Mesothelioma Lawsuit Guide (2024) – Forbes Advisor – Forbes

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Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer that is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Because there’s only one known cause of mesothelioma and no one manufacturing or selling asbestos products labeled asbestos as a potential cancer-causing agent, lawsuits were inevitable. Here’s everything you need to know about a mesothelioma lawsuit, including eligibility, how to file and typical settlements.

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Why are Mesothelioma Lawsuits Filed?

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A mesothelioma lawsuit is filed to hold manufacturers of asbestos products accountable and to get compensation for the people they injured. For decades, asbestos companies knew that their product was dangerous. Rather than inform the public, they continued to profit while millions were exposed to asbestos.

When asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it can become lodged in the lining of the lungs or in other parts of the body. Decades later, the asbestos fibers can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer or other deadly diseases.


Can I Still File a Mesothelioma Lawsuit?

You can file a mesothelioma lawsuit if the statute of limitations hasn’t run out and you meet the other criteria. In many civil cases, the statute of limitations—the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit—begins to run at the time of the injury.

In the case of asbestos exposure, however, the time you have to file a lawsuit doesn’t begin until you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Because the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis can be up to 50 years, applying the statute of limitations to when the exposure first happened would be unfair.

Most state’s statute of limitations for mesothelioma lawsuits is 2-3 years. That means that if you’re filing a personal injury lawsuit, you’ll have that amount of time after diagnosis, and if you’re filing a wrongful death suit, the statute of limitations will begin to run at the time of death.


Types of Mesothelioma Lawsuits and Claims

The most common types of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits are those mentioned above—personal injury and wrongful death. There are, however, other types of actions possible.

Personal Injury Lawsuits

In order to file a personal injury lawsuit for mesothelioma, you’ll have to show the following:

  • You must be able to document exposure to asbestos
  • You must be able to show a diagnosis for mesothelioma (or another asbestos-related disease)
  • You must be able to connect your disease to your asbestos exposure

Lawyers who specialize in mesothelioma cases usually have ways to investigate where you might have been exposed to asbestos. By researching your history and the records of where and how asbestos was used, it’s possible to figure out who’s responsible for your diagnosis through careful investigation.

Even if you don’t know how you were exposed to asbestos, it’s worthwhile to meet with an attorney after a mesothelioma diagnosis. There is no known cause of mesothelioma except exposure to asbestos.

While every case is unique, the average mesothelioma personal injury case settles for more than $1 million.

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Class Action Lawsuits

Most asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits are framed as personal injury suits. While you may have heard of class action lawsuits involving asbestos, those were almost always individual cases handled at once in what’s called a multidistrict litigation (MDL).

An MDL combines several cases that are against the same defendant in the name of efficiency, but each claim is still handled individually.

Mesothelioma class actions were more common when the dangers of asbestos first became known. Currently, most mesothelioma lawsuits are handled as personal injury or wrongful death claims.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Another fact about mesothelioma aside from it being caused by asbestos is that there is no known cure. While it can take decades for symptoms to arise, the disease can sometimes prove fatal in mere months.

Just because someone has died from mesothelioma doesn’t mean that their right to compensation from those who exposed them has disappeared, though. The family or estate can file a wrongful death claim and try to recover something for the loss of their loved one.

Like personal injury claims, mesothelioma wrongful death claims usually settle for more than $1 million.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

Recently, however, most mesothelioma cases have been handled through settlements with asbestos trust funds because the companies responsible have filed for bankruptcy. There are about 60 different trust funds with over $30 billion total available for victims. Many can be settled in just a few weeks or months.

If you qualify for compensation from a trust fund, you don’t need to file a lawsuit. You provide documentation of your exposure and diagnosis by filing a claim and then you are offered a payment. Payments from the largest trust funds are usually six figures and into the millions, but are controlled by a yearly schedule of payments and the type of illness.

It is important to consult with an attorney to determine if you should file a lawsuit or a trust fund claim.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits Claims

Separate from a legal claim, veterans may be able to claim certain benefits if they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military. Veterans make up nearly one-third of all mesothelioma cases, and often this is due to exposure while serving.

Not long after asbestos went into widespread use, the United States military began building ships, planes and buildings at a rapid pace for World War II. Asbestos was present in almost all construction in this era and was, in fact, required to be used on all Navy ships at the time. This use of asbestos throughout the military continued until well into the 1970s, meaning that tens of millions of veterans were exposed to asbestos during service.

