Asbestos was, at one time, used in large quantities in a wide range of commercial, residential and commercial settings. Called the “miracle mineral,” asbestos was commonly used in applications where fire resistance was essential. Unfortunately, asbestos was discovered to be hazardous to humans, causing serious illnesses like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Many companies that produced the asbestos for industry or used asbestos in their products were well aware of the carcinogenic dangers, and knew that it could later cause illnesses in people who worked with it or were around it.
Victims of asbestos exposure have since been able to file legal claims against the organizations, companies and institutions for their negligence in warning them about the detrimental health effects of asbestos. Many of these patients have sought legal help for their exposure and the eventual development of mesothelioma. A claim or lawsuit for asbestos or mesothelioma can provide both victims and their families a well-deserved financial settlement as well as a sense of justice.
If you are considering filing a claim, it’s important to find a mesothelioma lawyer or law firm to get the best legal representation available. A lawyer or law firm that specializes in mesothelioma-related law will offer you the best chance for a positive outcome for a mesothelioma claim, but you should also have some understanding of the process prior to beginning your case.
Filing a claim for mesothelioma will help patients and their families receive the compensation they deserve. A claim simply identifies that an individual may have some legal recourse for restitution after they are diagnosed with mesothelioma.
You can file one of three different types of claims related to mesothelioma:
Most people are familiar with filing a legal claim, which is usually a lawsuit against a claimant’s prior employer or employers. The mesothelioma patient will be required to prove that while they were employed by the company or companies, they were subjected to asbestos exposure. Most lawsuits of this type end with a verdict or a sum of funds called a “settlement.”
Alternately, a mesothelioma patient can file a legal claim for compensation from an asbestos trust fund. These are generally created when a company goes through bankruptcy. We’ll discuss trust funds and lawsuits in depth further in this page.
Insurance claims are also common. This frequently means medical insurance such as:
- Individual plans
- Medicare/Medcaid or other government-issued plan
- Health insurance form an employer
Plans and policies differ widely, so it’s important to understand your policy and what kind of coverage you can expect.
Submitting claims to your insurer can be a long procedure that gets caught in bureaucratic “red tape,” making an already difficult time even worse for you. It may take seeking legal assistance from a mesothelioma law firm to make sure that your claims are properly handled.
Other types of insurance claims for mesothelioma can include:
The third type of claim is a benefits claim, and comes under Workers’ Compensation. These claims are frequently filed because of a patient’s exposure on-the-job exposure to asbestos. Common workplaces for asbestos exposure included:
- Construction sites
- Automotive repair shops
- Shipyards and marine vessels
- Industrial plants
- Power plants
Most employers are now required to have Worker’s Compensation insurance to pay employees in the event they are injured or become ill while employed. Eligibility requirements vary, but mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can be included in a claim for Worker’s Compensation.
A claim for Workers’ Compensation can, if successful, help pay for at least some of these needs:
- Lost wages
- Future lost wages
- Medical expenses, including treatments, diagnostics and prescriptions
- Ancillary charges such as travel and lodging
Like Worker’s Compensation, veterans benefit claims are similar, except that the asbestos exposure happened while the patient was an active duty member of the armed forces. The Veterans Administration has a program for former and retired military members to file a claim for mesothelioma, as well as a variety of other illnesses.
Filing a lawsuit for mesothelioma or asbestos exposure is one of the best ways to obtain compensation after a diagnosis. Because asbestos was heavily used in numerous industries prior to the 1970’s, most cases of mesothelioma are work-related.
The two primary types of mesothelioma lawsuits are personal injury and wrongful death. These options are available to assist patients and their families with:
- Outstanding medical costs, including associated travel and lodging
- Recovering lost wages
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial expenses (wrongful death)
Mesothelioma lawsuits can also be sub-divided into three types:
- Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
- Class action
Patients and their families must obtain and compile considerable evidence to support their claims of mesothelioma. This evidence can include:
- Proof of the patient’s work history
- Witness statements
- Medical records
- Proof of union membership
- Other relevant documents
A lawsuit process can last from one to three years on average. Mesothelioma patients have a median life expectancy of one to two years after diagnosis. That’s why it’s important to find legal representation as soon as you can.
