Written By: Joe Lahav, Esquire,
Last modified: October 29, 2021

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.

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 them to litigate their case collectively.

More than 4,000 plaintiffs filed asbestos lawsuits in the U.S. in 2019, according to a KCIC industry report. Combining all those lawsuits into a single class-action would not be ideal for each individual participant because each asbestos exposure case is unique.

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 accountable. They were particularly common in the 1960s until the late 1990s. 

Watch: Learn why class-action lawsuits are no longer common in asbestos litigation.

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 could not represent other cases.

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 rarely receive as much compensation as those who file 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, known as an 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. Compensation may also be available from asbestos trust funds, workers’ compensation or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • 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

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.

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.
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Lawsuit Settlements

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 must agree to the terms. 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 filing a more seamless process for mesothelioma patients and their families.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. You will provide testimony of your asbestos exposure history, which you may record from the comfort of your home.
  4. 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. For most states, the time limit to file is within two years of receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis.

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Notable Asbestos Class-Actions

Certain mesothelioma cases are consolidated into special courts for multidistrict litigation, but a few landmark cases led federal courts to rule against certifying asbestos class actions.

Individual lawsuits, including personal injury and wrongful death claims, have proven to better meet the legal needs of asbestos plaintiffs. Individual lawsuits provide more compensation than class-action claims do to cover medical costs 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 would have a chance to file a claim.

People exposed to asbestos cannot file a lawsuit until they develop an asbestos-related illness. 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, MDL No. 875 has heard multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level. 

Quick Fact:
Each year, thousands of mesothelioma patients and their loved ones turn to our Patient Advocates for help getting legal and financial assistance.

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 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.”

1991: Federal Asbestos Cases Consolidated into MDL No. 875

During the 1980s, asbestos-related cancer rates surged among workers 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 MDL No. 875, which the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania manages.

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 case and compensation is divided between all claimants. A lawsuit 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 in 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 to seek 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 is to not pursue a trial.

Can you sue if you developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure?

Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that could have been prevented. You are eligible to file a mesothelioma lawsuit to get compensation for an illness caused by negligent companies and manufacturers. A mesothelioma lawyer specializes in asbestos compensation and is the best option to represent you in court and prove negligence.

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.

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