Mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer, attacks the mesothelium, the thin protective tissue that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. Most cases of the disease can be traced back to exposure to a carcinogenic mineral fiber called asbestos.
To pay for the cost of mesothelioma treatment, many patients and families file lawsuits against manufacturers of the asbestos products related to their exposure. If you’re considering such a suit, be aware that there’s a deadline for filing such cases; each state limits the time you have to file a lawsuit after your diagnosis. You should consult an attorney who specializes in asbestos litigation to see whether you can recover funds. Most mesothelioma lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning they get paid only if you agree to a settlement or win your lawsuit.
In legal terms, causing someone injury or harm, either intentionally or through negligence, is called a tort, and victims can take legal action to gain compensation. When many victims band together, it’s called a mass tort. Mass torts allow plaintiffs (the people who are claiming injury) to retain their own attorneys, and groups of cases are argued together to save time and money. Asbestos litigation is the largest mass tort in U.S. history.
Don’t confuse a mass tort with a class-action lawsuit. Class-action lawsuits are filed by one party on behalf of people in a similar situation and generally take a long time to settle. Because each person with an asbestos-related illness has a unique set of circumstances, and given the fact that many plaintiffs may not survive a lengthy trial, mesothelioma cases are not handled as class actions.
Mesothelioma has a long incubation period – 10 to 40 years. Over the last 40 years asbestos usage has declined, which means the number of lawsuits for asbestos-related injuries should also decline over time.
How the Mesothelioma Lawsuit Process Works
While each mesothelioma lawsuit is unique, each generally follows a similar course. Here are the general steps you can expect a case to follow if you file suit:
Step 1: File a Complaint
After gathering information, you and your attorney file a legal document called a complaint that details your injuries and says why the defendant is liable for your injuries.
Step 2: Await Response
The defendant responds to the claim in your complaint. Most of the time, the defendant will try to get the judge assigned to your case to dismiss the complaint, and your attorney will try to keep that from happening.
Step 3: Discovery
Before the case goes to trial or settles, both sides gather evidence by taking depositions and requesting documents. This phase is called discovery. Your attorney will prepare you for any questions the defense may ask you.
Step 4: Trial or Settlement
Mesothelioma lawsuits often settle before trial. Even if the case goes to trial, the defendant may settle before the jury delivers a verdict. If your case does go to trial, you may be able to participate in the proceedings from your home, and communicate by video or phone, because judges know the toll the disease takes on people.
Step 5: Expect an Appeal
If the jury awards anything to you, the defendant may file an appeal. If this happens, it may delay receiving any money from the jury’s award. If the appeal is upheld, it may void the jury verdict and may mean a new trial.
Step 6: Receive Payment
If you receive a jury award and the defendant makes no appeal, or an appeal is denied, you and your family may receive payments a few months after the completion of the trial.
Most defendants in mesothelioma lawsuits prefer to settle out of court rather than face a jury trial, because juries are unpredictable. If, at the end of a trial, a jury decides that the defendant is liable, it can award compensation based on two types of damages: compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages are based on actual economic losses. Punitive damages are based on how offensive and malicious the defendant’s behavior was that led up to the lawsuit. Punitive damages are meant to deter the defendant and other similar companies from causing the same types of injuries again.
While some states set a cap on compensatory damages, there is usually no cap on punitive damages. Because many of the companies named in asbestos-related suits knew about the dangers of asbestos and willfully endangered their employees, the punitive damages can reach millions of dollars.
The first successful trial of a lawsuit for damage due to asbestos exposure occurred in 1973 and involved an insulation worker who sued one of the large manufacturers of asbestos insulation. The case of Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation set a precedent for personal injury claims against asbestos companies.
In 2003, Roby Worthington won a $250 million verdict against his former employer. He was exposed to asbestos when he worked for U.S. Steel from 1950 to 1981. In 2001 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In 2006, 49-year-old David Bakkie won a jury award of $18.5 million. He was exposed to asbestos while working as a plastic molder from 1974 to 1975 and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005.
In 2007, the family of former U.S. Navy machinist’s mate Richard Walmach was awarded $5.2 million after he died from mesothelioma in 2006.
In 2012, a jury ruled in favor of construction worker Bobbie Izell and awarded him $48 million. Izell was exposed to asbestos on construction sites in the ’60s and ’70s and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011.
In more recent cases, a publication called Mealey’s Litigation Report: Asbestos summed up asbestos-related verdicts for 2015. It reported on 42 verdicts in the year, 26 of which were won by plaintiffs, and 16 by defendants. The largest verdict resulted in a $25 million award to a mesothelioma sufferer. The average award in cases plaintiffs won was $7.4 million.
Why Veterans File Mesothelioma Lawsuits
About one-third of mesothelioma victims are military veterans who were exposed to asbestos. Ships, tanks, aircraft and trucks all contained asbestos, as did buildings on military bases.
While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides service-connected compensation benefits along with health-care services and disability benefits, some veterans find that they need additional compensation to pay for the costs of living with and fighting this disease. Because of this, many veterans elect to file mesothelioma lawsuits against the companies responsible for producing the products containing asbestos used by the military.
- Anatomy and physiology of the mesothelium, Canadian Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/mesothelioma/mesothelioma/the-mesothelium/?region=on
- Mass Tort Litigation: Asbestos, Encyclopedia of Law and Economics. http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/asbestos_springer.pdf
- Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation, Texas State Historical Association. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jrb01
- U.S. Steel loses asbestos lawsuit, Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2003/mar/31/business/fi-steel31
- Verdict of over $18.5 million for aerospace plastics molder suffering from mesothelioma, PR Web. http://www.bhopal.net/verdict-of-over-18-5-million-for-aerospace-plastics-molder-suffering-from-mesothelioma/
- Jury orders N.J. firm to pay $5.2M in asbestos case, NJ.com. http://blog.nj.com/ledgerupdates/2007/06/jury_orders_nj_firm_to_pay_52m.html
- Calif. Jury Awards $48M In Union Carbide Asbestos Case, Law360. https://www.law360.com/articles/352759/calif-jury-awards-48m-in-union-carbide-asbestos-case
- Asbestos Verdicts & Settlements: January 2015 – December 2015, Mealey’s Litigation Report: Asbestos. http://www.lexislegalnews.com/articles/8734/asbestos-verdicts-settlements-january-2015-december-2015
- Information for Veterans, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8717509/k.71E1/Information_for_Veterans.htm
- Asbestos Exposure Compensation, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp