Mesothelioma accounts for the vast majority of asbestos lawsuits and verdicts. Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort litigation in American history.
More than half a million people have filed asbestos exposure lawsuits against 8,000-plus businesses. Millions more have filed claims with asbestos trust funds set up by businesses that declared bankruptcy.
The total cost of mesothelioma and asbestos lawsuits has been estimated at $325 billion in today’s dollars.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or if you’ve lost a loved one to the disease, you may be able to file a personal injury or a wrongful death lawsuit against the company responsible for the asbestos exposure. Or, if the company has declared bankruptcy, you may be eligible to seek compensation through an asbestos trust.
Filing Claims with Asbestos Trusts
Asbestos bankruptcy trusts allow mesothelioma patients and their families to recover money from companies that negligently manufactured or sold asbestos products in the United States and have gone bankrupt.
These claims are different from lawsuits, and they don’t involve a trial. But a mesothelioma lawyer can help navigate this process.
It is much easier to collect against an asbestos trust than a company that still has assets, according to a 2018 article in the Fordham Law Review. More than 120 companies have declared bankruptcy at least partly due to asbestos-related lawsuits. Once a company declares bankruptcy, it’s immune to lawsuits.
As part of the agreement to reorganize under bankruptcy, some companies were required to set up trust funds to pay for asbestos-related injuries for decades into the future. There are roughly 60 of these trusts together holding more than $30 billion. From 1988 through 2010, the trusts paid about $17.5 billion to settle 3.3 million asbestos-related injury claims, according to the United States Government Accountability Office.
Payouts from the trusts may be smaller than some verdicts. But they involve less risk of losing a payment because the trusts seldom challenge liability.
Seeking Payments from Trusts
If you have mesothelioma, you may have been exposed to asbestos by more than one company. And you may be entitled to payments from different trusts.
To seek payments, you must file two sets of documents: One is a claim form and the other details your asbestos exposure. Your attorney can help you with these requirements.
- A statement that you have mesothelioma
- Proof that you were exposed to asbestos by the company that set up the trust
- Indication whether you are seeking an expedited or an individual review
An individual review can sometimes result in more compensation, but it can take longer. The Government Accountability Office estimates that as many as 98 percent of mesothelioma claims against trusts involve the expedited review instead. It allows claimants to receive a payment more quickly.
- Work history
- Social Security records
- Employer records
- Statements by you or coworkers taken in a deposition
- Medical records or reports supporting a mesothelioma diagnosis
- A death certificate (if the person has died)
The documents may be filled electronically against multiple trusts at the same time. In expedited claims, asbestos trusts seldom challenge the claims. If the trust decides the paperwork submitted meets the payment criteria, it will make an offer based on a pre-set, or scheduled, value that the trust has set for mesothelioma cases. If you accept the offer, payments are usually made fairly quickly.
How to File a Mesothelioma Lawsuit
Mesothelioma lawsuits can be complicated and require medical experts. It is a good idea to talk with a lawyer who specializes in asbestos or mesothelioma cases. He or she can guide you through the complex hurdles necessary to take a case to trial.
- PREPARING YOUR CASE — A mesothelioma lawyer can help you gather information you’ll need for the lawsuit. This can include your work history, medical records and evidence that a company was responsible for your asbestos exposure.
- FILING A COMPLAINT — Your lawyer will file a complaint in court. This spells out your argument that a company was responsible for your exposure and why you should be compensated.
- RESPONSES — The company or companies named in your complaint will get a chance to respond to the complaint. They will likely ask for the case to be dismissed or try to delay it from going to trial. Courts usually allow defendants 30 days to respond.
- DISCOVERY — Both sides are given time to gather evidence to support their arguments. You may have to answer questions from the other side about your work history and how you were exposed to asbestos. Your attorney can prepare you for what to expect during questioning.
- SETTLEMENT — The company may decide to offer a settlement before going to trial. Your attorney can advise you as to whether you should accept it. He or she may also be able to negotiate a better settlement.
- TRIAL — If the company does not offer a settlement, or you decide to reject it, the lawsuit goes to trial. This can mean your case may not be resolved for several years. Many mesothelioma patients avoid a trial to resolve their cases more quickly.