A claim for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs can give veterans access to some of the best mesothelioma doctors in the world through the VA healthcare system. The VA also offers disability compensation of more than $3,000 per month and additional financial assistance for families of veterans with mesothelioma.

Claiming VA benefits is not a substitute for a lawsuit. A personal injury suit is filed against the asbestos companies, while a VA benefits claim is simply applying for benefits that veterans earned through their service. Veterans can and often should pursue both if they were diagnosed with mesothelioma.


How to File a Mesothelioma Lawsuit

If you’ve been diagnosed with or lost a loved one to mesothelioma, the following is a brief outline of how to file a lawsuit and what to expect as it progresses.

Speak With an Attorney

As with any other type of lawsuit, the first step is to speak with an attorney. It’s important to find an attorney who specializes in mesothelioma and related types of injury lawsuits. There are a lot of unique considerations in a mesothelioma lawsuit that make it difficult for a non-specializing attorney to take on.

  • Mesothelioma cases often involve filing claims against multiple defendants as there were often many companies involved in supplying the asbestos that you were exposed to, especially if the exposure happened over the course of many years or decades.
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits can sometimes involve filing claims in many different states.
  • Uncovering asbestos exposure can sometimes require investigating your work environment from decades ago.
  • Some asbestos manufacturers and companies can be sued directly, while others have claims against them settled through the asbestos trust funds.

Evaluate Your Case

Once you find the right attorney, they will have a team that can investigate your claim and determine what next steps to take. Your lawyer will advise you on how to proceed based on the facts of your case. An experienced mesothelioma attorney will have some working knowledge of how to approach each potential defendant, and will outline their strategy and what you can expect.

File Your Claim or Lawsuit

Sometimes, a mesothelioma case will only proceed to this point. Attorneys will sometimes reach out to defendants with a demand letter prior to filing, which can lead to a settlement offer before the lawsuit is even filed.

More often, your attorney will file your claims in the proper courts—there could be as many different courts as there are defendants—and stop the statute of limitations from potentially running out. Once the case is filed, there will usually be offers to settle from most, if not all, defendants.

Pretrial and Discovery

If satisfactory settlements can not be reached, your case will move into pretrial and discovery. During the pretrial phase, your attorney and the defendants will make motions to determine the parameters of the case and how discovery will work.

Discovery involves both sides of the case exchanging information with one-another. This is the part of the trial process where depositions can be held and documents must be produced from both sides so that everyone can prepare adequately for trial.

Trial

There are certain rules of procedure that make it unlikely that a mesothelioma lawsuit will reach trial. In short, the history of verdicts against asbestos companies can often be used by plaintiffs, meaning that it would take a fairly unique set of facts for the defendants to want a trial rather than offer a settlement.

If the case does go to trial, however, it would likely involve testimony to establish the necessary facts.

  • You would have to prove you were exposed to asbestos by the defendant
  • You would have to prove that the exposure to asbestos led to your mesothelioma
  • You would have to prove that you have mesothelioma
  • You would have to prove that the defendant knew or should have known that exposing you to asbestos could lead to mesothelioma

If you have mesothelioma and your attorney can show that you were likely exposed to asbestos by the defendant, the long history of mesothelioma cases makes it very difficult for the defendant to win at trial.

This is why most of them don’t want to go all the way through a trial and prefer to settle relatively early in the process.

Settlement or Verdict

When you accept a settlement, the case ends. As part of the agreement to receive your settlement, you will have to agree to pursue no further legal action.

If your case goes all the way to trial and reaches a verdict, the case may not be over. Either side of the verdict can appeal the outcome, and these appeals can tie up any compensation for years.

The possibility of appeals keeping you from receiving compensation is one reason that settlements may be more desirable than a trial verdict even though settlement amounts tend to be less.


Compensation for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma compensation tends to come in three forms: VA benefits for veterans with mesothelioma, payments from asbestos trust funds and compensation from mesothelioma lawsuits in the form of settlements or trial verdicts.

Types of Damages Available

Whether you’re filing a personal injury claim or a wrongful death claim, mesothelioma lawsuits tend to involve the same types of damages as other civil lawsuits. These are often divided into economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages are damages that can be accounted for concretely. These include treatment costs, lost wages and documented costs related to your diagnosis.

