While the average mesothelioma trial award is significantly higher than the average mesothelioma settlement, most lawsuits are settled out of court. A lawyer trained in asbestos litigation can help you decide the best option.
Most mesothelioma settlements begin as lawsuits. History shows an overwhelming majority of cases end in a settlement before reaching the courtroom.
Some cases go to trial, where a judge or jury can make a verdict that awards significant compensatory and punitive damages. However, trials may take a long time to conclude.
Settlement and verdict amounts may depend on:
Compensation is linked heavily to the strength of the case, which brings into play the plaintiff’s specific diagnosis, health condition, and the degree of perceived liability on the part of one or more defendants.
According to a recent Mealey’s Litigation Report, the average mesothelioma trial award is estimated at $2.4 million. The average mesothelioma settlement is between $1 million and $1.4 million and typically paid by multiple defendants. However, no cases are alike.
Every case is unique. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can build your case, negotiate settlements on your behalf and help you understand the statute of limitations for the state where you file a claim.
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While a jury verdict may result in a larger award, there is no guarantee the jury will side with you. Juries can be surprising, and many attorneys can attest there are no sure bets in a trial. While the amount awarded in an asbestos lawsuit settlement may be smaller than what might be expected in a trial verdict, at least compensation is guaranteed.
The decision to settle or go after a verdict is best made with the advice of an experienced mesothelioma attorney. These lawyers understand the nature of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Ultimately, it will be up to you to accept or decline a settlement offer. There is no magic formula to decide whether to reject an offer and take the case to trial. The issue becomes whether you are ready to end the case by accepting the offer. Only you or your family can answer that question.
I certainly don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. I’m still enjoying life as best as I can.”
– Diana Saunders, pleural mesothelioma survivor diagnosed in 2014
Exact settlement figures are usually considered private, and claimants often are bound by confidentiality agreements. However, settlement amounts tend to reach the public eye from time to time.See if You Can Get a Settlement
In 2011, a circuit court judge in Missouri approved a $10 million settlement to Nancy Lopez, a Jackson County courthouse employee exposed to asbestos during a renovation project done by U.S. Engineering Company. A few years after she died of mesothelioma, two former co-workers filed a class-action lawsuit against Jackson County and the engineering company. The case resulted in an $80 million settlement.
The mass asbestos exposure from the vermiculite mines in Libby resulted in two major payouts. In 2011, a district court judge approved a $43 million settlement covering more than 1,300 miners and their families. A second class-action lawsuit awarded a $25 million settlement to more than 1,000 people in January 2017. Future settlements are likely as victims continue to surface.
In 2005, U.S. Steel was ordered to pay $250 million to the wife of a former steel worker who died of mesothelioma. U.S. Steel reached a post-verdict settlement for an undisclosed amount believed to be substantially less than the compensatory award. This is a rare example of a case settling after a trial.
A boilermaker in New York received a $3.7 million settlement after developing lung cancer from asbestos exposure. In 2006, Alfred D’Ulisse, a retired police officer and former brake specialist, reached a $25 million settlement with Daimler-Chrysler, which exposed him and many others to asbestos with the company’s asbestos-lined brakes.
The settlement process doesn’t start out as a settlement. It starts with a mesothelioma attorney preparing to present a case to a judge and jury.
“We’re prepared to take every one of our cases to trial. A very small percentage, though, ever get to a verdict,” said Dan Kraft, an attorney at Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm responsible for two record-setting asbestos verdicts in New York.
There are several factors and scenarios that can lead to a settlement of a mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuit.
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Anyone considering filing an asbestos-related lawsuit should understand what factors affect any settlement amount. Certain factors are more relevant than others as the defendant decides whether a settlement is warranted.
As most mesothelioma patients deal with the hardships of cancer, they also undergo financial difficulties as the costs of medical expenses mount. Furthermore, because patients need to focus on treatments, they may be unable to work, causing a loss of wages and other income.
In cases where the manufacturer knowingly allowed asbestos products to harm people, the potential financial liability may be enormous. Settling with plaintiffs may be the best way to minimize expenses, as some historic cases have warranted awards in the tens of millions of dollars.
