lawsuit payout after a successful jury verdict is around $2.5 million.
What Happens During an Asbestos Lawsuit?
The lawsuit process alone can be difficult. You have to compile evidence and documentation, seek out multiple compensation options, and often undergo aggressive treatments to improve your prognosis. It can feel like you are up against a behemoth. Fortunately, most qualified mesothelioma lawyers will take care of all the legal busywork for you so you can focus on getting better. Still, you should be prepared for what the lawsuit process has to offer.
Length of the Lawsuit Process
For starters, most mesothelioma lawsuits last an average of between 1 and three years. Every case is different, and it’s hard to say exactly how long a lawsuit will take at the outset. Some factors that play a role include:
- The number of plaintiffs and defendants listed in the complaint
- How many pretrial motions are filed during the discovery phase
- Whether or not the case is taking part in a more streamlined MDL
- How difficult it is to collect documentation and other evidence
- Difficulties involved in scheduling and travel
- The caseload in the chosen venue
The average length of a trial is usually less than 40 days, but, after all the pretrial activity, it can take some time to even get to a trial. Again, this is why many plaintiffs simply opt to settle. Even after a verdict has been reached in a trial, it can take even longer to receive compensation after the defendant(s) file appeal after appeal.
Role of the Mesothelioma Lawyer
During the lawsuit process, the lawyer can act as your official legal representative. This means that even during a trial, you may not be required to travel as the lawyer will appear in court on your behalf. Many lawsuit proceedings take place in far-flung locations, especially if your legal team chooses a venue that is not in your immediate vicinity. If you are currently undergoing treatments, the feasibility of traveling to all these meetings can be nearly impossible. In most cases, you will not have to be present, however.
Most lawyers will also try to cut down on the amount of time you have to travel in general. If they need to speak to you, they will likely come to you directly or try to contact you through the phone or email.
Payment for mesothelioma lawyers is generally contingent on whether an award is received. If your lawsuit fails to yield a payout, then you will likely owe nothing in legal fees. The average amount of money that mesothelioma lawyers request is 3 to 5% of the payout.
Hostility of Defendants
During the lawsuit process, it is the job of the defendants’ legal team to poke holes in your complaint. This can usually come across as hostile and cruel, especially when you are dealing with the effects of a life-threatening disease. It is still important to be ready for the barbs that defense attorneys will throw at you. Some claims they will likely make include:
- Suggesting that you are genetically predisposed to mesothelioma or other similar types of cancer
- Saying that your family’s past medical history made you susceptible regardless of the amount of asbestos exposure
- Pointing out a history of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or using other substances that may have contributed to the diagnosis
- Suggesting that you lied or made misleading statements about where, when, and how long you were exposed to asbestos
- Claiming that the doctor or medical professional, who diagnosed you, is not qualified to do so
Again, you will not have to respond to these claims directly (if you’re even present at all). Your lawyer should be able to refute their points quickly. Defense attorneys may also make other attempts to get the entire complaint thrown out. They may bring up technicalities like:
- Statute of limitations – They may try to say that the statute has expired
- The venue where the case was filed – They may try to say it is invalid for your case
- Your relationship to a deceased mesothelioma patient – They may try to suggest that you do not have the authorization to file a claim for your lost loved one
Many of these claims are simply attempts by the defense to extend proceedings in the hope that you will accept a lower settlement payout. Of course, it’s always up to you how far you want to take the proceedings. It is always your decision whether to accept a settlement or go to a trial.