Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Tim Povtak explains the benefits of seeking legal help for mesothelioma patients or their families.

If you have an asbestos-related disease, seriously consider contacting a qualified mesothelioma lawyer immediately. These types of cases are time sensitive, and only a lawyer trained in asbestos litigation should help you decide if and when to pursue a lawsuit against a company that may be responsible for exposing you to asbestos. The right attorney will also guide you through the process and explain what you can expect from filing the lawsuit.

Filing a Suit Is Time-Sensitive

Each state limits the time you have to file a lawsuit after you are diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you file your claim before the statute of limitations expires. You also may be able to pick from multiple states on where to file your lawsuit. Your attorney will evaluate your case and help you pick the state that may be most favorable for you.

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What to Expect When Filing

In a mesothelioma lawsuit, the attorney will deal with the actual filing of the case and then all related aspects. You should expect a routine that consists of the response to the lawsuit, discovery, depositions, settlement discussions, possible trial, verdict and possible appeal. Most mesothelioma lawsuits never go to trial because they are settled out of court before the trial takes place.

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Mesothelioma Lawsuit Process

If you decide to file a lawsuit, your attorney will assist you through the process. While everyone's case is different, there are a number of steps that apply to nearly everyone who files an asbestos-related lawsuit. Your attorney will handle each of these steps and explain the process as it goes along. For the most part, mesothelioma lawsuits follow these steps:

  • Preparation

    Step 1: Preparation

    Your attorney will gather information about your asbestos exposure and illness to determine who is responsible for your condition and in which court to file your lawsuit. You may be eligible to file your lawsuit in more than one court.

    An asbestos and mesothelioma attorney will be able to use the information gathered earlier in the preparation stage to help you choose the most favorable court for your lawsuit.

  • Filing

    Step 2: Filing

    Your lawyer must file a written complaint with a court to start the legal process. Your attorney will prepare and file this document. For your case to move forward, your complaint must follow different court rules on how the document is written and the details it provides about your claim. An experienced attorney will be familiar with these rules, the issues that often arise in asbestos lawsuits and use this knowledge to help present your claims to the court.

  • Responses

    Step 3: Responses

    Each defendant in your lawsuit will also receive a copy of your complaint and have the chance to respond. Because many years likely have passed since you were exposed to asbestos, the responsible company could now be a different company or could be bankrupt. It may take some time to locate and provide the appropriate people with your complaint. Your attorney will oversee this process.

    Once served with a copy of your complaint, each defendant will have a certain amount of time to respond, usually 30 days. Understand that defendants rarely admit fault. They most likely will deny your claims and defend themselves. They may argue that your complaint is not valid or that someone or something else is responsible for your asbestos exposure. They may even claim that your condition is not related to asbestos exposure. Don't worry. This is normal. Your attorney will reply to each defendant's responses.

  • Discovery

    Step 4: Discovery

    During discovery, lawyers on both sides gather information about your allegations. Both sides will ask the other side to answer written questions, produce documents and participate in depositions. Some of the information gathered will become the evidence used at trial. Discovery may take several months, but if you are very ill, your attorney can ask the court to speed the process along before your condition worsens.

    The defendant's lawyers will look for evidence that something or someone else caused your illness. As a result, they will demand very personal information about you like your medical history, work history and information about your personal habits. They will also seek information from your loved ones, doctors, co-workers and former co-workers.

    You probably will need to participate in a videotaped deposition. If so, you will answer questions under oath from the defendant's lawyer. This process may take a few hours or several days, but can be performed from the comfort of your own home.

    Your attorney will prepare your responses to any written questions and document requests. Your lawyer will also go over likely deposition questions with you in advance and be present to assist you during the deposition. In addition to helping you respond to discovery requests, your lawyer will also make similar demands to the defendant for information supporting your claim that the defendant negligently exposed you to asbestos.

  • Settlement

    Step 5: Settlement

    Before a trial starts, a defendant may offer to resolve the case by offering you money. If you decline the settlement offer, it's possible the defendant will make another offer during trial. Your attorney will negotiate on your behalf. Visit our verdicts and settlements page for more information about factors that can influence your decision whether to go to trial.

  • Trial

    Step 6: Trial

    The trial process varies depending on where you file a claim. In many cases, it is not necessary for you to appear in court. If you win and the defendant does not appeal, you will usually start receiving payments a few months after the trial.

  • Appeal

    Step 7: Appeal

    If you win the trial, the defendant may decide to file an appeal. There is a limited amount of time to file an appeal, usually between 30 and 180 days. This will delay any monetary award, but the defendant will need to post "bond" for the amount awarded while the appeal proceeds. If the defendant loses its appeal, you will start receiving payments. If the appeal is successful, the defendant may end up paying a smaller amount or nothing at all.

    An appeals court generally accepts any facts the trial judge and jury found to be true. Usually the only thing an appeals court decides is whether the trial court correctly applied the law to the case. If a mistake was made that affected the result of the trial, the appeals court may order a new trial. Sometimes the appeals court can just correct the mistake without a new trial, such as when the amount of the award was calculated incorrectly. If your case is appealed, your attorney will be available to explain the process to you.

