The last question on your mind when you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or have lost someone to the disease is “when should I file a mesothelioma lawsuit or other claim?” The complicated emotional issues associated with a diagnosis or death are strenuous, to say the least. After a diagnosis, you may be focused only on your health and the complex and aggressive treatment process you are about to undergo. After the loss of a loved one, your grief may be overwhelming, not to mention the fact that you will have to take care of all your loved one’s final affairs.

Even so, the mesothelioma statute of limitations as it relates to litigation is important to keep in mind. It is vital to file a legal or benefits claim before that statute expires. But, it can be difficult to understand exactly how long you have and where you can file.

Understanding the Mesothelioma Statute of Limitations Laws

A statute of limitations is a legal term for how long an individual has to file a legal claim after a designated incident. In this case, the incident is either a diagnosis of mesothelioma or a death as a result of mesothelioma. The United States is complicated because it allows each state to set its own statutes of limitations as they relate to mesothelioma law. Statutes of limitations for mesothelioma across the United States range from 1 to 6 years although the average is about 2 to 3 years. But, exactly what laws and litigation are these statutes referring to?

The Basis for Mesothelioma and Asbestos Litigation

It is well-documented that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a natural mineral that has both fireproofing and carcinogenic properties. The substance was lauded for its ability to prevent widespread fires in urban locations and other settings like marine vessels and vehicles. But, its negative effects were clear as early as the 1920s or 30s. By the 1960s, there was no disputing that asbestos had a toxic effect on the human body. Still, many companies and organizations continued to mine, process, produce and use asbestos in their products and other applications. It could be found in virtually all buildings in materials like:

  • Attic insulation
  • Drywall
  • Pipefittings
  • Pipe insulation
  • Paint
  • Metal girders
  • Roofing tiles and shingles
  • Flooring (particularly vinyl floor tiles)
  • Insulation for electrical wiring

Workers were most at risk for asbestos exposure, but literally, anyone could have been exposed given the right conditions. Product manufacturers were well-aware of asbestos’ toxic nature, but they didn’t stop using it in their products until the late 1970s. This negligence led to the onset of mesothelioma and asbestos litigation. In fact, the first successful lawsuit in the United States against an asbestos manufacturer was ruled on in 1973.

Asbestos regulations, laws, and the overall threat of litigation have limited asbestos use and the possibility of exposure in recent years despite the substance’s continued legality in the United States. Still, the long latency period (the time it takes for a disease to develop) of mesothelioma means that many people who were exposed at the peak of asbestos production in the mid-1970s are just being diagnosed with the disease now.

Since that first successful lawsuit in 1973, hundreds of thousands of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed. This has led to more standardization in terms of legal processes and the laws surrounding asbestos litigation. This also led to the onset of the asbestos statute of limitations laws.

Types of Litigation and their Statutes of Limitations

For many states, the statute of limitations is different depending on the type of lawsuit that is filed. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses require special rules that differentiate them from standard litigation of this variety. There are generally two types of asbestos litigation: personal injury and wrongful death.

It should also be noted that statutes of limitations apply to both mesothelioma lawsuits and claims against asbestos trust funds. Lawsuits are brought against still-existing companies that have yet to admit liability to asbestos exposure. Asbestos trust funds, on the other hand, are entities that have been set up by now-bankrupt companies that acknowledge their wrongdoing as it relates to asbestos. The trusts contain funds that can be awarded to mesothelioma sufferers and patients with other asbestos-related diseases. There are about 60 active trusts in the United States with a total of over $30 billion.

Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against a company. Likewise, personal injury and wrongful death claims can be made against an asbestos trust fund. The statute of limitations of the state in which the lawsuit or claim is filed will apply. There is no statute of limitations on benefits claims like workers’ compensation or Veteran’s Affairs benefits. These require a different process for mesothelioma sufferers and their families.

Personal Injury

Personal injury claims and lawsuits are filed by mesothelioma patients on their own behalf. Personal injury suits have long been an option for employees who were injured or incurred an illness on the job. But, the statute of limitations for most personal injury suits would not be applicable for asbestos-related illnesses.

In general, the figurative clock on the statute of limitations for personal injury suits starts at the time an injury is incurred. For many workplace injuries like a broken arm or a slipped disc in the spine, it is easy to point to an exact moment when the incident happened. But, with mesothelioma, the disease (or “injury” in this case) could take decades to develop and present itself fully.

In the 1973 court case mentioned above (Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Prods. Corp.), this issue was brought up. The claimant in the case, Clarence Borel, was an industrial worker from 1936 to 1969. He often worked with insulation products as part of his duties at work. This naturally led to him inhaling asbestos fibers. In March 1969, his doctors told him he had pulmonary asbestosis, another asbestos-related disease that causes scarring and thickening of the lungs and may be a precursor for mesothelioma. In 1970, he was, in fact, diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after undergoing a pneumonectomy (a procedure that involves the removal of a lung).