- APPEALS — Even if you win at trial, the other side may appeal. This means you won’t receive any money unless you win on appeal. On the other hand, if you lose at trial you can appeal. But either way, it could be years until the appeals are resolved.
Very few mesothelioma cases actually go to trial. A 2016 Mealey’s Litigation Report found only 37 mesothelioma cases made it to trial in 2015. Most cases are settled before going to court.
Part of the reason there are so few lawsuits is because many of the companies that exposed workers to asbestos have declared bankruptcy. Lawsuits can only be filed against companies that have not declared bankruptcy.
Frequently Asked Questions of Mesothelioma Lawyers
Most people have the same questions about filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. Most deal with the money involved or how much time the process will take.
Q: Do I have a deadline to file a lawsuit?
A: Depending on where you live, you may have as little as one year after you are diagnosed with mesothelioma to file a lawsuit. States have different statutes of limitations for filing lawsuits. Preparing a lawsuit can take weeks or months. You should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after receiving a diagnosis to make sure you don’t miss your deadline.
Q: How long do mesothelioma lawsuits take?
A: A lot depends on how healthy the person is going into the case. Courts may speed up the timeline if the person with mesothelioma is in poor health. Most cases are settled before ever reaching trial. That means you could see a payout in a year or less. But if your lawsuit goes to court, it may take two years or more before you know if you’ve won or lost your case.
Q: How much do mesothelioma lawyers cost?
A: Most lawyers who specialize in mesothelioma or other asbestos lawsuits only charge a fee if they win your case. This is called a contingency fee. Most also offer free consultations to determine whether you have a valid case and to advise you of other legal options you may not be aware of.
Q: How much money could I win at trial?
A: According to Mealey’s Litigation Report, the largest mesothelioma award at trial in 2016 was $32.8 million. But such judgements are extremely rare. The median jury award for all asbestos-related lawsuits for that year was $2.14 million. But that average takes into account all those people who filed a lawsuit and lost as well. Not all lawsuits will be successful.
Other Financial Assistance for Mesothelioma Patients
Lawsuits and claims against asbestos trusts can take months or years to resolve. In the meantime, it’s important to work on securing finances to cover medical treatment and living expenses.
Individual cases vary, but people with mesothelioma may be able to seek multiple forms of financial assistance. A mesothelioma lawyer may be able to help you determine the best options for your particular situation. You should also talk with your insurance provider and government agencies.
Private health insurance through your employer may cover some of the costs of mesothelioma treatment. But be sure to review information on your co-pays and deductibles. If mesothelioma leaves you disabled and unable to return to work, you will likely lose your group health insurance at work. Talk with your employer about extending your coverage through a COBRA plan. It will cost you more, but will stretch out your coverage at least 18 months if you qualify.
Long-Term Disability Insurance
If you have long-term disability insurance, it can help with income if you can’t work due to mesothelioma. But it may take weeks before it kicks in. If your insurance is through your employer, you should talk with your employer ahead of time to understand what steps you need to take, the amount of your benefits and when they will become available.
Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability Income is available to people who’ve paid into Social Security and are disabled to the point they cannot work. If you have mesothelioma, you may qualify. You must apply through the Social Security Administration. If you are turned down, you can appeal. Many denials are overturned on appeal. Benefits won’t kick in for at least five months after you are disabled.
Medicare or Medicaid
You may also qualify for Medicaid if you are unable to work because of mesothelioma. You should contact your state Medicaid office to check your eligibility and to apply. And you may be able to apply for benefits through Medicare even if you are not yet 65, as long as you are disabled as a result of your mesothelioma. But these benefits won’t kick in until you have been receiving Social Security Disability for 24 months. You can check you Medicare eligibility online.
Veterans Affairs Claims
Most veterans with mesothelioma are entitled to disability or pension benefits. Spouses and dependents may also qualify for compensation from the federal government. They may receive these benefits alongside private health insurance and legal settlements or verdicts. Veterans who worked in shipyards, construction and vehicle repair are among those who may have been exposed. Those who served in the Middle East, and South or Southeast Asia may have been exposed when older buildings were damaged. If you qualify, you can file a VA Disability Claim.
14 Cited Research Articles
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