Lawsuits end in one of two ways: settlement of a jury verdict. If your case does make it to trial, you will be bombarded with questions from lawyers representing the other party that are designed to show you as less than believable. Counsel for the defendants will attempt to discredit you and suggest that you are not telling the truth or only part of it.
Your best option for winning a mesothelioma lawsuit is to work with a lawyer who specializes in mesothelioma and asbestos-related cases. They can help you acquire and compile your evidence, defend you in court and help you through the entire process.
Statute Of Limitations
Every state in the US has a time limit for which you can file a lawsuit, called a Statute of Limitations. You will only have a specific amount of time after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or a death from it to file a lawsuit, and the clock begins at the time you are diagnosed. The clock begins on a wrongful death suit the day that a loved one passes away.
Most people aren’t thinking about filing a lawsuit after a diagnosis or a death in the family. However, since time is not on your side for a handful of reasons, it’s important to consult with a mesothelioma lawyer as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you could lose your right to sue.
For instance, California and a few other states have a statute of limitations of one year after death or diagnosis. The average time frame is two to three years, but a few that are longer, up to six years. The statute of limitations is longer for a personal injury lawsuit than for a wrongful death suit lawsuit in some states. You need to speak with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer as soon as you can before your time limit ends.
If you’re considering a wrongful death mesothelioma lawsuit, you’ll be required to compile evidence for the case without first-hand knowledge of many aspects of their loved one’s life. When investigating their asbestos exposure, you’ll need to find information such as where they lived or worked. This is another area where an experienced mesothelioma attorney can help compile information and work with you to build a case.
You can also file a claim in a different location or state than the one where you currently reside. Many people believe you must file your claim in your home area, but you can also file based on:
- Previous residences
- Previous job sites or work facilities
- Location of military bases where you were stationed The headquarters of the company responsible for your exposure to asbestos
An example of this would be if you lived most of your life in California, but worked for a few years at an oil refinery in North Dakota. In California, the statute of limitations is only one year, but in North Dakota, it’s six years. If you believe you were exposed to asbestos while working in North Dakota, you can file your mesothelioma lawsuit there instead of California.
The unfortunate part is that many people don’t become aware of their right to file a lawsuit until the statute of limitations has expired. However, options like this are one way to keep your claim active.
Settlements and Verdicts
A lawsuit generally concludes with either a verdict or a settlement, unless the plaintiff decides to withdraw the case. Settlements are usually offered before a trial starts or during the trial.
In the first part of the process, the defendants, who are the organizations or companies that are responsible for the asbestos exposure, will offer the mesothelioma patient and their family low settlement amounts to try and settle the case. As the case progresses, they may begin offering larger amounts, especially if they believe they will lose at trial. Generally, settlement payouts are usually less than a verdict award.
A judge and/or jury delivers a verdict at the end of a trial. Should the verdict rule in favor of the plaintiff (the patient or family), a verdict will decide on fair and adequate compensation. But if the verdict rules in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff receives nothing.
Judges make their decision on a number of factors that include:
- Diagnosis of the patient
- The patient’s history of medical issues
- The total amount of expenses including lost income and medical bills
- Whether there is any evidence of the existence of negligence
- The state where the trial takes place
- The total number of companies involved in the case
As we mentioned, a positive trial verdict generally yields larger settlement payouts for patients with mesothelioma. The average settlement for a verdict is about $2.5 million, while the average settlement award is usually less than $1.4 million. Why would patients and families settlements when they are so much less that a verdict?
