What Is a Class-Action Lawsuit for Mesothelioma?
In a class-action lawsuit, a group of people bring a joint claim to court. When medical evidence linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma in the 1960s, class-action lawsuits were an efficient way to hold negligent companies accountable.
But individual lawsuits have proven more appropriate. Mesothelioma lawyers and judges came to realize class actions are not the best type of litigation for asbestos cases, which involve a rare cancer with a long latency period.
Class-action lawsuits are civil suits filed against a defendant by one or more plaintiffs on behalf of a group of “similarly situated” people. 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 caused by shared circumstances that raise the same legal issues.
A court must determine there are sufficient similarities and that separate lawsuits would be impractical or burdensome. Then it can certify the group as a class and allow them to litigate their case collectively.
Alternatives to Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits
There are several alternatives to mesothelioma class-action lawsuits. Most mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by individuals as personal injury claims or wrongful death claims. Compensation may also be available from asbestos trust funds, workers’ compensation or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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.
Asbestos Class Actions vs. Individual Claims
- Class action lawyers represent the whole group rather than individual clients
- Class action members have less control over their case
- Class action compensation is divided between all claimants
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 because usually all or most of the plaintiffs have to agree to the terms.
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How to File an Asbestos Claim
To file an asbestos claim, you must have medical records showing a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma. You must also gather documentation explaining what companies were responsible for the asbestos exposure that led to the illness.
The defendants in these cases could include manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing products, mining and construction companies, and other companies that used asbestos in industrial processes such as chemical refining or power generation.
Attorneys who specialize in asbestos lawsuits can help you identify the source of the asbestos exposure that made you or your loved one sick.
Another important aspect of filing an asbestos claim is making sure you file within the statute of limitations. For most states, the time limit to file is within two years of receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis.
History of Mesothelioma and Asbestos Class Actions
Mesothelioma cases have been consolidated into special courts for multidistrict litigation, but two landmark cases led federal courts to rule against certifying asbestos class actions.
1991: Federal Asbestos Cases Consolidated into MDL 875
During the 1980s, asbestos-related cancer rates surged among workers who had been exposed to asbestos during WWII and the postwar building boom. Courts around the country found themselves flooded with mesothelioma cases.
Because each mesothelioma case is unique, courts could not rely on class actions to manage the caseload. The solution of the federal courts was to consolidate their asbestos cases into the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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 2 million people who had been exposed to asbestos.
Plaintiff and defendant lawyers had 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’s cases would be settled before they discovered how badly asbestos exposure would affect them.
“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.”
1999: Ortiz v. Fibreboard
In Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the precedent set by Georgine v. Amchem. Once again, the issue was a settlement agreement that would have cleared the defendant of liability before many of the claimants in the class would have a chance to file a claim.
People exposed to asbestos cannot file a lawsuit until they develop an asbestos-related illness. So the Supreme Court thought it would be inappropriate for a defendant company to be able to settle claims before they emerge.
While some state courts are more willing to certify class actions than federal courts, class-action lawsuits are generally uncommon.
Since 1991, a special court known as MDL 875 has heard multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level.
6 Cited Article Sources
The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.
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Last Modified February 5, 2020