In some cases, more than one company may be at fault. As a result, plaintiffs often file claims against multiple companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products. In the event of a settlement, multiple defendants may be required to participate in paying the mesothelioma patient.
Proving liability, negligence and wrongdoing on the part of a defendant may or may not be easy, depending on where the claim is filed and how exposure occurred. Different states require varying amounts of evidence and proof. Your attorney will help you understand the trends and requirements in your state.
When asbestos companies establish trust funds, they refer to a legal document called a case valuation matrix to determine how much compensation a claimant will receive. Each asbestos-related disease will have a baseline amount that is adjusted according to factors such as the patient’s age, specifics of the cancer diagnosis, level of asbestos exposure and past health records.
If the defendant has settled or lost cases in the past, they may want to settle your claim quickly without going through the case process again. But settling early may not provide proper compensation for your expenses or asbestos exposure damages.
Defendants usually initially offer low settlement amounts. Your lawyer can advise you about your options and whether you shoud hold out for a better proposal. The defendant’s lawyers may make settlement offers up to the start of, or even during, the trial.
In lawsuits where multiple defendants are named, it’s common for some to settle before heading to trial, avoiding additional expenses, negative publicity and a prolonged proceeding.
If the plaintiff and defendants don’t agree to a settlement, the asbestos case will go to trial. When that happens, a jury delivers a verdict, which takes into account liability (whether defendant are responsible for hurting the plaintiff) and compensation. If jurors agree the defendant is liable, they will decide how much money the defendant should pay you.
A Virginia jury awarded former naval shipyard worker George Parker $6.5 million in March 2016. The jury determined John Crane Inc. was responsible for exposing Parker to asbestos, which led to his development of mesothelioma. Parker worked with gasket materials containing asbestos during his time working at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
In 2016, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Philip Depoian a record-setting $18 million verdict in a mesothelioma-talcum powder lawsuit. Depoian, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2015, claimed he was exposed to asbestos-tainted talcum powder products used at the barber shop where his father worked.
In what is believed to be one of the largest verdicts of its kind in U.S. history, a jury awarded $190 million to five Weitz & Luxenberg clients in July 2013. The jury found boiler companies Burnham and Cleaver-Brooks negligent and reckless, which caused the plaintiffs to develop mesothelioma. W&L made history again in 2017, when a jury awarded Marlena and Ed Robaey $75 million in the largest single asbestos verdict in New York.
Thomas Brown Jr., who once worked in the oil fields of Mississippi, was awarded $322 million for future medical expenses, pain and suffering and punitive damages after a jury determined Union Carbide Corporation and Chevron Phillips Chemical were liable for his asbestosis. The verdict, famous for being the largest asbestos verdict in U.S. history, was overturned on appeal in 2012.
Any time a jury issues a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, jurors consider compensatory damages — the actual economic losses of the plaintiff. Jurors also will consider punitive damages, which serve to set a public example, one that is supposed to deter the defendant and other companies from engaging in dangerous behavior again. Typically, the more egregious the jury feels the defendant behaved, the larger the punitive damages.
Although juries often get to decide the final amounts awarded to a plaintiff, some states limit compensatory damages. Most states do not cap punitive damages. It’s not unusual in mesothelioma verdicts for awards to reach in the millions. In many cases, this is because asbestos companies were aware of the dangers of their products and did nothing to protect or warn workers of the associated risks.
Most mesothelioma attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you owe nothing if you do not receive compensation for your injuries.
Keep in mind that your attorney will receive a percentage of any award or settlement. The percentage can vary if you negotiate a settlement rather than win a verdict. When determining the minimum acceptable amount of a settlement, be sure to account for the percentage your attorney will receive. These percentages will be determined at the beginning of your case.
You will likely receive your compensation in installments rather than in one lump sum, especially if the settlement is significantly large. During the settlement process, you should discuss with your attorney how you want your payments distributed.
Joe Lahav is a lawyer and legal expert 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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