What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When someone dies of mesothelioma, surviving family members may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The companies responsible for their loved one’s asbestos exposure are named in the suit.  

Courts have found companies liable for the injuries and deaths caused by their asbestos products. Patients still living with mesothelioma may file personal injury lawsuits to access mesothelioma compensation.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can provide a family compensation. This financial help pays medical bills, funeral costs and other expenses. It can help families focus on the moments that matter most.

Filing this type of claim is stressful for families after the loss of a loved one. An experienced mesothelioma law firm can help reduce this stress. They offer free case reviews and consultations so you can learn about the process and what it may require from you and your family.

Wrongful Death Settlements for Mesothelioma

Most mesothelioma lawsuits settle out of court. These pretrial settlements provide guaranteed compensation. The average mesothelioma settlement is between $1 million and $2 million. A mesothelioma trial verdict may result in a higher payout than a settlement. However, compensation is not guaranteed and often takes longer than a pretrial settlement.

A qualified mesothelioma attorney has the expertise to advise families whether to settle or wait for trial. Compensation may also be available through wrongful death claims filed with asbestos trust funds.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When a person dies of an asbestos-related illness, legal decisions fall into the hands of the estate representative. This person, also known as a personal representative, may or may not be a family member.

The decedent’s last will and testament names the estate representative. The eligible representative is an executor when named in a will or an administrator when appointed without a will.

Examples of Estate Representatives 

Examples of estate representatives include:

  • Spouses or life partners
  • Children (including adopted children or stepchildren)
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Close friends
  • Someone financially dependent on the loved one who died (varies by state)
  • Court-appointed fiduciaries

When there is no will designating an estate representative, the court will appoint one. The court may choose a family member or someone outside the family such as a friend or a fiduciary.

A fiduciary is a person or organization tasked with acting in the best interests of the estate. When a family member is willing to serve as an estate representative, nonfamily-member fiduciaries usually are not appointed.

Families that need help understanding the representation of their loved one’s estate can contact a mesothelioma law firm.

Why File a Wrongful Death Claim for Mesothelioma?

Many families choose to file a mesothelioma claim to seek compensation after a loved one dies from this disease. This covers medical costs, lost wages and other damages. It holds companies responsible for exposing their loved one to asbestos.

When a person dies from mesothelioma, that person’s estate may have the option to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Filing a mesothelioma wrongful death lawsuit is a time-sensitive process. Each state has its own statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. You will want to consult with an attorney in your area to understand the effect of the statute of limitations on your potential claim.

A qualified mesothelioma attorney can help you file a wrongful death claim before the time limit expires.

Awards for Wrongful Death Claims

Awards from wrongful death lawsuits go to the estate, not the estate representative. This means compensation from lawsuits or trust funds gets divided among family members. This resembles the division of assets after a loved one dies.

The amount awarded for a wrongful death claim may be less than a personal injury claim. Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits have ongoing medical bills and emotional distress. This often leads to more compensation.

Some wrongful death lawsuits result in awards comparable to personal injury claims. For example, in 2014, a Texas jury awarded $18.6 million to the surviving family of an individual diagnosed with mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working at a tire plant.

Challenges of Filing a Mesothelioma Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims can be more challenging to prove than mesothelioma personal injury claims. This is because the individual diagnosed with mesothelioma is no longer alive to serve as the plaintiff, to testify regarding the full scope of how they were exposed to asbestos and to help track down evidence to support the case.

For these reasons, you or your loved one should contact a mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible following a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Statutes of Limitations

Families must submit a claim before the statute of limitations expires. In wrongful death lawsuits, the clock begins ticking after someone dies from mesothelioma.

Surviving family members may not know about statutes of limitations to file an asbestos claim after the death of a loved one. Consequently, postponing legal action until after a loved one dies can be one of the biggest mistakes a family member makes.

Proving Work and Asbestos-Exposure History

When a loved one is no longer alive to tell their story, an experienced mesothelioma attorney can guide you through the challenges associated with obtaining the testimony and gathering the evidence you will need to prove your case. These challenges include locating co-workers, witnesses and other relevant records.

Accessing medical records is also particularly hard to do once a loved one dies, but an experienced mesothelioma attorney can guide you through that process.

Witness Testimony

Often, the most important witness in a mesothelioma lawsuit is the diagnosed individual. They can give details about their work history and medical history that even their closest family members may not know.

It is therefore more difficult to prove the case when the diagnosed person is unavailable to testify. However, testimony can still be provided by co-workers familiar with the decedent’s asbestos exposure history. Co-workers are often challenging to locate, but an experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you find them and obtain their testimony.

Can Personal Injury Claims Become Wrongful Death Claims?

When a patient dies before their lawsuit reaches a resolution, it can convert to a wrongful death lawsuit and their claim becomes an asset of their estate. A loved one usually then steps in and becomes the estate representative.

For example, Robert Weist amended his wife’s personal injury lawsuit to include a wrongful death claim after his spouse, Kathy Weist, died of mesothelioma. Prior to her death, Kathy Weist had sued Kraft Heinz and others alleging their use of asbestos caused her mesothelioma.

When she died in 2020, her husband Bob became the representative of her estate and the lawsuit was amended to include wrongful death. In September 2021, a South Carolina jury awarded $32 million in total to the Weist family for their damages, including wrongful death.

If a loved one dies before a claim reaches a resolution, a qualified mesothelioma attorney can help. They can answer any questions you may have and amend the claim for wrongful death before the statute of limitations expires.

What are my options if I think my loved one died from mesothelioma?

If your family member has died from mesothelioma, there are still options to bring the case. The first and most imperative one is to talk to a mesothelioma attorney, who can guide you through the process of filing a case on your loved one’s behalf and begin the process of leading toward resolution through trial or settlement.

Answered By: Jim Kramer, Mesothelioma Attorney, Simmons Hanly Conroy Law Firm

Why is compensation available for mesothelioma patients and loved ones?

Compensation is available because mesothelioma is a preventable disease. Asbestos product manufacturers are liable for diseases caused by their products.

Can a personal injury claim for mesothelioma become a wrongful death claim?

Sometimes a mesothelioma plaintiff dies while their personal injury claim is underway. The estate of the deceased can then convert their case into a wrongful death claim. A mesothelioma lawyer can guide families through the process, and they will handle the details.

What is the average settlement for a mesothelioma death?

In a lot of mesothelioma claims, the settlements and the verdicts are sizable. We’re talking multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. So 55% or 70% of a multimillion-dollar collection is going to be life-changing money for most people.

Answered By: Joe Lahav, Esq. – Lawyer and Legal Advisor