11 Min Read
Last Updated: 04/05/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Michelle Whitmer | Legally Reviewed By Daniel Wasserberg | Edited By Walter Pacheco

What Is Asbestos Litigation?

Asbestos litigation encompasses legal proceedings following the filing of an asbestos lawsuit. It primarily involves mesothelioma lawsuits, though plaintiffs also file claims for lung cancer and asbestosis. 

This type of litigation arises from the severe health risks associated with asbestos exposure. People who develop asbestos-related diseases are the most common plaintiffs filing claims. Those who lose loved ones to these conditions may also file claims.

The lawyer files the case and does the due diligence of which companies might be responsible for the asbestos exposure for this individual. From there, depositions may occur if the client wants to go in that direction. Or, there’s also the option of filing with certain bankruptcy trusts.
Jim Kramer
Licensed Mesothelioma Attorney

Asbestos litigation is the longest running mass tort in U.S. history. It began in the 1960s with claims for asbestosis and mesothelioma. It involves areas of law including product liability, negligence, personal injury and wrongful death. Asbestos litigation holds companies accountable for their negligence and failure to protect workers and consumers from a deadly toxin.     

Latest Trends in Asbestos Litigation

Recent data on asbestos litigation shows an increase in mesothelioma and non-cancerous claims. This is according to the KCIC, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that manages asbestos product liabilities and provides industry data.

Mesothelioma claims continue to outnumber asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis litigation. More women are filing claims, and younger plaintiffs are filing asbestos-contaminated talc claims.

Key Trends in Asbestos Litigation
  • Nationwide, mesothelioma filings increased 2% from 2021 to 2022.
  • Mesothelioma cases made up 52.4% of all newly filed asbestos litigation in 2022.
  • The percentage of women plaintiffs overall increased, particularly for mesothelioma cases. These increased from nearly 21% in 2018 to 25% in 2022.
  • The ages of plaintiffs mostly held steady but did decrease slightly for mesothelioma cases because of asbestos-contaminated talc litigation.
  • Los Angeles saw the biggest change, with a 50% increase in asbestos litigation filings.

Madison County, Illinois, remained No. 1 for most asbestos litigation cases, though it saw a small decline of 2.3%. The top 10 asbestos law firms filed approximately 71% of mesothelioma claims in 2022.

In 2019, U.S. insurers recognized $92 billion in losses from asbestos liabilities, which included $74 billion in payments and the rest in reserves. The financial consequence of using asbestos is substantial, with insurers and major defendants paying billions. Families most often use compensation from a mesothelioma lawsuit to afford cancer treatment, cover lost wages and pay for funeral expenses.

Why Do People File Asbestos Litigation?

The primary goal of filing asbestos claims is to seek justice and compensation for those diagnosed with asbestos-caused conditions. People file asbestos claims to cover medical expenses, lost wages and other financial losses. Families also file wrongful death claims for funeral costs, medical bills and lost wages. 

Occupational asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of mesothelioma. Many people were unaware they were working directly with or around asbestos products. U.S. courts have held companies responsible for their negligence and issued punitive damages to discourage further use of asbestos.

Asbestos litigation aims to hold companies accountable for actions or negligence that caused asbestos exposure. Filing a claim also hinders future asbestos use.

Conditions Named in Asbestos Litigation

The asbestos-related diseases named in asbestos litigation range from non-cancerous to cancerous conditions. Mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer are among the most serious conditions. Both are often diagnosed in later stages of development. This can result in a shortened lifespan because treatment may not be as effective or options may become limited.

Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. For this reason, it’s often called “asbestos cancer.” Surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are leading treatments, but there is no cure for this type of malignant cancer.

Conditions Named in Asbestos Litigation
  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Other cancers
  • Pleural changes

Asbestos exposure may also cause cancers of the throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and lymphoid tissues. Pleural changes may include effusion, thickening, plaques and calcification.

How Were Plaintiffs Exposed to Asbestos?

Industries such as construction, manufacturing and mining pose a higher risk of direct asbestos exposure. Workers in textiles, power generation and oil refining faced a serious risk as well. Firefighters, construction and demolition workers still face asbestos exposure on the job.

Indirect exposure also causes related diseases. Living near naturally occurring asbestos deposits can lead to exposure. People who live and work where asbestos was released into the air, such as in New York City during the 2001 World Trade Center attack, face an increased risk of disease.

Types of Asbestos Exposure
  • Environmental Exposure: People living near natural asbestos deposits and mining operations face dangerous exposure.
  • Occupational Exposure: This is the most common source of asbestos exposure. Occupational exposure is the No. 1 cause of mesothelioma.
  • Secondary Exposure: This occurs when workers bring home asbestos fibers. Women who laundered contaminated work clothes were particularly at risk of secondhand asbestos exposure.
  • Talc and Consumer Products: Some talcum powder and other cosmetics have been contaminated with asbestos fibers. Industrial products like paint and ceramics can also contain asbestos-contaminated talc.

Asbestos in consumer products has made headlines in recent years because of contamination in talcum powder and children’s toys. Secondary exposure is a risk primarily for family members of asbestos workers.

Adhering to federal safety regulations is crucial to minimize health risks. Employers should provide protective equipment and enforce safety procedures. Asbestos state laws for exposure mitigation vary throughout the U.S. 

Types of Asbestos Litigation

Not only do mesothelioma patients pursue litigation but family members who have lost a loved one can also file legal claims. Lawsuits include personal injury claims and wrongful death claims. Class-action lawsuits are no longer used to handle asbestos litigation.