How Long Is the Process?

If you are in poor health, as is often the case in asbestos-related medical situations, the entire legal process can be expedited. If there is no urgency, the process could take several months or longer. In either case, the defendant probably will try to drag out the process. Your attorney will work to resolve your case as quickly as possible, handling each step so you can focus on your health and spend time with your loved ones.

Do I Need to Travel?

The location where you file can affect the length of the case process. Your attorney will help you choose the most favorable court for your case. It may be necessary to file outside the state where you live. You will not need to travel because your mesothelioma attorney will handle the entire case process and travel to you when necessary.

Filing a Mesothelioma Lawsuit After Death

If a mesothelioma patient files a lawsuit but passes away before it's resolved, their loved ones may be able to step in as plaintiffs. In some cases, families file their own wrongful death lawsuits, which can help provide compensation to assist with medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of income. In other cases, loved ones may also obtain monetary awards for their emotional suffering.

If a mesothelioma patient files a lawsuit but passes away before it's resolved, their loved ones may be able to step in as plaintiffs. In some cases, families file their own wrongful death lawsuits, which can help provide compensation to assist with medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of income. In other cases, loved ones may also obtain monetary awards for their emotional suffering.

What to Expect from Defendant Responses

Once you file your claim, be prepared for defendants to deny all fault for your medical condition. They may allege that:

  • Smoking, drinking or drug use caused your health problems.

  • Your family history shows significant health problems among relatives.

  • You worked at other places where asbestos was a bigger problem.

  • You have not been properly diagnosed by a medical professional.

  • The petition was not filed correctly, even if it was filed on time.

  • Exposure to asbestos and other toxic substances happened at home, not just at work.

  • You do not have the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased.

  • Your medical condition is not related to asbestos exposure.

Don’t take these allegations to heart; just let your attorney handle them. Defendants may also include a settlement request in their response, but this is rare. Companies may be willing to settle right away in order to avoid a lengthy and costly lawsuit. However, this first settlement offer may be very low. Expect to wait until closer to trial, or even during the trial itself, to receive a reasonable offer.

Choosing Your Attorney

The first step in a successful filing process is choosing an attorney. If you decide to file a claim, your attorney will prepare and file the necessary documents to start your lawsuit. Your case will proceed more efficiently and you may have the greatest chance for compensation if you work with an experienced asbestos and mesothelioma attorney.

Why an Attorney Is Important

If you worked for a large corporation that has closed or is bankrupt, funds may have been set aside to help pay medical and related expenses for mesothelioma patients. A mesothelioma attorney is knowledgeable about these funds and can help you file a claim. In addition, a mesothelioma attorney is familiar with asbestos manufacturers and can help you determine who is responsible for your suffering.

When you talk to the attorney, be prepared to discuss past employment, health history and current health status. For this reason, it is very important to hire a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable communicating. Get Help Finding an Attorney

Paying Your Attorney

Most mesothelioma lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means your attorney only gets paid if you agree to a settlement or win your lawsuit. When you settle or win a case, a percentage of the award will be paid to your lawyer. If not, you pay no attorney fees.

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Get help finding an attorney who knows the process and can get you and your family the compensation you deserve.

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Shipyards and Asbestos Lawsuits

Because of its ability to resist high temperatures and corrosion, asbestos was an ideal material to use in the shipbuilding industry. Naval shipyard workers who served between World War II and the Korean War were frequently exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, which increased their chances of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Many of these veterans have filed mesothelioma lawsuits to recover the costs associated with the diagnosis of these diseases.

Tacoma Dry Dock and Asbestos Lawsuits

Over the decades, Todd Pacific Shipyards, as owner of the Tacoma Dry Dock and later shipyards in the Tacoma area, has faced dozens of claims for injuries caused by asbestos. One case involved Gerald Black, a Washington state man who worked for Todd as a welder from 1942 through most of 1945. Black filed a claim under the longshore and harbor workers act (LHWCA), for asbestos-related injuries. Todd Shipyards argued that Black's later jobs, and not his shipyard work, probably caused Black's injury. A judge disagreed and ordered LHWCA payments to Black.

Gerald Black testified that the asbestos in the 1940s yard "was all over. You had to wallow in it to do your welding." Black reported that asbestos material was tossed around the shipyard "like snowballs," indicating the lack of safety measures taken in Todd shipyards.

