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Vanessa Blanco, patient advocate for the Mesothelioma Prognosis Network
Written By Vanessa Blanco

What to Expect When Filing a Mesothelioma Lawsuit

A mesothelioma lawsuit may bring to mind a dramatic courtroom showdown in front of a judge and jury. But the fact is, most mesothelioma litigation is settled out of court.

Many plaintiffs never have to step foot in a courtroom.

To have the best chance of filing a successful mesothelioma lawsuit, remember these two key takeaways:
  1. Hire a qualified mesothelioma attorney. You want a lawyer who has experience with asbestos exposure cases. They should work for a national law firm with the resources to make the legal process as smooth as possible, so you can focus on your health and family.
  2. Start the legal process as soon as possible. As the symptoms of mesothelioma advance, it becomes harder to provide testimony. There are also state regulations that set time limits for filing a compensation claim. The longer you wait, the more difficult the legal process becomes.

Mesothelioma lawsuits hold companies accountable for causing asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is an almost entirely preventable cancer. If American companies hadn’t used asbestos during most of the 20th century, thousands of people would have been spared this terrible cancer diagnosis.

Asbestos industry companies are liable not just because they caused asbestos exposure. The real crime is that executives knew asbestos was dangerous as far back as the 1930s, and they kept it secret from their workers and customers as long as they could.

Legal compensation from a mesothelioma lawsuit can cover lost income, hospital bills and other direct expenses of the cancer. The compensation can also ensure the financial well-being of the patient’s family.

Mesothelioma claims take the form of personal-injury lawsuits when the person with mesothelioma is still alive. When someone passes away before they can file a claim, a close family member may be able to file a wrongful-death lawsuit instead.

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Notable Mesothelioma Verdicts

Most mesothelioma-lawsuit compensation comes as confidential out-of-court settlements. But in the exceptional cases that go all the way through trial, the awards can be impressive.

  • $75 million to Marlena Robaey in 2017. She was exposed to asbestos from the gaskets in the cars her husband worked on.
  • $18 million to Philip Depoian in 2016. He was exposed to asbestos in contaminated talcum powder used at his father’s barber shop.
  • $18.6 million to the family of Carl Rogers in 2014. He was exposed to asbestos in machinery and pipe insulation at the factory where he worked.
  • $48 million to the family of Bobbie Izell in 2012. He worked around asbestos-containing construction materials as a cement contractor and construction superintendent.

Preparing to File a Mesothelioma Lawsuit

A law firm that specializes in mesothelioma cases can help you identify who is responsible for the asbestos exposure.

Often, it is multiple companies, and many have changed their names. Many former asbestos-industry companies set up special trust funds to streamline the compensation process.

Many American veterans were exposed to asbestos during military service, and they worry they will be filing a lawsuit against their branch of the armed forces. But in these cases, lawyers file against the companies that supplied the asbestos products, not the military itself.

A qualified mesothelioma lawyer will help you determine who to file a claim against and in which jurisdiction to file the claim. Each state has its own statutes of limitations, and some courts take asbestos exposure more seriously than others. Many factors determine how successful a lawsuit will be.

Getting involved in complex litigation may seem daunting — especially during mesothelioma treatment or soon after the death of a loved one — but it is vital not to put it off.

The companies responsible for this situation are not going to knock on your door and offer you compensation willingly. You have to take the initiative in demanding it. Your family’s financial security depends on it.

Defendant Responses and Discovery

To start the legal process, your attorney will send a written complaint to the companies that caused the asbestos exposure. They will usually respond by denying any responsibility, and then the process of legal discovery will begin. Both sides will gather evidence and try to make the other side give up.

If you filed your claim in a different state, you won’t necessarily have to worry about traveling during the legal process. Lawyers can often arrange for legal questioning (called depositions) to be conducted and recorded in your own home.

If your health is declining, your lawyer may be able to expedite the legal process to keep it from dragging on for years. Stalling is one of the primary tactics of defense lawyers.

Another defense-lawyer tactic is to ask questions and probe for evidence that disproves your claim. They will make counter-accusations that something else caused your illness. They will also look for excuses to have your claim dismissed on a technicality.