Asbestos trust funds provide compensation for personal injury and wrongful death claims as well. They operate outside of the U.S. court system. Therefore, they are not considered a type of asbestos litigation.

Experienced mesothelioma lawyers can help identify responsible companies and guide through the asbestos litigation process. Mesothelioma lawsuits often result in out-of-court settlements, but some cases proceed to an asbestos trial.

Asbestos and Personal Injury Litigation

Individuals diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, can file personal injury lawsuits. These claims seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Personal injury cases are more common than wrongful death lawsuits. Compensation awarded may be higher because medical expenses are ongoing for plaintiffs.

Wrongful Death Litigation

If someone dies from an asbestos-related disease, their estate can file a wrongful death claim. When asbestos plaintiffs in a personal injury lawsuit die before resolution, the claim can become a wrongful death claim.

Wrongful death compensation helps surviving family members afford related expenses. Compensation may cover funeral costs, medical bills and loss of financial support.

The statute of limitations to file wrongful death lawsuits varies from state to state. It starts from the date of death. Consulting a mesothelioma attorney is important to start the claims process.

Trust Fund Claims

While not asbestos litigation, mesothelioma attorneys can help you file an asbestos trust fund claim. Mesothelioma patients can file claims with these funds to seek compensation for their injuries. Filing a trust fund claim involves meeting eligibility criteria and collecting evidence.

Asbestos companies facing bankruptcy often establish trust funds to compensate victims. Filing a trust fund claim with a law firm can be a faster process compared to a mesothelioma lawsuit because it doesn’t involve the court system. Claimants often receive compensation within a couple of months.

Approximately $30 billion is left in existing asbestos trust funds. Around 60 active trusts have paid out billions since the late 1980s.

Asbestos Litigation and Compensation

Mesothelioma lawsuits can result in settlements or trial verdicts. Mesothelioma settlements occur when the defendant pays the plaintiff to dismiss the lawsuit. 

Many mesothelioma lawsuits settle before reaching trial. Factors such as legal costs and evidence in favor of the defendant influence the possibility of a settlement.

  • Average Mesothelioma Settlement: $1 million to $2 million
  • Average Mesothelioma Trial Verdict: $5 million to $11.4 million
  • Largest Mesothelioma Verdict: $250 million in 2003

Courts may award compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, funeral costs and financial support for surviving family members. Veterans may be eligible for veteran benefits and claims. Social Security Disability Benefits are also available for people with mesothelioma.

History of Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort in U.S. history, dating back to the late 1960s. Dozens of companies have filed for bankruptcy under the weight of asbestos litigation and established asbestos trust funds to compensate future victims and their families. 

Recent developments include the shift to using digital technology. There is also an ongoing rise in tort litigation.

  • 2020 Asbestos Litigation Shifts to Online Practices
    Asbestos attorneys have transitioned to virtual and teleconferencing services to prevent infection risks for mesothelioma patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mesothelioma lawyers now provide remote virtual consultations to help clients file mesothelioma claims without missing deadlines because of restricted travel or health issues. Attorneys can handle many aspects of the legal process through video calls or electronic signatures.
  • 1980-Present Asbestos Tort Litigation Grows
    Buoyed by the success of Borel’s victory, asbestos workers turned to tort litigation to get compensation for their injuries. While some other countries created centralized benefits systems for injured workers, U.S. mesothelioma patients must rely on the tort system.
  • 1969 Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products
    In October 1969, attorney Stephenson represented one of Tomplait’s co-workers, Clarence Borel. He developed mesothelioma while working in shipyards and at oil refineries. Stephenson once again filed a lawsuit, seeking $1 million in damages, against several asbestos manufacturers across America. This time, the result was different. Borel died of mesothelioma in June 1970 and never heard the final disposition from the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1973, Borel’s estate received a verdict in the amount of $79,436.
  • 1966 First Asbestos Lawsuit Filed
    Insulation worker Claude Tomplait received an asbestosis diagnosis in July 1966. Attorney Ward Stephenson filed the first asbestos products lawsuit on Tomplait’s behalf in December 1966. The defendants were 11 manufacturers of asbestos insulation products, including Johns Manville, Fibreboard Paper Products and Owens-Corning Fiberglas. The case went to trial on May 12, 1969, and the verdict came a week later in favor of the defendants.
  • 1965 Tort Laws Pave Way for Asbestos Litigation
    In 1965, The American Law Institute published “The Restatement of the Law of Torts.” It said 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 also explained this would not include unsafe products as long as they were “accompanied by proper directions and warning.” Courts decided asbestos manufacturers knew the dangers of asbestos exposure but failed to appropriately warn asbestos workers and consumers. This opened the floodgates for asbestos-related lawsuits.
  • 1964 Doctors Prove Asbestos Causes Cancer
    Researchers proved that asbestos exposure causes lung damage and disease. Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, Dr. Jacob Churg and Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond did research showing that people who worked with asbestos were more likely to receive a diagnosis of lung damage or disease. There had been evidence among asbestos workers for decades, but the industry had denied the validity of the claims. Although there is no national registry for asbestos personal injury claims, independent reports show asbestos litigation has grown during the past several decades. The RAND Institute for Civil Justice began analyzing asbestos litigation in the early 1980s. According to RAND’s findings, approximately 730,000 people in the U.S. filed compensation claims for asbestos-related injuries from the early 1970s through the end of 2002, costing businesses and insurance companies more than $70 billion. Between 1982 and 2002, the number of companies sued in asbestos related lawsuits increased from 300 to 8,400. By 2013, the number of asbestos defendants had grown to more than 10,000 companies.

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