Workers’ compensation and VA benefits can provide modest resources for victims of asbestos exposure. For many people stricken with mesothelioma, however, filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is the best way to obtain enough compensation to cover the high costs of cancer treatment.
In addition to holding companies accountable for exposing workers to asbestos, a mesothelioma lawsuit can serve another practical purpose. It can compensate people financially and help them take care of medical bills and loss of income.
Compensation differs for each mesothelioma claim. It can range from small amounts to sums in the millions of dollars. It can be hard to predict how much compensation can come with each case, or even how a case will be resolved. An experienced asbestos attorney can help gauge your eligibility and case value.
In most cases, a mesothelioma diagnosis can be traced to a specific company or companies that exposed you to asbestos, despite the known dangers. In these situations, the company often knowingly risked your health and safety in order to make a profit, and you deserve compensation for your suffering.
There are various types of mesothelioma claims that may apply to your situation. An attorney can explain your options and help you file the appropriate claim for your circumstances. If you or loved one is not filing a claim, there may be other types of general financial help available to you.
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A number of companies that mined asbestos or manufactured products containing asbestos no longer exist. Some were bought by other companies, while others went out of business. Some declared bankruptcy because of the large number of asbestos lawsuits filed against them.
This does not mean these companies don’t have money. In bankruptcy protection, many companies were ordered to set up funds specifically to compensate asbestos victims. These funds are known as mesothelioma compensation funds or trust funds. They can play a key role in the settlement process because the funds can quickly dispatch a case.
Some defendants in asbestos-related lawsuits decide that settling a claim is cheaper than racking up more legal fees and risking a loss at trial. Most mesothelioma attorneys are paid only if their clients’ claims are successful. Defendants’ attorneys, on the other hand, are usually paid an hourly rate throughout the case process, and that cost is not tied to the case outcome.
Other defendants are willing to risk a trial. Even if a case goes to trial, a defendant can opt to negotiate a settlement, particularly if the case seems to be favoring you.
If your case goes to trial and the defendant does not settle, there are two likely outcomes: Liability or no liability. If the defendant is found liable, money is usually awarded to you. Each mesothelioma case is unique, and there are no set guidelines for claim compensation from asbestos exposure.
If you win, the amount owed to you depends on the facts of your case and other factors, such as medical costs and lost income.
Many people who served in a branch of the U.S. armed forces were exposed to asbestos — especially those who worked in shipyards. Veterans have a right to file a claim with the VA seeking compensation for any injuries or illnesses that developed as a result of their military service.
Paperwork can be confusing and complicated, but you can reach the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center for assistance filing your claims.
Compensation from an asbestos lawsuit usually comes after a settlement is reached or you win a trial verdict — and that could take years. Money from asbestos trusts can come within a few months.
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Estimating how much your case is worth can be a complex process. You may want to find an expert who can explain all the details of your case. An experienced mesothelioma attorney knows how to get your case to the finish line without placing too much strain on you or your family.
Two things your attorney will need to know immediately are the stage of your cancer and your prognosis. Work history is another integral part of the case value. In order to pursue a legal claim, your attorney must determine where the asbestos exposure occurred and whose asbestos-containing products were involved.
Many lawsuits are settled before trial and paid out of a trust fund set aside to handle the financial load of future cases. To do that, the managers of these funds rely on something called a case valuation matrix. The matrix is a legal document that assigns base dollar figures to cancer types and then recalculates that base amount with additional information.
For example, the matrix will assign one baseline dollar amount for mesothelioma, one for lung cancer and so on. Those dollar amounts can vary by state or region because exposure levels are set by location. The baseline dollar figure can be as low as several hundred dollars or as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Once the baseline is established, some specifics of your case will kick in and increase or decrease your level of compensation.
These variables make it difficult to predict a case’s value before you file a claim. However, an attorney can review information about your case and provide a range of expected values. This estimate can assist you in deciding whether to pursue a claim.
In addition to compensation from a mesothelioma claim, you can take advantage of general types of assistance. These programs are designed to help anyone with a serious illness and are not limited to mesothelioma patients. Some of these programs can provide financial assistance in just a few months.
Health insurance can help offset your expenses. If you already have insurance, review your out-of-pocket deductible and copay amounts, as well as any limits on coverage under your plan.
If you receive benefits through your employer’s group health insurance plan and are unable to return to work, your employer will usually stop paying for your health insurance. You can continue your coverage for a limited period of time, but your premium will cost more. Be sure to review your insurance documents, get more information from your insurer and talk with your human resources manager.
