After a diagnosis of mesothelioma, you may feel at a loss for what to do next. Obviously, you will want to focus on your health and improving your prognosis as soon as possible. But, you will soon recognize that the costs associated with mesothelioma and its treatments will soon begin to pile up. Even with decent health insurance, you may struggle to pay the bills.
However, there are opportunities for you to get some mesothelioma compensation. Because mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, the companies responsible for that exposure can legally be held accountable. Mesothelioma patients can file legal claims against these companies to recover losses associated with the disease.
Lawsuits can end in successful settlements that offer large payouts for those affected. If the case goes to trial, it may end in a legally-binding verdict issued by a judge or jury.
But, how do you go about attaining a mesothelioma settlement or verdict?
Mesothelioma Lawsuit Process
After you receive a diagnosis or after a loved one passes away due to mesothelioma, it is important to contact a legal team that specializes in mesothelioma and asbestos litigation as soon as you can. A mesothelioma attorney can help move your legal claims in the right direction and get you closer to an asbestos settlement or verdict.
It’s also important to contact a legal team early on because every state in the United States has its own statute of limitations for filing legal claims against asbestos companies. In some states like California, that statute of limitations is only one year, although the average is about two to three years (and can be as high as six).
There are typically two different types of mesothelioma lawsuits you can file, each of which has its own statute of limitations:
Claims filed against a defendant or collection of defendants (in this case, asbestos producing companies) by a single plaintiff (a person with mesothelioma) for damages suffered as a result of asbestos exposure
Claims filed against a defendant or collection of defendants by surviving family members of a loved one who passed away due to an asbestos-related disease
When you come to a mesothelioma lawyer, they will likely give you a free consultation with a rundown of your options for receiving compensation. If you agree to continue with legal proceedings, your lawyer will look through medical records and employment history to gather evidence that can be used to prove that an asbestos manufacturer or employer is at fault.
Hundreds of thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed since the 1970s, and there are legal precedents in place to help current mesothelioma sufferers get appropriate remuneration.
If you and your legal team decide to file a lawsuit against a defendant, you will have to choose what type of litigation will work best for your situation.
There are three categories of litigation that your case can fill into:
One plaintiff filing a claim against a defendant or group of defendants
One plaintiff filing a claim against a defendant or group of defendants except that it uses a legal framework established hundreds of thousands of similar mesothelioma cases (MDL 875 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has heard nearly 200,000 asbestos-related cases)
A group of plaintiffs filing a claim against a defendant or group of defendants, usually occurring when a large group of individuals has a similar complaint against the defendants in question (e.g., a mine operator being sued by current and former employees of that mine for asbestos exposure and costs related to that)
After deciding on the type of litigation, you can then file the lawsuit. A period of “discovery” and pretrial motions will commence. This phase typically involves the introduction of evidence from the plaintiff and the defendant(s). Each legal team will argue their case and defend their client. Settlements are often offered during the pretrial discovery phase, particularly if evidence brought by the plaintiff is compelling.
It is actually rare for asbestos lawsuits to progress into a trial. If that happens, legal representatives for the plaintiff and the defendant will plead their case in front of a judge or jury. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will issue a legally-binding verdict. If they rule in favor of the plaintiff, they will then issue a separate verdict to determine compensation. Again, a mesothelioma verdict is rare, but they do occur on some occasions.
After a verdict for compensation is issued, it is possible that defendants will file appeals, which can delay your retrieval of payment. In fact, it is not uncommon for asbestos settlements to be offered after a verdict simply so that plaintiffs can be compensated more quickly.
Differences between Mesothelioma Settlements and Verdicts
Settlements and verdicts are both legally-binding, and they will require asbestos companies to provide plaintiffs with compensation. But, there are numerous key differences between the two.
For starters, mesothelioma verdicts often offer larger payouts. The average amount of compensation after a judge or jury verdict is around $2.5 million whereas the average for a settlement is around $1.3 million. It would seem, then, that the obvious choice would be to take a lawsuit to trial rather than accept a settlement.
There are numerous factors to consider, including:
- There is no guarantee that a judge or jury will rule in your favor at the end of a trial
- Settlements release companies from liability while verdicts (in favor of the plaintiff) assign liability to those companies
- Defendants can delay your payment by filing appeals against the verdict
- Defendants cannot file appeals against a settlement agreement
- Some mesothelioma patients need compensation in a timely manner to pay for life-saving medical treatments
So, while verdicts almost always pay out more to the plaintiff, they can take years to actually come to fruition. Many patients with late-stage mesothelioma simply do not have the luxury of time on their side. An experienced mesothelioma law firm can help put pressure on asbestos companies to expedite your payment, but those companies will often take all legal avenues to delay and reduce that payment.
There is no set amount of money that claimants will receive from asbestos settlements or verdicts. It is entirely possible to receive a settlement payout that is more than the average amount. It should also be noted that many companies will offer low settlement amounts early in the lawsuit process to avoid further litigation with minimal losses.
