Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was heavily used in various construction materials in the 20th century. Its heat and chemical-resistant properties made asbestos seem like a miracle material. However, in the 1970s, researchers discovered that asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis when inhaled.
Asbestos lawsuits allow those harmed by asbestos exposure to seek compensation from liable companies. With thousands of asbestos lawsuits filed each year in the US, it’s important to understand the legal process. Here are 10 key things to know about asbestos lawsuits:
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Unlike other cancers, mesothelioma has a long latency period, often developing 20-50 years after exposure. Due to this long delay, many workers exposed decades ago are only now developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma claims make up a large portion of asbestos lawsuits. In 2018 alone, over 2,800 mesothelioma cases were reported in the US.[a]
Patients battling this terminal cancer can file asbestos lawsuits to help cover expensive medical bills and provide for their families. The average treatment cost for mesothelioma is around $12,000 in the first year alone. [b]Lawsuits seek compensation for medical costs like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, clinical trials, and medications. Mesothelioma also causes severe pain, so lawsuits may also pursue damages for pain and suffering. Additionally, many mesothelioma patients are unable to work due to their illness. Lost wages and diminished earning capacity can also be recovered in a lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
Each state has its own statute of limitations dictating how long after exposure a person has to file an asbestos lawsuit. This time limit ranges from 1 to 3 years after diagnosis in most states. Some states use the date of diagnosis as the trigger date while others use the date of discovery of the asbestos exposure cause.
It’s crucial to consult a mesothelioma lawyer as soon as possible before the statute of limitations expires. Filing promptly improves chances of success and allows more time to build a strong case. The litigation process often takes over a year, so waiting until the last minute could mean running out of time before resolution is reached. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the situation and file before the deadline to preserve the claim.
People are often exposed to asbestos from various sources over their lifetimes. This means multiple companies can be liable for the asbestos exposure that caused illness. Defendants often include asbestos product manufacturers, premises owners, and employers with asbestos on site.
Experienced lawyers will work to identify all possible asbestos exposures and name every liable company as a defendant. This process can result in asbestos lawsuits with numerous defendants. More defendants means more companies to potentially hold accountable. This is crucial because some companies go bankrupt, are dissolved, or no longer have sufficient funds to pay claims. Casting a wide net improves the chances that solvent defendants will remain to pay compensation.
Many major asbestos companies like Johns Manville and W.R. Grace have filed for bankruptcy due to asbestos liabilities. As part of bankruptcy proceedings, these companies set up asbestos bankruptcy trusts. These trusts exist to compensate victims through a settlement process outside the court system.
By channeling all asbestos claims to the trusts, companies limit their ongoing asbestos payouts. Trusts pay a percentage of the full value of claims based on available funds. Working with a lawyer to file trust claims alongside a lawsuit maximizes compensation for victims and their families. While trust payments are often modest, they can add up with claims against many trusts. This extra layer of compensation is vital when suing bankrupt companies.
Contribution and Indemnity
If multiple companies are found liable, the amount each owes is determined by contribution and indemnity laws. Defendants often try to shift blame onto each other to reduce their share. For example, a product manufacturer may claim the premise owner allowed unsafe use of their product.
Experienced mesothelioma lawyers use legal strategies to prevent defendants from paying less than their fair share. This ensures clients receive maximum compensation. Lawyers counter blame-shifting by proving each defendant’s negligence directly caused harm. Juries may then assign percentages of fault to each defendant based on their role. For instance, a manufacturer may bear 70% responsibility while an employer bears 30%.
Types of Compensation
Successful asbestos lawsuits can result in two main types of payouts – economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages reimburse tangible financial costs like medical bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses. Non-economic damages compensate for intangible losses like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.
Experienced lawyers will fight to recover full compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. This includes building a case for sizable punitive damages when defendants show egregious negligence. Maximum compensation allows victims and families to cover all related costs and losses. Money can never undo the suffering caused by irresponsible asbestos companies, but it provides vital support.
Importance of Documentation
Proof of asbestos exposure and medical diagnosis are vital for a strong case. Lawyers will work to gather important documentation, such as medical records, employment records, military records, Social Security records, product receipts, and expert affidavits.
Documentation from decades past can be difficult to locate, so starting the search early is key. Experienced firms have the resources to dig up records from numerous sources. This evidence proves plaintiffs worked with specific asbestos products, and the companies knew of the dangers. Documentation builds a compelling case to show why defendants are liable.
Trial vs Settlement
Most asbestos lawsuits settle out of court before trial. However, sometimes settlement talks fail, and a trial becomes necessary. Experienced lawyers are prepared to take cases to trial when needed. Only a small percentage of cases end up going to trial.
Settlements allow victims to receive compensation faster while avoiding the risks of trial. However, defendants must make reasonable settlement offers. Unreasonable offers may leave trial as the only option. During the trial, a jury hears the evidence and issues a verdict. While a favorable verdict is never guaranteed, skilled lawyers can present persuasive cases to help secure justice.
Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts
To manage their asbestos liabilities, many companies have established asbestos bankruptcy trusts. These trusts work to compensate victims through a settlement process outside the court system. There are currently over 60 asbestos trusts holding over $30 billion in assets.
Filing trust claims alongside a lawsuit is crucial to maximize compensation. Trusts each have specific eligibility criteria and required documents. An experienced lawyer can help navigate this often complex process. Trust settlements typically pay 10-30 cents on the dollar compared to lawsuit value. However, these funds add up and provide a vital extra layer of compensation.
Asbestos lawsuits are complicated but extremely important for those harmed by negligent companies. By understanding the legal process and working with an experienced law firm, victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases can pursue justice and the compensation they deserve. While no amount of money can make up for the suffering caused by asbestos, financial compensation can help victims and families better cope with this difficult situation.