If you do not already have health insurance, you may not be able to get new coverage for your mesothelioma treatment. Health insurers usually do not provide coverage for pre-existing conditions, so you may be ineligible once you have already been diagnosed.
You may be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid benefits. These government programs offer health care benefits for eligible senior citizens, people with disabilities and people with limited income. For more information about eligibility requirements and coverage under these programs, contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
If you have long-term disability insurance, you may be able to receive a monthly payment equal to a percentage of your salary. Usually, this is only available if you will be away from work for at least six months. You usually have to submit paperwork, including documentation from your doctor verifying your disability, so your insurer can determine if you are eligible for benefits.
It typically takes one to four months to start receiving benefits. Taxes may be deducted from your monthly payment, depending on the type of policy you purchased. Your policy may also limit how long you can receive benefits.
Review your insurance documents and contact your insurance company for more information. If you receive benefits under your employer’s group plan, your human resources manager may also be able to answer questions.
Like health insurance, if you do not already have long-term disability coverage when you are diagnosed, you may not be eligible for a new policy.
If you are unable to work because of your illness and you are still eligible, you can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits. You may qualify to receive a disability determination within days, but it usually takes several months to apply for and begin receiving benefits. The Compassionate Allowances program allows patients with certain serious diseases, including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, to apply for benefits under a fast-track process.
Assistance may be available in your local community. Some organizations provide grants to help families with transportation, lodging, food and other out-of-pocket costs that arise during treatment. There may also be volunteers in your community who can help you with errands, transportation and other caregiving duties. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or another cancer support group for more information about the resources available in your community.
Our Patient Advocates can help you access trust funds, settlements and other types of compensation.
Regardless of the types of claims you file, it will likely take at least a few months to receive any payment. During this time, you will be responsible for doctor, hospital and prescription bills. You will also discover unexpected expenses related to your illness, many of which may not be covered by health insurance.
It is important to track all of these expenses related to your cancer. If you are unsure of what to record, think about how your illness has changed your daily lifestyle and your budget. All of this information can help your attorney pursue your claim and help you receive fair and adequate compensation.
Frequent transportation to and from medical providers can become costly. Only a select number of doctors specialize in mesothelioma care, so you will most likely have to travel some distance to visit your specialist. As your treatment progresses, you may become too weak to travel frequently. As a result, you and your loved ones may need to pay for temporary housing near your medical provider. There will also be food and other incidental costs for your family while you travel.
You may require help at home handling things once done on your own, including cooking, cleaning, yard work, general maintenance and caring for yourself and relatives. You may need to hire someone to help you.
You will need to maintain your health insurance. If you are unable to return to work, you may lose your job, and the cost of your insurance premium may increase.
You may decide to take advantage of alternative therapies like massage therapy to relieve your symptoms. Your health insurance may not cover these costs.
No one is expected to remember everything about their own work, medical, life and exposure history. It’s simply too much information and the time between exposure and diagnosis is too long. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t remember where you were exposed to asbestos. That’s why the single most beneficial action you can take if you are considering an asbestos-related claim is to speak with a qualified attorney. They have resources other attorneys do not have, and those resources can help your case significantly.
For instance, many mesothelioma attorneys have product identification books that feature pictures of asbestos-containing products and their packaging. These kinds of images can help jog your memory of products long forgotten. Knowledge of exposure to specific products or brands can significantly raise the value of your case.
Even if you can’t remember all of your employment history, your attorney can help find it for you. Employment records are accessible through the federal government with your approval. Likewise, a good lawyer will know to dig through your medical records (with your permission, of course) and establish certain facts about you, your work history and your life history.
All of these factors are important in establishing how and where you were exposed. Attorneys will also attempt to identify and locate co-workers, friends, shipmates or other witnesses who can help identify or corroborate your exposure history.
Experienced attorneys may also be able to compare your case to other cases they have handled and see how it stacks up. Case histories can be a good indicator of what can be expected in your case. Deciding whether to file a lawsuit is an important decision in any situation, especially if you are coping with a serious illness.
Joe Lahav is a lawyer and legal advisor at The Mesothelioma Center. He graduated with honors from the University of Florida College of Law in 2000, and he's licensed to practice in Washington, D.C., and Florida. Joe lost his mother to cancer, and he understands the emotional toll mesothelioma can have on families. Read More