Factors that go into deciding mesothelioma compensation include:
- Lost wages (and potential future income that could never be earned as a result of the disease)
- Strength of evidence provided
- Pain and suffering
- Evidence of negligence by the defendants
- Where and how long asbestos exposure occurred
- Diagnostic, medical, and related costs
- Travel, lodging, and other secondary expenses related to mesothelioma
- Where the trial takes place (some venues are more inclined to offer higher payouts)
- Medical history of the plaintiff
- Funeral expenses (for wrongful death suits)
- The number of companies named as defendants
The choice is really in the hands of the mesothelioma patient and their family. A mesothelioma lawyer can advise you on all the risks and benefits associated with choosing to settle or going to trial. But, in the end, the decision will be entirely up to you.
Notable Mesothelioma Settlements and Verdicts
Lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers started to crop up as early as the 1930s. Most manufacturers either agreed to settle before a trial or took the case to trial and won. A direct correlation between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma was found in studies conducted by Dr. Irving J. Selikoff in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a court of law attributed liability for asbestos exposure to asbestos manufacturers.
Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation
Clarence Borel was diagnosed with pulmonary asbestosis in 1969. From 1936 to 1969, he had been an industrial worker who often installed and manipulated asbestos insulation products. In 1970, he underwent a surgical procedure known as pneumonectomy that removed his right lung. At that time, it was also discovered that he had developed mesothelioma.
In 1969, he filed a lawsuit against 11 asbestos insulation manufacturers including the Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation and Johns-Manville Products Corporation. Four defendants settled with him before trial for around $21,000 in compensation. The remaining seven (including the two mentioned above) took the case to trial.
In 1973, the jury verdict placed blame on those asbestos manufacturers for the development of Borel’s diseases. Borel actually passed away prior to this verdict, but his wife became a plaintiff in his stead. With the earlier settlements and the jury verdict, the Borels received around $80,000 in compensation.
This case set a precedent for all ensuing asbestos lawsuits. It was the first court case to assign blame to asbestos product manufacturers for the development of a disease in an individual who used their products.
Whittington v. U.S. Steel
Between 1950 and 1981, Roby Whittington was an employee of U.S. Steel where she was exposed to asbestos fibers on the job. This led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma in 2001. Whittington filed a lawsuit soon after receiving the diagnosis.
The case went to trial, and, in 2003, the jury reached the highest recorded compensation verdict in the history of asbestos litigation. They awarded Whittington $50 million in compensatory damages (money to directly compensate the plaintiff) and $200 million in punitive damages (money meant to serve as further punishment for the defendant).
Rather than appealing the decision, U.S. Steel settled with Whittington out of court for less than $50 million. This was among the first lawsuits filed against former employers who used asbestos products in their facilities but did not actually manufacture those products.
Burnham and Cleaver-Brooks
In 2013, 5 former tradesmen who had worked as steamfitters, pipefitters, and construction workers for Burnham and Cleaver-Brooks were awarded one of the largest mesothelioma verdict payouts in New York City: $190 million. Unfortunately, only two of the five plaintiffs were able to experience the victory, although family members were compensated. One of the victims in the case was awarded a $60-million share of the damages.
Robaey v. Dana Companies
Ed and Marlena Robaey were a married couple that met while working at a hospital in the 1970s. Marlena was a nurse, and Ed was a maintenance mechanic. Ed’s work often required him to repair and install machinery that contained asbestos products. In his spare time, Ed also worked on cars, often releasing asbestos fibers into the air from gaskets and other automotive parts.
Unfortunately, Ed often carried those asbestos fibers around on his clothes, which ended up exposing his wife, Marlena, to the substance. She ended up developing peritoneal mesothelioma, a type of mesothelioma that affects the lining of the abdomen.
In January 2017, a jury awarded the Robaeys $65 million for pain and suffering and medical costs associated with Mrs. Robaey’s treatment. Dana Companies was found to be 40% at fault, and Fel-Pro was found to have 30% liability.
The remaining liability was assigned to other defendants that had already settled prior to the trial.
Other Compensation Options
In addition to lawsuit settlements and verdicts, there are several other mesothelioma compensation options out there.
Some of these include:
These are bankruptcy trusts that were set up when asbestos product manufacturers went out of business. Funds are readily available for claimants if they can prove that asbestos exposure was the fault of one of these bankrupt businesses. Upwards of $30 billion is available in over 60 trusts throughout the United States.
Veterans account for nearly one-third of all mesothelioma sufferers. The United States military frequently used asbestos in their buildings, ships, and other installations. VA Benefits claims allow individuals who were exposed to asbestos during their service to receive compensation.
Employers often used asbestos products negligently. Workers’ compensation can be awarded to individuals who were exposed to asbestos at their workplaces. A lawsuit cannot be filed against a company if a workers’ compensation claim is accepted, however.
Of course, all of these options require research and evidence to be successful. You can also use these compensation options in tandem with mesothelioma lawsuits. Settlement payouts may take into account the fact that you have received other awards already, however. For instance, if you make a successful claim against an asbestos trust fund, the amount of the award you receive may be deducted from the settlement payout of a lawsuit.