Actually, there are a number of compelling reasons to accept a settlement, such as:
- The duration of a trial—The average length is a little over a month, but some can last more than 100 days
- The threat of appeals—Defendants can appeal the decision, which can drag the case on for take years and can delay receiving any needed compensation
- The health of the patient—Settlements are paid immediately, and can help pay for fund cancer treatments and other medical expenses
- The possibility of a negative verdict—Companies often have excellent corporate legal representation, and may be able to sway the jury to vote in their favor
- Lack of strong evidence—mesothelioma patients may not have definitive proof that a company or organization was responsible for their exposure to asbestos, making settlements more appealing
Defendants usually offer a settlement in the pretrial discovery phase where both sides exchange information. Settlements allow the companies to avoid paying more at the end of the trial. A settlement also gives patients and their families the funds they urgently need to pay for medical treatments, hospital bills, and other related expenses.
By now you see why it’s so important to consult with a mesothelioma lawyer about the options that are best for your case, and for you. Large verdicts for mesothelioma have awarded settlements totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. On the other hands, there is also the risk that your trial ends and you receive little or nothing. That’s why you should seek legal help from an expert in mesothelioma law.
Asbestos Trust Funds
These are trust funds that are usually set up by companies who previously used and/or manufactured asbestos products. These funds are usually set up during a company’s bankruptcy and are designed to help offer compensation to patients and their families who have asbestos-related illnesses. A lawsuit is not an option, since many of these companies no longer exist (or exist as they did before.) There is an estimated $30 billion available in the US from a range of asbestos trust funds.
The downside is that these trust fund payouts are much smaller than compensation you might receive from a lawsuit. As a rule, most trusts pay an average of 25% to 30% of a patient’s claim. This is to ensure that there are mandatory funds available for claimants in the future.
You can, however, make claims against multiple trusts to increase the total amount you can receive in awards. There is no rule or law prohibiting you from filing a lawsuit against a company still in business and make a claim against a trust at the same time. Doing so, however, can impact the award you receive as a verdict award from a lawsuit. If you’ve already received a trust fund award, the court may make deductions from your settlement, called a “setoff.”
Like other types of claims, the bankruptcy trusts also has a list of requirements that you’ll have to meet in order to qualify for a payout. Many have a list of validated exposure locations. You’ll need to provide plenty of evidence, and follow any rules set out by the trust before they will consider offering anything, which can include:
- Proof of your diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease
- Statement from a qualified physician
- Documentation that verifies asbestos was involved in the formation of the disease
- Verification that you worked for the company at one or more of the approved exposure sites, or
- Verification that you used asbestos-containing products manufactured by the company
Just like lawsuits, asbestos trust funds also have a statute of limitation for filing your claim, and they vary with each state. The average is about two years, and you can also file both personal injury and wrongful death claims against bankruptcy trusts.
Trusts generally pay an average of 25% to 30% of the original claim. However, they are permitted to pay as little as 1.1.% or as much as 100% of the claim. These are decided by the trustees, who review the case to decide on an appropriate payment for each claim. There are three types of reviews:
- Individual review—this is a standard review process giving the trustees additional time to consider the case
- Expedited review—this is a shorter review process for claimants who meet the trust’s specific qualifications, and payouts are usually received faster
Extraordinary basis—this process is similar to individual review in terms of length. However, cases are treated the same as an expedited review and moved to the front of the line. Claimants must meet certain qualifications in order to qualify.
A full one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses are veterans, primarily because the military frequently used large quantities of it. Between the 1930’s and the 1970’s, asbestos was a key building material in buildings, vessels and vehicles of all kinds built by and for the military, leading to widespread exposure.
Because of the large number of veterans affected by asbestos-related illnesses including mesothelioma, the Veterans Administration created a process to assist patients in filing claims for benefits. The VA has two primary categories of benefits for disability:
- Disability compensation
- Dependency and indemnity compensation
Disability compensation correlates to a personal injury claim, whereas dependency and indemnity correlates to a wrongful death claim. However, you need to know how to file a claim against the VA, including finding out if you are even eligible. The VA’s requirements include:
- Evidence of asbestos exposure that occurred during military service
- No dishonorable discharge
- A verified diagnosis has been made by a qualified physician
Naturally, evidence is also important when filing a benefit claim for a veteran. The VA usually requires documented evidence of your specific occupation during your military service or the location where you served. You may also be required to prove that you spent time in a particular barracks or other location, or served on a certain vessel.