Galveston Docks

One of the earliest cases occurred in 1984 when shipyard worker Guiseppe Castorina filed a lawsuit against Lykes Brothers Steamship Company "for injuries sustained as a result of exposure to asbestos." Castorina worked at the Galveston Docks from 1955 to 1984. The suit alleged that from 1965 to 1972, Castorina handled burlap bags that contained raw asbestos. In 1979, a doctor diagnosed Castorina with asbestosis, a respiratory disorder related to asbestos exposure. The court dismissed Castorina's claims because he could not show his injury occurred until after a 1972 maritime law revision went into effect. A 2009 case alleges a Galveston maritime worker contracted mesothelioma. Laura Bodin sued a number of companies that employed her late father, Pedro Perez, during the 1960s. The lawsuit claims Perez developed the disease while handling asbestos-containing products and that the companies used improper procedures to manufacture, transport and install the asbestos. Another case filed in 2009 claimed that a laborer at the Todd Pacific Shipyards facility in Galveston contracted asbestos-related breathing problems. According to the original claim, laborer Jesse Frederick Cruz "was required to handle products containing asbestos and was exposed to other asbestos products present in the workplace." Cruz died in 2002 at age 56. His relative, Mary Ann Sparkman, claimed that the company and other defendants did not follow federal regulations regarding the safe handling of asbestos.

Willamette Iron and Steel Works

Willamette Iron and Steel former employees filed multiple claims against the shipyard for on-the-job asbestos exposure that caused mesothelioma. One ex-worker, James McAllister, died in 2002 of mesothelioma after working for five years as a shipyard carpenter (1956-60). McAllister performed repairs on a number of U.S. Navy vessels, including destroyers.

In McAllister's case against a handful of companies, a federal court decided Willamette Iron and Steel couldn't simply wait and see if McAllister's widow proved that he had been exposed to asbestos. The court noted the extensive shipyard industry use of asbestos. This industry practice meant that it was the duty of companies to prove they had not used asbestos. McAllister won his claim, and his case was a significant reversal of years of ignoring the hazards of asbestos in American shipyards. McAllister later worked at Lockheed Shipyards in a similar capacity, but a federal court ruled that he was not exposed to asbestos while employed there. Another injured shipyard worker sued Willamette on his own, believing he had not received adequate representation from the union in his claim against the company for exposure. That also was a precedent-setting case because the former worker won on appeal, and the appellate court cited that asbestos would eventually be discovered as being unsafe at any level of exposure and those who created the exposure were liable for it.

Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard

There is at least one known mesothelioma-related lawsuit involving the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard and asbestos exposure. In 2003, the estate of Harry Hunter sued Owens-Illinois Glass for providing Kaylo, an asbestos-containing insulation used at Curtis Bay. Hunter, who died from mesothelioma in 2001, had worked as an electrician at Curtis Bay for 33 days during the summer of 1956 while he was in college. The jury awarded Hunter's estate $4.2 million for his wrongful death. The amount was reduced to $600,000 because Maryland state law mandated a liability limit of $600,000.

Compensation for Veterans

Our Veterans Department can help you or a loved one file asbestos-related VA Claims and secure other benefits.

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History of Asbestos Litigation

The history of successful asbestos litigation begins with plaintiff Clarence Borel. The case of Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation became a landmark lawsuit, setting the stage for decades of asbestos litigation. Borel's decision to sue and his ultimate victory gave people exposed to asbestos a new legal path for their grievances and helped shape a national awareness of the dangers of asbestos.

Drs. Selikoff, Churg, and Hammond

1964 Asbestos Proven to Cause Lung Damage and Disease

In 1964, the medical findings of Drs. Irving J. Selikoff, Jacob Churg and E. Cuyler Hammond proved conclusively that asbestos caused lung damage and disease.

Restatement of the Law Second, Torts

1965 Tort Laws Pave the Way for Asbestos Litigation

A 1965 publication by The American Law Institute of the Restatement of the Law of Torts stated in section 402A that anyone "who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is liable for the harm caused by that product to the consumer or end user." It went on to explain that this would not include unsafe products as long as they were "accompanied by proper directions and warning." When the court decided that asbestos manufacturers knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure, but failed to appropriately warn asbestos workers, the floodgates opened for what soon became the largest collection of tort litigation lawsuits in American history.

Restatement of the Law Second, Torts
Fibreboard Corporation

1969 First Asbestos Lawsuit Filed

Beginning in 1936, Borel, a husband and father of six, worked in the shipyards and oil refineries along the Texas-Louisiana border. In the winter of 1969, he was diagnosed with an advanced case of asbestosis. That spring, Borel filed a workers' compensation claim for injuries suffered on the job. He eventually settled the claim for a little more than $13,000. In the fall of 1969, he visited a lawyer about seeking further compensation in the courts to pay for ongoing medical care and to provide for his family. His attorney, Ward Stephenson, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas against 11 asbestos manufacturers across the U.S., seeking $1 million in damages.

Borel v. Fibreboard Paper was decided for the plaintiff in 1973, but Borel never heard its final disposition from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. He died of mesothelioma in June 1970.

Asbestos Protest

1982-Present Asbestos Tort Litigation Continues to Grow

Buoyed by the success of Borel v. Fibreboard, asbestos workers chose to use tort litigation to obtain compensation for their injuries.

Between 1982 and 2002, the number of asbestos claimants increased from 1,000 to 730,000 while the total number of companies sued went from 300 to 8,400. Some analysts predict that the number of asbestos filings will ultimately top 1 million. As of 2013, the number of asbestos defendants had grown to more than 10,000 companies.

Asbestos Protest

Additional Resources


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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