Mesothelioma Asbestos Lawsuits

People diagnosed with mesothelioma have received multi-million-dollar jury awards and have settled cases for upwards of $1 million. Lawsuits against companies that exposed people to asbestos are the longest-running mass tort in the history of U.S. litigation.

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Fast Facts

  • Asbestos settlements can pay $1 million and more to people diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • Lawsuits against asbestos companies date back to the 1970s.
  • Billions of dollars have been awarded by asbestos trusts established by bankrupt companies.

The average legal settlement for someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is between $1 million and $1.4 million; awards for trial verdicts average $7.4 million.

Most cases of mesothelioma can be traced back to exposure to a carcinogenic mineral fiber called asbestos. The disease is a rare but aggressive form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium, the thin protective tissue that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body.

To pay for the high 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.

Statutes of Limitations Affect Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Statutes of limitations, which are laws that impose deadlines for filing lawsuits, vary from state to state. You should consult a qualified attorney about whether you are able to sue the companies responsible for your exposure to asbestos.

In general, if you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, in most states you typically have 12 to 24 months after your diagnosis to file a personal injury lawsuit. If your loved one has died because of asbestos exposure, in most states you usually have 12 to 24 months after your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When Can I Sue?

If you are not barred by a statute of limitations, you can sue the company or companies responsible for your exposure to asbestos (or the exposure of a loved one who died) if you meet all the following conditions:

  • You have had a biopsy confirming your diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma.
  • Your exposure to asbestos was before 1985.
  • Your exposure to asbestos occurred in the United States.

Accusations Against Manufacturers

Between the 1920s and 1970s, negligent companies exposed employees to toxic asbestos, putting the workers at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Lawsuits detail the person’s injuries and provide information about why a particular company is liable.

In general, lawsuits say companies knew the risks, but exposed unknowing employees anyway. Asbestos-related disease could take years to develop, leaving victims dealing with horrific injuries and huge expenses.

Lawsuits seek to hold the manufacturers and other employers accountable to compensate victims for their suffering and their financial costs.

Manufacturers Being Sued

As of 2002, 730,000 people had filed asbestos lawsuits against more than 8,400 defendants

Thousands of companies used asbestos and exposed workers to the dangerous substance. As of 2002, 730,000 people had filed lawsuits against more than 8,400 defendants, and the cost of resolving claims was estimated at $70 billion.

Many lawsuits are filed by individuals against multiple defendants who were all involved in the asbestos exposure. A union steamfitter, for example, may have worked in numerous buildings for many companies, and could have been using asbestos insulation in his work.

Cases, Verdicts & Settlements

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.

Clarence Borel

The case involved Clarence Borel, who worked as an insulator in refineries and shipyards and was sickened with fatal pulmonary asbestosis and mesothelioma. Borel sued 11 companies that made the asbestos products to which he was exposed in his work, including Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation. The lawsuits charged negligence and breach of warranty. His attorney further argued that the companies should be held liable under a provision in the law called the doctrine of strict liability, because the asbestos products weren’t labeled with adequate warnings of their dangers.

The jury awarded Borel’s widow total damages of $79,436 in 1971, but that amount was reduced by previous settlements and legal fees. In the end, three years after the appeals were done, Thelma Borel collected $35,000.

The Borel case established a legal precedent that continues to resonate and has led to much larger verdicts for other injured people.

According to a publication called Mealey’s Litigation Report: Asbestos, there were 42 asbestos-related verdicts in 2015. The report said 26 of the trials 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.

Some Examples of Mesothelioma Settlements:

  • 2001 MESOTHELIOMA DIAGNOSIS

    ROBY WORTHINGTON

    EXPOSURE DATES: 1950 to 1981

    EMPLOYMENT: U.S. Steel

    AWARD: $250 million jury verdict

  • 2005 MESOTHELIOMA DIAGNOSIS

    DAVID BAKKIE

    EXPOSURE DATES: 1974 to 1975

    EMPLOYMENT: Plastic molder

    AWARD: $18.5 million jury verdict

  • 2011 MESOTHELIOMA DIAGNOSIS

    BOBBIE IZELL

    EXPOSURE DATES: 1960s and 1970s

    EMPLOYMENT: Construction

    AWARD: $48 million jury verdict

Asbestos Trust Claims

Many mesothelioma patients file out-of-court claims against one or more of the approximately 70 different former asbestos corporations that have filed for bankruptcy and established trust funds at the direction of the government to pay any current and future claims.

Seven Things You Should Know About Asbestos Trusts

  • Out of $37 billion deposited into those trusts, more than $18 billion has been paid to people who were injured after being exposed to asbestos.
  • The first trust was established by the Johns-Manville Corporation in 1982. Since then, virtually every asbestos manufacturer has filed for bankruptcy and created a trust.
  • Filing a claim and obtaining a settlement can be a painstaking process of documenting decades of exposure, potentially to different companies’ products, particularly if a plaintiff worked in the construction industry or something similar.
  • The asbestos trust funds are managed by bankruptcy trustees who determine the amount to be paid to individual plaintiffs.
  • The amount of each award is based on a number of factors, such as the type of injury and the particular payment schedule of the individual trust involved.
  • Most of the trusts don’t have enough money to pay all anticipated claims, and so they offer a percentage of their claims. This can be as little as 1.1 percent.
  • Because of issues with fraud, some states have attempted to limit the amount of time mesothelioma patients have to file trust fund claims. This has been criticized because of the lengthy process of identifying the source of the particular asbestos product that caused a person’s injury.

Veterans and Asbestos

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.

Author

Elaine Silvestrini is a career journalist with a strong desire to learn, explain, and help people. At Drugwatch, Elaine has reported about trials over whether talcum powder caused ovarian cancer and allegations that Androgel causes heart problems in patients who use it. She has chronicled the billions of dollars generated for big pharmaceutical companies by certain drugs and efforts to warn consumers about the dangers of specific medical problems. Elaine has received six health literacy certificates for completing courses offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She brings more than 20 years of experience covering state and federal court systems, learning the intricacies of criminal and civil law, developing investigative pieces about how the law affects people’s lives and digging through and digesting reams of court records on a daily basis.


Hide Sources

  1. White, Michelle J. (2014) Mass Tort Litigation: Asbestos, Encyclopedia of Law and Economics. http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/asbestos_springer.pdf
  2. Keith, Robert Q. and Robertson, Robert J. (n.d.) Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation, Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved from: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jrb01
  3. Bloomberg News. (2003, March 31). U.S. Steel loses asbestos lawsuit. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2003/mar/31/business/fi-steel31
  4. Jury orders N.J. firm to pay $5.2M in asbestos case. (2007, June). Retrieved from: http://blog.nj.com/ledgerupdates/2007/06/jury_orders_nj_firm_to_pay_52m.html
  5. Randles, Jonathan. (2012, June 21). Calif. Jury Awards $48M In Union Carbide Asbestos Case. Retrieved from: https://www.law360.com/articles/352759/calif-jury-awards-48m-in-union-carbide-asbestos-case
  6. Asbestos Verdicts & Settlements: January 2015 – December 2015, Mealey’s Litigation Report: Asbestos.
  7. Information for Veterans, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8717509/k.71E1/Information_for_Veterans.htm
  8. Asbestos Exposure Compensation, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp
  9. Williams, O. K. (2014, December 19). Statutory Cap on Punitive Damages Deemed Unconstitutional. Retrieved from: https://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/litigationnews/top_stories/121914-statutory-cap-damages.html
  10. Hoban, R. (2017, May 25). Asbestos Victims Will Get Less Time to File for Damages Under New Bill. Retrieved from: http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2017/05/25/asbestos-victims-will-get-less-time-file-damages-new-bill/

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