Written By: Joe Lahav, Esquire,
Last modified: September 21, 2021

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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

Companies that manufactured, distributed or used asbestos products have been held liable in U.S. courts for the injuries and deaths their products have caused. Patients still living with mesothelioma file personal injury lawsuits to access compensation and hold asbestos companies accountable.

Video about filing a mesothelioma claim after a loved one dies

Watch: Learn key facts about filing a wrongful death claim after a loved one dies.

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

Filing this type of claim may feel stressful to families after the loss of a loved one, and this is something the best mesothelioma law firms understand. 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, which provides guaranteed compensation to the loved ones filing a wrongful death claim. The average mesothelioma settlement is between $1 million and $1.4 million. A mesothelioma trial verdict may result in a higher payout than a settlement, but compensation is not guaranteed.

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?

Filing a mesothelioma wrongful death claim is a complex process. When a person dies of an asbestos-related illness, legal decisions usually fall into the hands of the estate representative, also known as a personal representative. This may be a family member such as a spouse or child. It does not have to be a relative.

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

Examples of Estate Representatives If no one is appointed before the person dies, the court will appoint an estate representative. The court may choose a family member or someone outside the family such as a friend or fiduciary.

  • Spouse or life partner
  • Children (including adopted children or stepchildren)
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Close friend
  • Someone financially dependent on the loved one who died (varies by state)
  • Court-appointed fiduciary

A fiduciary is a person or organization tasked with acting in the best interests of the estate. It is generally rare for a fiduciary to be appointed when family members are willing to serve as an estate representative. 

Families that need help understanding who is eligible to represent their loved one’s estate can reach out to a mesothelioma law firm for guidance.

Why File a Wrongful Death Claim for Mesothelioma?

Many families choose to file an asbestos claim after a loved one dies from mesothelioma to hold companies responsible for asbestos exposure and to seek compensation to cover medical costs and lost wages.

When a person passes from mesothelioma, that person’s estate may have the option to file a wrongful death lawsuit against a former employer or company that produced or used asbestos-containing products to hold them liable.

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 a potential claim.

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

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Awards for Wrongful Death Claims

Awards from wrongful death lawsuits go to the estate, not the estate representative. This means payments from mesothelioma settlements, trial verdicts or trust funds may be divided among family members, similar to the way assets are split after a loved one dies.

The amount awarded for a wrongful death claim may be less than a personal injury claim. This is because plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits are presumed to have ongoing medical bills, travel expenses and emotional distress.

However, some wrongful death lawsuits receive awards just as high as personal injury claims, which can really help families in need. For example, in 2014, a Texas jury awarded $18.6 million to the surviving family of Carl Rogers, who died of mesothelioma from asbestos exposure he endured working at a Goodyear tire plant.

Challenges of Filing a Mesothelioma Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims often are more challenging to prove than mesothelioma personal injury claims. This is because the person with mesothelioma is no longer alive to serve as the plaintiff.

They also cannot provide testimony or help track down evidence to support the case. These limitations are among the reasons attorneys recommend filing a claim before your loved one dies. 

Statutes of Limitations

Surviving family members may not know they can file an asbestos claim after the death of a loved one or that there are statutes of limitations in place. Postponing legal action until after a loved one dies is one of the biggest mistakes family members can make.

Families must submit a claim before the statute of limitations expires to successfully file. In wrongful death lawsuits, the clock begins ticking once the cause of death is determined to be mesothelioma.

Proving Work and Asbestos-Exposure History

When a loved one is no longer alive to tell their story, it presents challenges to proving work history and asbestos-exposure history, which are the most important pieces of evidence in the case. It is easier for the patient to collect viable evidence, such as work records, medical records and other documents, while they are alive than it is for a family member to do so after their loved one dies.

Accessing medical records is particularly hard to do once a loved one dies. Gathering evidence is harder on family members, but an attorney can guide you through this process and help you collect this information.

Witness Testimony

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

It is more difficult to prove the case when the patient is unavailable to provide testimony, also known as an affidavit, attestation, deposition or trial under oath. 

Tracking down witnesses, such as former co-workers who can attest to exposure, also becomes more challenging when your loved one is no longer around to provide their names or contact information.

Can Personal Injury Claims Become Wrongful Death Claims?

If a plaintiff in a mesothelioma personal injury lawsuit dies before the claim is resolved, the claim often converts to a wrongful death lawsuit under the direction of a loved one representing the estate of the deceased.

When the plaintiff with mesothelioma dies, their claim becomes part of their estate. A loved one usually steps in and becomes the estate representative in these cases.

For example, Sandra Coulbourn amended a personal injury lawsuit to include a wrongful death claim after her husband died from mesothelioma. U.S. Navy veteran George Coulbourn originally sued Crane Company and others alleging their asbestos products caused his mesothelioma. When he died in 2013, his wife became the representative of their estate and amended the claim.

In April 2016, an Arizona jury awarded $17 million to the Coulbourn family.

If a loved one dies before a claim is resolved, a qualified mesothelioma attorney can help you decide whether and how to pursue a wrongful death claim. They also can answer any questions you may have and file the claim before the statute of limitations expires.

Common Questions About Wrongful Death Claims

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

If your loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. It is important to speak with a mesothelioma attorney to learn more about the legal options that might be available to you and your family, and how your claim may be affected by the applicable statute of limitations.

Why is compensation available for mesothelioma patients and loved ones?

Compensation is available to people and families facing mesothelioma because it is an entirely preventable disease. Asbestos product manufacturers knew their products were dangerous and are held liable for the diseases their products cause.

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

If a mesothelioma plaintiff dies while their personal injury claim is being processed, the estate of the deceased can usually carry it into a wrongful death claim. A mesothelioma lawyer can guide families through the process, and they will handle the details.

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