Filing a mesothelioma lawsuit is a complicated and time-sensitive process. Because every mesothelioma case is unique, choosing a lawyer trained in asbestos litigation is essential.
After a mesothelioma diagnosis, it is natural for a person to focus only on their health and getting better. However, if you or a loved one is diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you should seriously consider contacting a mesothelioma lawyer immediately.
Mesothelioma is almost an entirely preventable cancer, and many companies who produced, distributed or used asbestos products knew of its dangers and failed to warn their employees. Filing a lawsuit can help those diagnosed with mesothelioma get the compensation they deserve.
A qualified mesothelioma attorney can help you decide if and when to pursue a lawsuit as well as guide you through the process. The right asbestos attorney can also help you file your claim before the statute of limitations expires and will evaluate your case so you can receive the maximum compensation.
Most mesothelioma lawsuits never go to trial because they are settled out of court before the trial takes place.
A person diagnosed with mesothelioma can file a personal injury lawsuit against a company that may be responsible for exposing them to asbestos.
If a mesothelioma patient files a lawsuit but passes away before it’s resolved, their loved ones may be able to step in as plaintiffs. Family members may have the option to file their own wrongful death claims, which can provide compensation to assist with medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of income.
The legal process for an asbestos-related lawsuit depends on the health of the plaintiff. If you are in poor health, the entire process can be expedited, but if there is no urgency, the process could take several months or longer. In either case, the defendant probably will try to drag out the process. Your attorney will work to resolve your case as quickly as possible, handling each step so you can focus on your health and spend time with your loved ones.
The location where you file can affect the length of the case process. Your attorney will help you choose the most favorable court for your case. It may be necessary to file outside the state where you live. You will not need to travel because your mesothelioma attorney will handle the entire case process and travel to you when necessary.
Most mesothelioma lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means your attorney only gets paid if you agree to a settlement or win your lawsuit. When you settle or win a case, a percentage of the award will be paid to your lawyer. If not, you pay no attorney fees.
The first step in a successful filing process is choosing an attorney. If you worked for a large corporation that closed or is bankrupt, funds were likely set aside to help pay medical and related expenses for mesothelioma patients.
A mesothelioma attorney is knowledgeable about these funds and will help you file a claim. In addition, a mesothelioma attorney is familiar with asbestos manufacturers and will determine who is responsible for your suffering.
When you talk to the asbestos attorney, be prepared to discuss past employment, health history and current health status. For this reason, it is very important to hire a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable communicating.
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While everyone’s case is different, there are a number of steps that apply to nearly everyone who files an asbestos-related lawsuit. Your attorney will handle each of these steps and explain the process along the way.
For the most part, mesothelioma lawsuits follow these steps:
Your attorney will gather information about your history of asbestos exposure to determine who is responsible for your condition and in which court to file your lawsuit. You may be eligible to file your lawsuit in more than one court or pick multiple states to file your lawsuit.
Your lawyer must file a written complaint with a court to start the legal process. Your attorney will prepare and file this document. For your case to move forward, your complaint must follow different court rules on how the document is written and the details it provides about your claim. An experienced attorney will be familiar with these rules and use this knowledge to help present your claims to the court.
Each defendant in your lawsuit will receive a copy of your complaint and will have a certain amount of time, usually 30 days, to respond. Because many years have likely passed since your asbestos exposure, the responsible company could now be a different company or could be bankrupt. It may take some time to locate and provide the appropriate people with your complaint. Your attorney will oversee this process.
Defendants rarely admit fault. They most likely will deny your claims and may argue that your complaint is not valid or that someone or something else is responsible for your exposure to asbestos. They may even claim that your condition is not related to asbestos exposure. Don’t worry. This is normal. Your attorney will reply to each defendant’s responses.
Lawyers on both sides gather information about your allegations, asking the other side to answer written questions, produce documents and participate in depositions. Some of the information will become the evidence used at trial. Discovery may take several months, but if you are very sick, your attorney can ask the court to speed the process along before your condition worsens.
The defendant’s lawyers will look for evidence that something or someone else caused your illness. As a result, they will demand personal information about you such as your medical history, work history and information about your personal habits. They will also seek information from your loved ones, doctors, co-workers and former co-workers.
You probably will need to participate in a videotaped deposition. If so, you will answer questions under oath from the defendant’s lawyer. This process may take a few hours or several days, but it can be performed from the comfort of your own home.
Your attorney will prepare your responses to any written questions and document requests. Your lawyer will also go over likely deposition questions with you in advance and be present to assist you during the deposition. In addition to helping you respond to discovery requests, your lawyer will also make similar demands to the defendant for information supporting your claim that the defendant negligently exposed you to asbestos.
Before a trial starts, a defendant may offer to resolve the case by offering you money. If you decline the settlement offer, it’s possible the defendant will make another offer during trial. Your attorney will negotiate on your behalf. Mesothelioma settlements vary on multiple factors and can influence your decision whether to go to trial.
The trial process varies depending on where you file a claim. In many cases, it is not necessary for you to appear in court. If you win and the defendant does not appeal, you will usually start receiving payments a few months after the trial.