In his 1973 case that was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the court acknowledged that applying the rules of traditional personal injury suits would be categorically unfair. After all, Borel could not have reasonably been expected to file a lawsuit after he was first exposed to the asbestos that ultimately caused his disease 30 years later.

Because of this case, the “discovery rule” has been applied to all subsequent asbestos-related lawsuits. The discovery rule essentially states that the statute of limitations can only begin to be applied at the time the disease becomes known to an individual (i.e., at diagnosis). Prior to the Borel suit, no asbestos product manufacturer had been held responsible for asbestos-related illnesses in a court of law, partially because the discovery rule had never been applied.

The average time period for personal injury statutes of limitations is between 2 and 3 years. There are states—like California, Kentucky, and Louisiana—where the statute of limitations is only one year for personal injury suits. Thus, it is vital to get a head start on your legal proceedings as soon as you can. A successful personal injury claim or lawsuit will pay out based on:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical treatment costs
  • Diagnostic procedure costs
  • Travel and other secondary expenses
  • Pain and suffering

It can take some time before a lawsuit is filed, so it is important to get started quickly. Researching and compiling evidence can take months before a lawsuit or claim is even considered. After being diagnosed, it’s important to contact a qualified mesothelioma or asbestos lawyer.

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death claims are typically made by the next of kin of someone who has passed away as a result of mesothelioma. Again, it can be a difficult task to contact a legal team after a close loved one has just passed away, but it may be in your best interest. Like personal injury claims, successful wrongful death claims can payout based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Lost wages (including future income potential)
  • Medical treatment costs
  • Diagnostic procedure costs
  • Travel and other secondary costs
  • Loss of consortium
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses

For most states, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is the same as the statute of limitations for personal injury claims. If there is a difference in statute duration between the two claim types, then wrongful death suits usually have a shorter period of time. For example, Florida, Nebraska, and Wyoming each have a statute of limitations of 4 years for personal injury lawsuits. But, those three states also have a statute of limitations of only 2 years for wrongful death suits. So, again, it’s important to contact a legal team that specializes in asbestos and mesothelioma law as soon as you can.

It’s also important to note that many family members who have lost a loved one to mesothelioma think that a lawsuit or other legal claim is a lost cause because they don’t know their loved one’s employment history. Of course, a mesothelioma attorney can help you research and collect evidence in regard to any possible asbestos exposure your loved one experienced throughout their life. Many mesothelioma lawyers offer free consultations and only ever ask for payment if a claim is ultimately successful.

In Which States Can You File a Claim?

If the statute of limitations has expired in the state where you reside, you may feel as if you missed your window to file a claim. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to file a claim in your current location. You may also be able to file a claim based on any of the following:

  • Other places you have lived where asbestos exposure could have occurred
  • Other states where you have worked or served in the military
  • The location of the company that was responsible for your exposure to asbestos

Your attorney will be able to find a venue that is right for your particular case. There are also some states that have “open forum” policies that simply allow you to file claims whether you have an association with the area or not. Some districts can also expedite your claim if your health is in dire shape.

List of Statutes of Limitations by State

Again, each state has a different policy as it relates to their mesothelioma statute of limitations. Claims need to be filed prior to the end of the statute. The statutes for each state are as follows:

State Personal Injury Statute Wrongful Death Statute
Alabama 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Alaska 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Arizona 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Arkansas 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
California 1-year post-diagnosis 1 year after the death
Colorado 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Connecticut 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Delaware 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Florida 4 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Georgia 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Hawaii 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Idaho 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Illinois 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Indiana 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Iowa 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Kansas 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Kentucky 1-year post-diagnosis 1 year after the death
Louisiana 1-year post-diagnosis 1 year after the death
Maine 6 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Maryland 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Massachusetts 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Michigan 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Minnesota 4 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Mississippi 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Missouri 5 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Montana 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Nebraska 4 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Nevada 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
New Hampshire 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
New Jersey 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
New Mexico 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
New York 3 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
North Carolina 3 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
North Dakota 6 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Ohio 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Oklahoma 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Oregon 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Pennsylvania 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Rhode Island 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
South Carolina 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
South Dakota 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Tennessee 1-year post-diagnosis 1 year after the death
Texas 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Utah 3 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Vermont 3 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Virginia 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Washington 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Washington, D.C. 3 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
West Virginia 2 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death
Wisconsin 3 years post-diagnosis 3 years after the death
Wyoming 4 years post-diagnosis 2 years after the death