If you were assigned to one of these occupations, you may have been prone to asbestos exposure:
- Shipyard workers
- Vehicle and aircraft mechanics
- Anyone who worked in an engine room on a marine vessel
- Insulations workers
- Flooring installers
Although this isn’t a complete list, it does show you how many military members could have been exposed to asbestos during their time in the military.
If you provide the VA with evidence that they consider inconclusive, you’ll be requested to provide additional evidence for a full review. You also have the option to submit what’s called a “Fully Developed Claim.” This tells the VA that there is no further evidence available. Since many applicants submit insufficient evidence, many claims have been denied on this basis.
This is also where a mesothelioma lawyer can help with the VA’s process as well. The lawyer understands how much evidence is to be reasonably expected and what documentation you must include with your claim application in order to receive a full VA award.
Mesothelioma patients also have the option of filing a claim under Worker’s Compensation, which are claims filed for illnesses and injuries that occurred while working a particular job.
Asbestos-related illnesses can also be covered under benefits from Worker’s Compensation. However, you can only file this type of claim against a direct employer. If successful, a claimant will relinquish all your rights to bring a lawsuit against their employer at a later date. However, patients can file lawsuits against specific manufacturers who made asbestos and asbestos products after having a successful Worker’s Compensation claim against their employer.
Just like other types of claims, you must provide evidence to be able to receive benefits. Each state has its own rules and regulations for Worker’s Compensation. This is another reason to contact a mesothelioma lawyer who is familiar with local laws regarding Worker’s Compensation and other related laws.
After filing, the governing board for your state’s Workers’ Compensation will review your claim. Some cases are denied. However, if your claim is accepted, the board will determine payouts based on these factors:
- Evidence you submitted
- The worker’s salary
- Lost wages as a result of the illness
- The cost of medical bills
- Additional expenses that are related to the illness and/or injury
A few states have provisions in their Workers’ Compensation laws that provide compensation to individuals with illnesses related to asbestos in an expedient fashion.
Generally, the speed of payment is dependent on the insurer that your employer uses for Workers’ Compensation. Some insurance companies pay timely, but others may take longer. Some companies may use a government fund for their Workers’ Compensation.
Having an experienced asbestos lawyer to help can ensure that you’ll receive your payments when you need them.
Mesothelioma Law Firm
When it’s time for you to seek legal assistance with a mesothelioma case, you may decide to hire a local law firm you’ve heard about, or even hire a lawyer you already know. But as we’ve mentioned before, you’ll have a much better chance at a positive outcome when you work with an experienced and qualified mesothelioma lawyer or law firm.
The law relating to asbestos and mesothelioma requires specific knowledge, proficiency and skill that many law firms do not have. Additionally, most lawyers are not familiar with asbestos litigation.
When you’re choosing a law firm for your claim, you’ll need to ensure that the lawyers display distinct knowledge and understanding of mesothelioma, as well as how asbestos causes it. They should have available information on clinical trials for mesothelioma, as well as updated, cutting-edge treatment options. The lawyers should have a broad understanding of who was known to use asbestos in their facilities or products, as well as be current and updated on all applicable laws, state, federal and local.
Another key component is experience. The mesothelioma law firm you hire must instinctively understand all possibilities work in relation to the illness, including:
- Where to file a claim
- What specific evidence to provide
- If a patient should file a VA benefit claim or workers’ compensation
- Whether a settlement is more advantageous than taking the claim to trial
- What to expect from opposing parties
- How to properly defend you in court
Is your attorney as perplexed as you are about the legal procedures? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to search or a mesothelioma legal team that has more resources, knowledge, and most importantly, experience. Ask others you may know who are also experiencing mesothelioma, or check online reviews. It’s important to visit with more than one before deciding on the right mesothelioma lawyer for your case.