If you win the trial, the defendant may decide to file an appeal. There is a limited amount of time to file an appeal, usually between 30 and 180 days. This will delay any monetary award, but the defendant will need to post “bond” for the amount awarded while the appeal proceeds. If the defendant loses its appeal, you will start receiving payments. If the appeal is successful, the defendant may end up paying a smaller amount or nothing at all.
An appeals court generally accepts any facts the trial judge and jury found to be true. Usually the only thing an appeals court decides is whether the trial court correctly applied the law to the case. If a mistake was made that affected the result of the trial, the appeals court may order a new trial. Sometimes the appeals court can just correct the mistake without a new trial such as when the amount of the award was calculated incorrectly. If your case is appealed, your attorney will be available to explain the process to you.
Once you file your claim, be prepared for defendants to deny fault for your medical condition. They may allege that:
Smoking, drinking or drug use caused your health problems.
Your family history shows significant health problems among relatives.
You worked at other places where asbestos was a bigger problem.
You have not been properly diagnosed by a medical professional.
The petition was not filed correctly, even if it was filed on time.
Exposure to asbestos and other toxic substances happened at home, not just at work.
You do not have the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased.
Your medical condition is not related to asbestos exposure.
Don’t take these allegations to heart; just let your attorney handle them. Defendants may also include a settlement request in their response, but this is rare. Companies may be willing to settle right away in order to avoid a lengthy and costly lawsuit. However, this first settlement offer may be very low. Expect to wait until closer to trial, or even during the trial itself, to receive a reasonable offer.
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Asbestos litigation is considered the longest-running mass tort in U.S. history, dating to the late 1960s.
1980 – Present
The medical findings of Drs. Irving J. Selikoff, Jacob Churg and E. Cuyler Hammond proved conclusively that asbestos caused lung damage and disease.
A 1965 publication by The American Law Institute of the Restatement of the Law of Torts stated in section 402A 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.” The court decided asbestos manufacturers knew the dangers of asbestos exposure but failed to appropriately warn asbestos workers, opening the floodgates for asbestos-related lawsuits.
Claude Tomplait was diagnosed with asbestosis 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 Owen Corning Fiberglass. The case went to trial on May 12, 1969. The verdict came a week later, and it was in favor of the defendants.
In October 1969, Stephenson represented one of Tomplait’s co-workers, Clarence Borel, who developed an advanced case of asbestosis while working in the shipyards and oil refineries along the Texas-Louisiana border. Stephenson once again filed a lawsuit, seeking $1 million in damages, against numerous asbestos manufacturers across the U.S. This time, the result was different.
Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation was decided for the plaintiff in 1973 in the amount of $79,436. Unfortunately, Borel never heard its final disposition from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. He died of mesothelioma in June 1970.
1980 – Present
Buoyed by the success of Borel v. Fibreboard, asbestos workers chose to use tort litigation to obtain compensation for their injuries. Although there is no national registry for asbestos personal injury claims, independent reports show asbestos litigation has grown significantly in the U.S. during the past several decades.
The RAND Institute for Civil Justice began analyzing asbestos litigation in the early 1980s. 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.
The total number of companies sued jumped from 300 to 8,400 between 1982 and 2002.
As of 2013, the number of asbestos defendants had grown to more than 10,000 companies. A 2016 report from Kansas City Industrial Council showed there were 4,465 unique filings in 2015, with an average of 69 defendant companies named in each lawsuit.
The highest number of companies named on one complaint was 361, while only 12 lawsuits named one defendant.
Mesothelioma lawsuits have helped hundreds of thousands of people seek compensation from companies that negligently exposed them to asbestos. The ultimate goal is to put money in the hands of someone who deserves it.
Compensation from lawsuits helps reduce financial hardships during an illness and provide a more stable future for loved ones.
A retired U.S. Steel worker from Indiana won a 2003 mesothelioma trial after alleging the company was responsible for exposing him to asbestos insulation for decades. U.S. Steel was expected to appeal the $250 million verdict, but instead settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In 1998, a Texas jury awarded $115 million to 21 steelworkers who developed asbestosis while working at an Alabama steel mill. Carborundum Company, the manufacturer of an asbestos-containing grinding wheel used at the mill, was ordered to pay $100 million in punitive damages.
In 2012, a jury ruled in favor of construction worker Bobbie Izell, awarding him $48 million. Izell, diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011, was exposed to asbestos on construction sites in the 1960s and 1970s. Construction remains one of the top professions for asbestos exposure.
A Dallas county jury awarded $18.6 million in 2014 to the family of a tire builder who died of mesothelioma. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. employee was repeatedly exposed to asbestos over 30 years while working with Goodyear tire machines at a plant in Tyler, Texas.
Although most mesothelioma lawsuits follow a similar process, every case is different.
Results can depend on your history with asbestos exposure, the state where the lawsuit is filed, your medical history and other factors.
Going to trial is rare, and even if a case does go to court, you may not be required to appear.
Settlements and trial verdicts vary depending on the case. While verdicts may produce more compensation, settlements typically award claimants quicker, which can help pay for treatments, health care and other bills.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney can simplify the process and build your case so you and your family can get the compensation you deserve.
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.
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