Some mesothelioma settlements and verdicts have reached into the millions, but it’s not easy to estimate how much a person will receive prior to filing a claim. Compensation varies on claimant’s diagnosis, medical history, companies sued, where the claim is filed, proof of negligence and other factors.
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History has shown that an overwhelming majority of cases end in a settlement before reaching the courtroom. But some cases do go to trial, where a judge or jury can make a verdict that awards significant compensatory and punitive damages.
Settlement and verdict amounts often are tied to the cost of medical expenses, physical and mental distress, lost wages and bills that accumulate as patients move forward with an asbestos-related illness. Of course, compensation also is linked to the strength of the case, which brings into play the plaintiff’s specific diagnosis and health condition, as well as the degree of perceived liability on the part of one or more defendants.
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.
In 2011, a circuit court judge in Missouri approved a $10 million settlement awarded to Nancy Lopez, a Jackson County courthouse employee exposed to asbestos during a renovation project done by the U.S. Engineering Company.
A Montana judge in 2011 approved a $43 million settlement in Libby, Montana. But because the settlement covered more than 1,300 miners and their families, individual settlements ranged from only $500 to $61,000.
The family of a New Jersey construction worker received a $2.1 million settlement after he died of mesothelioma, but a Navy veteran received settlements totaling $461,000 after he developed asbestos-related lung cancer.
A boilermaker in New York received a $3.7 million settlement after developing lung cancer from asbestos exposure. A building maintenance worker received a $2 million settlement after developing mesothelioma.
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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.
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, who won a $22 million asbestos-related verdict against Goodyear in 2011.
If the defendant has settled or lost cases in the past, there may be a need to settle the latest 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 offer unfairly low settlements. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can advise you about your options and suggest you hold out for a better proposal. Even right before a mesothelioma trial starts, the defendant's lawyers may make another settlement offer.
In complaints where multiple defendants are named in the lawsuit, it isn't uncommon for some to settle before heading to trial, avoiding additional expenses, negative publicity and a prolonged proceeding. However, some defendants might be willing to take their chances in a trial.
"The great majority settle before [trial]," Kraft said. "The pressure of a trial allows us more negotiating power. As the trial gets closer, everyone is keenly aware of what might happen. The reason defendants settle is that they realize they made the asbestos product, and we've done everything possible to prove the liability."
Before entering an out-of-court settlement with a plaintiff, a defendant will require the involvement of its insurance provider. This ensures that any agreement reached will be paid. In the case of a jury verdict, you may receive a large award, but the defendant's insurance company may fight it, or the company may appeal it. A number of factors make every case unique.
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Anyone considering filing an asbestos-related lawsuit should understand what affects any settlement amount. Certain factors are more relevant than others as the defendant decides whether a settlement is warranted.
Aspects of a case that influence a settlement amount range from personal hardships to third-party liability. If evidence clearly shows that asbestos exposure negatively affected your life, in addition to having other documentation in order, you will have a better chance of a higher settlement.
As most mesothelioma patients deal with the hardships of cancer, they also undergo financial difficulties as the costs of medical expenses mount for treatment, doctor visits and medicines. Furthermore, because patients need to focus on treating their disease, they may be unable to work, causing a loss of wages and other income.
Medical expenses and lost wages from asbestos exposure typically add to settlement totals. Depending on the financial hole that a patient is in with medical expenses and bills, a settlement may be viewed as the best option for them because trials may take a long time to conclude.
Between the 1920s and 1970s, research identified a definitive link between asbestos exposure and the development of mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases. Companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products eventually became aware of the dangers that their products posed to consumers and employees.
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.
During a patient's history, more than one harmful product may have resulted in a harmful exposure. As a result, plaintiffs often file claims against multiple companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products. Most claims now involve 20 to 30 different defendants. In the event of a settlement, all defendants will 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. As litigation involving asbestos-related claims have filled the court system, some states actively have changed the way this process works in their state.
Different states require varying amounts of evidence and proof. If you are considering filing an asbestos-related lawsuit, research the trends and requirements in your state so you understand what will be expected.
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. Factors about the claim, like the patient’s age, specifics of the cancer diagnosis, level of asbestos exposure and past health records, can all influence the level of compensation.
Compensation can vary greatly from case to case. For example, a mesothelioma patient who smoked and worked as a boilermaker for 10 years may receive one settlement amount, while a mesothelioma patient who worked as a painter and didn't smoke or have prior health issues will receive a different amount. Each asbestos-related disease will have a baseline amount that is adjusted according to the patient’s unique situation and background.
If the plaintiff and defendants don’t agree to a settlement, the case will go to trial. In an asbestos case, like other civil litigations and mass tort cases, a jury will deliver a verdict at the conclusion of the trial. The outcome will depend on whether the jury thinks the defendants are liable for actions that in some way harmed the plaintiff. In these cases, the liability would be for asbestos exposure and the harm is usually an incurable disease (mesothelioma) or condition (asbestosis).
The verdict will take into account liability and compensation. Your attorney will work to prove the parties you sue are held responsible for damages. If jurors agree, they will decide how much money the defendant should pay you.
The family of former shipyard worker John K. Bristow of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was awarded $9.18 million in February 2012. The jury in that trial determined that asbestos manufacturer John Crane, Inc. was responsible for the mesothelioma cancer that killed him. Crane was one of six companies named in the lawsuit, but the only one that didn't settle before the trial began.
A state-court jury in California awarded general contractor Bobbie Izell $48 million in June 2012. The court decided asbestos-manufacturer Union Carbide concealed the cancer risks of its products. Izell filed the lawsuit in 2011 after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In the largest verdict of its kind in New York history, a jury awarded $190 million to five workers in July 2013. The jury found two boiler companies, Burnham and Cleaver-Brooks, negligent and reckless, which caused the plaintiffs to contract mesothelioma. Weitz & Luxenberg said the verdict was the result of 18 months of research and preparation.
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 that 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.
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Alfred Todak won an asbestos lawsuit in 2002 for $33.7 million. Todak was exposed to asbestos in the 1960s while working as a Navy electrician. He later developed mesothelioma.
Susan Buttitta won a wrongful death suit worth $30.3 million in 2006. The suit was filed on behalf of Buttitta’s husband, who died of mesothelioma.
Joan Mahoney was awarded $7.1 million in 2008. Her asbestos exposure in the 1970s led to her terminal mesothelioma.
Any time a jury issues a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, jurors consider compensatory damages — the actual economic losses tied to the harm the defendants caused. Jurors also will consider punitive damages. These damages serve to set a public example, one that is supposed to deter the defendant (and other companies that have similarly harmed people) from causing these injuries again. Typically, the more offensive 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, however. It’s not unusual in mesothelioma verdicts for awards to reach millions of dollars. 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 hazards.
While a jury verdict may result in a large punitive damages award, there is no guarantee. Juries can be surprising, and many attorneys can attest there are no sure bets in a trial. The amount awarded in a settlement may be smaller than an amount expected at trial, but at least compensation is guaranteed.
Deciding whether to settle or go after a verdict is a decision best made with the advice of an experienced mesothelioma attorney. These attorneys understand the nature of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, and realize that a quick resolution to a lawsuit is not only desired, but necessary.
Ultimately, it will be up to you to accept or decline a settlement offer. There is no magical 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.
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 in court. 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, and your attorney usually will not take any money until the case is finalized and you have received compensation.
You will likely receive your compensation in installments rather than in one lump sum, especially if the settlement is very large. During the settlement process, you should discuss with your attorney how you want your payments distributed.
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