Legislation & Litigation

New California Law Could Benefit Mesothelioma Plaintiffs

Written By:
Oct. 25, 2021
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
October 25, 2021

A recently amended California law will now allow the estates of deceased plaintiffs, including mesothelioma patients, to collect pain and suffering damages.

Previously, only the person who sustained bodily injury could recover pain and suffering damages. These damages are often the largest sums of money at stake in many mesothelioma lawsuits. When it becomes law on Jan. 1, Senate Bill 447 will expand the range of recoverable damages and eliminate long-standing restrictions.

The amended statute, signed Oct. 1, allows California to join 45 other states that permit the recovery of noneconomic damages for an assortment of personal injury cases after a plaintiff dies. Florida, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona are the only states that still prohibit the practice.

“This is a giant step forward for mesothelioma victims in California,” San Francisco-based attorney Jennifer Alesio, shareholder at the Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm, told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. “Prior to its passage, asbestos companies received a ‘death discount’ if a mesothelioma victim passed away prior to trial.”

Law Provides More Help to Families

Alesio, who focuses her practice on mesothelioma and other cases related to asbestos, has earned a reputation as a leader in the field with her empathetic approach to clients, her tenacity in the courtroom and the settlements and verdicts she has obtained.

“The legislature heard heartbreaking testimony from families of asbestos victims who passed away before their day in court,” she said. “The new law corrects this injustice by preserving the victim’s human suffering damages.”

In the past, companies being sued for exposing plaintiffs to the toxic asbestos that causes mesothelioma cancer often attempted to delay court trial dates, knowing they could save millions of dollars if plaintiffs died before a verdict was reached. That incentive to delay has been eliminated.

Mesothelioma patients are typically older and sicker than many other lawsuit plaintiffs. The latency period between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of disease can be as long as 50 years. Once diagnosed, the median survival is less than a year.

COVID-19 Pandemic Compounded the Problem

The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to court-related shutdowns and further delays, accentuated the need for the amended law. Terminally ill patients in California may petition the court for an expedited trial within 120 days, but the pandemic delayed many of those cases.

Consumer Attorneys of California, a professional organization and advocacy group, co-sponsored the bill that was authored by California state Sen. John Laird.

“California is one of only five states in the entire nation that rewards defendants for prolonging court procedures – leaving victims unable to obtain justice,” Laird said. “SB 447 will end decades-old injustice by finally extending a victim’s right, and the right of their loved ones, to pursue accountability for human suffering – even if they die prior to case resolution.”

According to an investigation by NBCBayArea.com, the restrictions on pain and suffering awards were put in place in the 1960s at the urging of insurance companies trying to limit their payouts.

In a compromise with opponents, the new law comes with an expiration date of Jan. 1, 2026.

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