Noneconomic damages are damages that can’t be calculated. These include pain and suffering or punitive damages—damages a jury awards a plaintiff to punish a defendant for their behavior.

Depending on the court, there may be limits on noneconomic damages, but there are rarely any limits on the amount of economic damages that can be awarded.

Average Mesothelioma Settlements

Currently, the average mesothelioma lawsuit settlement is between $1 million and $1.5 million.

The average jury award for mesothelioma lawsuits is $2.14 million, according to Mealey’s Litigation Report. This average takes into account all trials, including those where the plaintiff loses.

Major Mesothelioma Lawsuit Verdicts

Though the dangers of asbestos have been known for more than 40 years, lawsuits against companies using asbestos continue. Here are just a few relatively recent cases.

  • February 2020—$750 million in punitive damages. This case in New Jersey was against Johnson & Johnson for asbestos contained in their baby powder. The punitive damages were later reduced to $186 million.
  • March 2003—$250 million. In this case, a worker was able to show that he was continually exposed to asbestos at work for 30 years. U.S. Steel was found liable and paid $50 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages.
  • December 2002—$4 billion settlement. Halliburton agreed to settle more than 300,000 claims of asbestos exposure. Much of this settlement went into asbestos trust funds.
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History of Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Asbestos is a name used for six types of minerals made up of thin fibers. These minerals make lightweight and very good insulators and are extremely flame and chemical resistant. Asbestos was, therefore, used widely in building and construction as well as fireproofing. It was especially useful in situations where fire safety was essential and weight had to be carefully regulated — in military ships, for example.

Asbestos was used throughout the 20th century with asbestos mining peaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

However, a link between asbestos and certain types of cancers was known or suspected by the companies that manufactured and sold asbestos products as early as the 1920s. Lawsuits claiming a connection between asbestos exposure and cancer have been filed since the 20s.

Evidence of the correlation between lung and other cancers and asbestos exposure continued to accumulate through the 50s and 60s. The floodgates for asbestos litigation opened in the 70s. By the early 80s, asbestos companies were declaring bankruptcy and the use of asbestos was dropping off considerably.

By that time, it was known that asbestos exposure was the primary cause of mesothelioma and that it could be as much as 50 years between asbestos exposure and the first symptoms appearing. As a term of declaring bankruptcy, asbestos companies had to contribute to trust funds that would pay for damages unrealized at the time.

Since that time, asbestos has been more definitively linked to certain cancers and litigation has continued. There is currently over $30 billion in asbestos trust funds.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma Lawsuits

How long does a mesothelioma lawsuit take?

The length of time to get compensation depends. First of all, a settlement is much faster than a verdict. Not only do lawsuits take a long time to work through the system—especially while courts are still catching up after COVID-19—but the legal process allows for appeals and other potential delays, too.

The specifics of how long it takes will also depend on the law firm involved, the jurisdiction and the type of plaintiff.

All that being said, many of the most successful mesothelioma law firms claim that a settlement payout can begin within 90 days of beginning the suit and that the whole process typically takes less than 12 months.

Does everyone with mesothelioma get a settlement?

Technically, no.

To get a settlement, you first have to have a case, which is usually difficult to establish without the help of a doctor and an experienced mesothelioma law firm. If you have a diagnosis of mesothelioma, however, you are entitled to compensation from the asbestos companies or their trust funds.

While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact time and place of exposure—this is one area where an experienced legal team can help—the primary cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should be entitled to compensation. That compensation can come in the form of payments from asbestos trust funds, a settlement, or a judgment in your favor.

Why should I file a mesothelioma lawsuit?

Asbestos companies knew their product could lead to mesothelioma and other diseases for decades. They hid this from the public and the U.S. government and continued to make money. If you have mesothelioma, it is because these companies chose not to inform you of the risks.

Filing a mesothelioma lawsuit can help pay for your treatment and make up for the wages you are unable to earn due to your illness. Further, filing a lawsuit is the only way to hold the companies that exposed you to this deadly carcinogen accountable.

Do I need an attorney to file a mesothelioma lawsuit?

While you don’t need an attorney to file, mesothelioma lawsuits are extremely complicated. There are entire law firms that dedicate a large part of their practice to handling asbestos-related litigation. This is because these cases often require experience and access to specific resources just to know which company to file a claim against.

Given the relatively short statute of limitations and the complexity of a mesothelioma case, getting an attorney to represent you is most likely in your best interest.

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