Asbestos-cancer victims who file claims on specific asbestos trust funds must be able to document evidence of their injuries, their connection to the at-fault company or worksite and their link to workplace asbestos. To find out this information, a little detective work can go a long way.
The initial step to applying for an asbestos trust fund is proving eligibility and exposure. After a diagnosis from a qualified physician, determining exposure can be as simple as talking to family members, friends and former coworkers about what they remember from the suspected time of exposure.
- Looking at old photo albums and yearbooks and searching through old documents
- Scanning the library (or online sources) for newspaper clippings about former employers
- Submitting requests through the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service for earnings information
- Checking credit reports for past employment records
- Considering other possible exposure sources including beauty salons, barbers, auto repair shops, coin-operated laundry businesses and home laundry areas
All asbestos trust guidelines are established by bankruptcy courts in cooperation with attorneys, regulators and other interested parties. Each asbestos trust fund has distinct trust distribution procedures (TDPs) and is privately managed. Each trust is overseen by at least one trustee (an individual who oversees the daily operations of the trust), a trust advisory committee (TAC) and a future claimants representative (FAC).
What Are The Eligibility Criteria For Asbestos Trusts?
To become eligible for a trust claim, asbestos-exposure victims must document the circumstances behind the medical diagnosis and connect the illness to an asbestos-containing product. Companies that produced asbestos-containing goods are wholly responsible for the exposure. Since there is a time limit to mesothelioma claims, victims are urged to act quickly after a diagnosis. Many asbestos victims can have claims against multiple companies.
Attorneys review three main criteria when determining their client’s eligibility for an asbestos trust claim:
- Proof of disease – For a valid mesothelioma claim, medical records must show mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer as the primary cancer. A board-certified physician must sign a pathology report that provides a detailed description of the cancerous cells and tissues. Other medical documentation, such as X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and blood work results, must also support a mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Proof of exposure – There must be a connection between the mesothelioma victim and the at-fault company’s asbestos-containing product. Since mesothelioma and other asbestos cancers take decades to appear, making the connection can be difficult. The leading asbestos attorneys make these connections by seeking out former employees of the at-fault companies, public records and other information that ties the victim to the company. Individual asbestos trusts each have criteria for proof of exposure, including approved lists of work sites where the company’s products were used. In cases where the exposure happened at a site not on the approved lists, attorneys use other documentation to prove exposure.
- Statute of Limitations – Every state has a time limit for mesothelioma claims of between one and three years from initial diagnosis. The statute of limitations usually begins immediately following a mesothelioma diagnosis. If the victim dies, the statute of limitations for a trust claim begins immediately.
Eligibility Criteria For Family Members
If a mesothelioma patient dies prior to completing a mesothelioma trust claim, the family members may be able to continue the process. Such a claim allows close family members (including spouses, children, parents and other financial dependents) to seek financial compensation from a trust fund. There are several factors that contribute to successful asbestos claims for family members:
- Proven exposure – Family members must provide a link between the asbestos and the disease. Family members might have a difficult time recalling the dates and places associated with the asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma attorneys research the possible places of exposure and can help make connections to asbestos-containing products.
- Corporate negligence -A majority of asbestos manufacturers knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure as they continued to distribute the products and put workers at risk. Skilled asbestos attorneys help patients determine the negligence of asbestos companies.
- Substantial impact – Family members must show their loved one’s death had a substantial impact on their lives, finances and overall ability to live a stable and secure life.
Securing An Expedited Claim
Expedited mesothelioma claims, also called expedited reviews (ERs), provide quick access to funds for seriously ill patients and family members. Awards are a fixed-dollar amount and based on a non-negotiable payment scheduled depending on the level of illness.
ERs are used when the claims can be easily verified to meet the presumptive medical and exposure criteria. While each asbestos trust has different claims procedures, they all have similar ER requirements:
- Claimants must provide medical evidence – Claimants must provide a written diagnosis by a licensed physician. The documentation must show at least 10 years between the date of first exposure and the diagnosis or an exposure history that establishes a 10-year latency period.
- Claimants must demonstrate proof of exposure – For all levels of disease (including mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer and other asbestos diseases), claimants must supply information that demonstrates exposure to the at-fault company’s asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. Most trusts establish their own exposure standards, including acceptable exposure sites and products.
In addition, ERs also make provisions that take into account special circumstances that the patients or their family members may be facing:
- Financial hardship – Claimants and family members who are in need of immediate financial assistance are eligible for an exigent hardship claim. Claims approval is based on the claimant’s expenses, available sources of income and the connection between the disease and the financial situation. Most trusts consider a mesothelioma diagnosis to qualify for an exigent hardship claim.
- Dire health conditions – Claimants who are not expected to survive beyond six months of a physician’s diagnosis are eligible for an exigent health claim. Claimants must provide information that links the terminal disease to the at-fault company and meet the medical and exposure criteria for a severe asbestos-related disease (including mesothelioma).
What Happens When A Claim Is Approved?
Once a mesothelioma trust claim has been accepted, claimants generally receive compensation within three to six months. The amount depends on the individual trusts.
Most asbestos trusts have outlined eight asbestos-related disease levels that can receive funding. The more severe the disease, the higher amount of funding. This disease scheduling method is intended to treat all claimants with similar disease levels equitably, as follows:
- Level VIII – Mesothelioma
- Level VII – Lung cancer with evidence of bilateral asbestos disease, such as asbestosis. Also called lung cancer
- Level VI — Lung cancer with evidence of bilateral asbestos disease, such as asbestosis. Also called lung cancer
- Level V — Other cancer, with evidence of bilateral asbestos-related disease
- Level IV — Severe asbestosis
- Level III — Asbestosis/pleural lung disease with restricted pulmonary function. Also called asbestos/pleural disease
- Level II — Asbestosis/pleural lung disease with restricted pulmonary function. Also called asbestos/pleural disease
- Level I – Other asbestos diseases
Each trust has an assigned scheduled value, or a standardized monetary amount, for compensation. The scheduled values are typically set above the 50th percentile of the historical settlement the at-fault company paid to injured patients before the bankruptcy. Payments vary widely based on the size and scope of the trust.
The individual trusts rarely pay the full scheduled values to ensure all claimants can receive some compensation. Trusts generally pay a percentage, or a discounted value, of a claim based on individual claim circumstances. In most cases, the percentage amount is increased or decreased every three to five years.
For example, the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, one of the largest asbestos trust funds, currently pays $350,000 for a Level VIII mesothelioma claim. The trust pays 5.1 percent of the scheduled value, so claimants are awarded $17,850.
Another large trust, Owens Corning Corp., currently pays $215,000 for a Level VIII mesothelioma claim. Since the trust pays 11.1 percent of scheduled values for expedited reviews, claimants receive $23,865.
The financial awards are generally tax-free, but all claimants are advised to contact a knowledgeable attorney for more information.
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