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What Is a Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuit?
In a class-action lawsuit, a group of people bring a joint claim to court. One or more plaintiffs on behalf of a group of “similarly situated” people file their civil suit against a defendant. Instead of hearing the details of every plaintiff’s case, the court hears one case that represents the whole class.
State and federal courts have their own procedural rules governing class actions. Most agree the group must share similar injuries resulting from shared circumstances that raise the same legal issues.
Prior to moving forward with a class action, a court must determine there are sufficient similarities and that separate lawsuits would be impractical or burdensome. Then the court can certify the group as a class and allow the group to litigate its case collectively.
Why Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits Are Rarely Filed
Class-action lawsuits were an efficient way for large groups of people diagnosed with mesothelioma to hold negligent companies liable. They were particularly common in the 1960s until the late 1990s.
Mesothelioma lawyers and judges observed that as class actions evolved, they were no longer the best type of litigation for complex asbestos cases, which often involve exposure to multiple asbestos products. It became apparent that a single plaintiff’s case often was not similar enough to other cases in the proposed class.
Benefits of Class-Action Lawsuits for Mesothelioma:
- They served as an efficient way to help victims of asbestos exposure access compensation.
- They work well when a group of workers exposed at the same job site to the same products develop mesothelioma.
Drawbacks of Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits:
- One plaintiff’s case rarely exemplifies other plaintiffs’ cases.
- Plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits generally fail to receive as much compensation as those who file successful individual lawsuits.
Both class-action lawsuits and mass torts involve large groups of plaintiffs, which can lead to confusion between the two legal options. Mass torts treat each plaintiff’s case individually rather than as a group. Mass torts are heard through special multidistrict litigation, often referred to using the acronym MDL.
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Alternatives to Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits
There are several alternatives to mesothelioma class-action lawsuits. Most mesothelioma lawsuits are individually filed as personal injury claims or wrongful death claims.
- Class action lawyers represent the whole group rather than individual clients
- Class action members have less control over their case
- All claimants split class-action compensation
Compensation may also be available from asbestos trust funds, workers’ compensation or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Personal Injury Lawsuit
In a personal injury lawsuit, a single mesothelioma plaintiff files a lawsuit claiming specific asbestos products caused them to develop cancer. The manufacturers of the products are defendants in the claim.
In 2022, Weitz & Luxenburg secured $43 million for a mesothelioma patient after a jury found Algoma Hardwoods, Inc. responsible for asbestos exposure.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In a wrongful death lawsuit, surviving family members who lost a loved one to mesothelioma file the claim. The surviving family’s lawsuit claims their loved one’s death is the result of exposure to specific asbestos products.
“If you are asked to join an asbestos class action, remember that you can choose to join the class or ‘opt out’ so you can pursue your own lawsuit.”Joe LahavEsquire
Most mesothelioma lawsuits are settled out of court, whether they are class actions or individual claims. Settlement negotiations can be more complicated in class-action lawsuits given the number of people comprising a particular class of plaintiffs. Be sure to work with an experienced asbestos law firm when you evaluate your legal options for seeking mesothelioma compensation.
How to File an Asbestos Claim
Understanding each of the steps and knowing what documents you’ll need in advance can help make the process more efficient and less stressful. Speaking with a lawyer with specialized expertise in asbestos claims can also make the process of filing your claim easier and less stressful.
- To file an asbestos claim, you should find a qualified mesothelioma attorney to handle your claim and file it properly. Attorneys who specialize in asbestos lawsuits can help you identify the source of the asbestos exposure that made you or your loved one sick.
- Your attorney will walk you through the discovery phase where you provide medical records showing a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness like mesothelioma. You must also gather documentation explaining what companies were responsible. The defendants in these cases may include manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing products, mining and construction companies or other companies that used asbestos in industrial processes, such as chemical refining or power generation.
- You will provide testimony of your asbestos exposure history, which you may record from the comfort of your home.
- Your attorney will manage communication between all parties involved and will guide you on when to accept settlement offers, when to hold out for trial and whether you qualify to file asbestos trust fund claims.
Another important aspect of filing an asbestos claim is making sure you file within the statute of limitations, which might expire within 1-3 years of the date of your mesothelioma diagnosis.
Notable Asbestos Class-Actions
Certain mesothelioma cases are consolidated into special courts for multidistrict litigation, but a few landmark cases ruled against certifying asbestos class actions.
Individual lawsuits, including personal injury and wrongful death claims, have proven to be the more common procedure used by asbestos plaintiffs. Individual lawsuits often provide more compensation than class-action claims to cover medical costs and other losses associated with mesothelioma.
Thousands of mesothelioma cases were heard in a special court known as MDL No. 875, which accepted multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level from 1991 to December 2011. Federal courts now handle asbestos claims in districts throughout the country rather than funneling them into MDL No. 875.
1999: Ortiz v. Fibreboard
In Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the precedent set in Georgine v. Amchem. At issue was a settlement agreement that would have cleared the defendant of liability before many of the claimants in the class could file a claim.
People exposed to asbestos cannot file a lawsuit until they develop an asbestos-related illness. The Supreme Court held that it was inappropriate for a defendant company to be able to settle claims before the onset of illness.
While some state courts are more willing to certify class actions than federal courts, class-action asbestos lawsuits are relatively uncommon. Since 1991, MDL No. 875 has heard multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level.
1994: Georgine v. Amchem
In Georgine v. Amchem Products, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a plan that would have settled the claims of up to two million people exposed to asbestos.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs and the defendant wanted to set up a payment matrix to calculate payouts for present and future claims from the class. The appeals court took issue with the fact that so many people would settle their cases before they discovered their particular exposure.
“The settlement would extinguish asbestos-related causes of action of exposed individuals who currently suffer no physical ailments, but who may, in the future, develop possibly fatal asbestos-related disease,” the opinion of the court noted. “These ‘futures claims’ of ‘exposure-only’ plaintiffs would be extinguished even though they have not yet accrued.”
1991: Federal Asbestos Cases Consolidated into MDL No. 875
During the 1980s, asbestos-related cancer rates surged among workers exposed to asbestos during World War II and the postwar building boom. Courts around the country found themselves inundated with mesothelioma cases.
Because each mesothelioma case is unique, courts could not rely on class-actions to manage the caseload. In order to increase efficiency, the federal courts consolidated their asbestos cases into MDL No. 875 before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Common Questions About Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits
- Can you file or join a class-action lawsuit for mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma cases are typically not filed as class actions. Class-action lawyers represent the entire group of claimants, members have less control over their individual case and compensation is divided between all claimants. An individualized lawsuit often provides better compensation because the mesothelioma lawyer focuses on only one claimant.
- Besides a class-action lawsuit, what other types of asbestos compensation are available?
Compensation for a mesothelioma claim is available from asbestos trust funds, mesothelioma lawsuits or settlements. Asbestos trust fund claims are legal options, but do not provide as much compensation as a lawsuit. Mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by patients or families seeking compensation to pay for medical bills, lost wages and other financial hardships. Settlements occur out of court and a qualified asbestos attorney will negotiate on your behalf if the best option for you is a settlement rather than a trial.
- Can you sue if you developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure?
Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that could have been prevented had you not been exposed to asbestos. You may be eligible to file a mesothelioma lawsuit to obtain compensation for an illness caused by negligent companies and manufacturers. A mesothelioma lawyer specializing in asbestos litigation is the best option to represent you in court and help you win your case.
- What is the average payout for a mesothelioma lawsuit?
The average non-class action mesothelioma trial payout is about $2.4 million and the average settlement ranges from $1 million to $1.4 million.