This is why you need a qualified mesothelioma lawyer. A good attorney will prepare you for deposition questions, and they will make sure your claim is filed according to all the rules and regulations of the appropriate jurisdiction. Established law firms are not intimidated by corporate defense lawyers.

During the discovery phase, the defendant companies will watch how their evidence stacks up against yours. If the scale tips further and further in your favor, it will become easier to negotiate a fair settlement amount.

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Out-of-Court Settlements, Trials and Appeals

The timeframe for the legal process can range from a few months to a few years. It depends on whether defendants negotiate a settlement or take the case through trial and the appeals process. If the claimant passes away before the case is resolved, a close family member can continue the lawsuit in their place.

Settling Out of Court

Any time during litigation, claimants and defendants can negotiate an out-of-court settlement. This resolution usually saves the defendant money and saves the claimant time.

At the beginning of the discovery phase, a defendant may offer a small settlement in the hopes of avoiding more expensive legal fees. If you deny it and continue to build a strong case for compensation, they may agree to a larger settlement later. Your lawyer will advise you in these negotiations.

The last thing defendants want is to pay multimillion-dollar damages awarded by a jury verdict. Many settlements are negotiated while a trial is underway or immediately after a claimant wins a verdict.

Even if the jury decides in your favor, the defendant may still be able to delay your compensation — and possibly have it reduced — by filing an appeal to a higher court. This is why many claimants agree to out-of-court settlements even after they have won at trial.

Jury Verdicts

When a jury decides a company should compensate someone for asbestos exposure, the verdict can include different types of financial damages.

  • Compensatory damages are based on how much money the plaintiff’s family lost because of mesothelioma. Juries evaluate expenses such as medical bills and loss of income when a patient or caregiver couldn’t work. This is why you should work with your lawyer to track your expenses.
  • Loss of consortium refers to losing the benefits of a family relationship. Juries often award damages to a mesothelioma patient’s spouse as compensation for losing a husband or wife to occupational cancer.
  • Punitive damages are sometimes awarded to make an example of a negligent company. This compensation is meant to punish the company for its wrongdoing and deter corporations from endangering public health.

Juries base punitive damages on how egregiously the company acted. Did the company refuse to post warning signs in work areas? Did the company cover up a medical report on asbestos exposure? Did the company pay off a researcher to try to discredit the link between mesothelioma and asbestos?

Some state regulations cap the amount of compensatory or punitive damages a jury can award.

Appeals Process

When a defendant files an appeal, it asks a special court to double-check that a trial was conducted properly. The job of an appeals court is to make sure the judge and jury correctly applied the law.

In the worst case, the appeals court may reduce the amount of compensation or order a new trial. Even if the appeals court validates the verdict, this process can still delay your compensation.

Structured Settlements

If you receive a large settlement or verdict award, you typically will not receive the money all at once. Instead, the defendant will be ordered to fund a structured settlement. This divides your compensation into regular monthly payments.

A structured settlement is a type of investment product. They are usually designed to prevent the settlement money from being spent all at once, while still protecting the money’s value from inflation. Payments typically begin a few months after a trial or settlement agreement.

What About Class-Action Lawsuits?

In a class-action lawsuit, a joint claim is brought to court by a group of people similarly harmed by the same defendants. Class-action lawsuits can be an efficient way to hold negligent companies accountable, but lawyers and judges realized they are not the best type of litigation for mesothelioma cases.

Asbestos lawsuits are complex because they involve rare diseases with long latency periods. Each mesothelioma case is unique, making it hard to combine many of them into one lawsuit.

Rulings About Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits
  • Georgine v. Amchem, 1994: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a plan that would have settled the claims of up to two million people. Many people’s cases would have been settled before they discovered how badly asbestos exposure would affect them.
  • Ortiz v. Fibreboard, 1999: Another settlement agreement would have cleared a defendant of liability before many claimants could file a claim. The Supreme Court agreed it would be inappropriate for a defendant to be able to settle asbestos claims before they emerge.

Mesothelioma lawsuits are almost always filed individually as personal injury claims or wrongful death claims. If a law firm asks you to join an asbestos class action, you can choose to join the class or opt out so you can file your own lawsuit.