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.
Step 1: Gather Eligibility and Exposure Documentation
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.
Step 2: Consider Compensation Factors
Factors That Affect Asbestos Trust Fund Compensation
There are many factors that may limit the successful processing of an asbestos trust fund claim. Lawyers familiar with these limitations help their clients understand how their choices may affect compensation, and how the trust distribution procedures and state laws may substantially alter the financial results of their claims.
- Statute of Limitations – If you are processing a claim against a trust fund, each fund has established time limits for when you file a claim. Though these statutes of limitations vary, they are often two to three years after diagnosis of mesothelioma, other asbestos-related disease, or death from those conditions. If you have several diagnoses, determining the statute of limitations for each is important in filing a successful claim.
- Setoffs -If there are several trusts you may be eligible to receive compensation from, each trust can deduct any trust payments you have received previously from what they pay you. Understanding if your state allows for setoffs and how that impacts your potential compensation is something that you will likely want to consult with a lawyer about.
- Filing Claims and Lawsuits – Some claimants may be eligible to file both asbestos lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims. If you are eligible, know that filing the trust fund claim may alter the compensation you receive from the lawsuit. Also, some states require you to disclose that you have submitted claims to trust during the lawsuit.
- State Laws – Each state has its own laws governing the compensation of trust fund claims and how they may alter the compensation you receive from an asbestos lawsuit.
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Expenses to Track for Your Claim
Mesothelioma treatment costs can drastically impact your finances. Keeping track of the expenses you incur due to your mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment is important to receiving the settlement you deserve. If you are not sure whether or not to track a certain expense, a good rule of thumb is to consider if this expense would have been something you incurred otherwise.
Common expenses tracked by mesothelioma patients include:
- Travel expenses – This includes to and from medical providers for treatment, as well as temporary housing for that travel if your medical care is received far from your home.
- In-Home Care – If you have hired medically-relevant assistance such as a home health aide to assist you, this expense should be tracked.
- Health Insurance Costs & Medical Bills – Because your diagnosis requires medical care, tracking your health insurance premiums and medical care costs is important. If you have a loss of medical insurance coverage through losing your job or financial issues, the costs may increase due to factors evaluated in your health and your preexisting mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Complementary Therapies – To help with some of your symptoms, you may choose to seek out complementary therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture. Though these are recognized by the National Cancer Institute to have a place in cancer treatment, your insurance company may not cover the costs of your treatment.
Step 3: Filing a Claim
Can I File a Claim By Myself?
Asbestos exposure claimants can file with asbestos trust funds on their own, but it can be risky. Among the many risks, errors and omissions in filing claims can significantly diminish or completely prevent you from receiving the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
One way to help ensure that your claim helps you recover appropriate financial compensation for your injuries is to speak with an experienced legal team that specializes in this type of claims.
Should I File an Expedited Review 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).
Benefits of Working With a Mesothelioma Lawyer
Benefits of choosing to hire a mesothelioma lawyer include knowledge of the process, specific products or brands that led to asbestos exposure, access to employment records to prove that you worked for the company you are filing the claim against, and resources to find people to corroborate when and where your exposure took place.
Many asbestos claimants gain peace of mind in this time-consuming and complex process by knowing their claim is in the hands of lawyers who know what it takes to get you the compensation you deserve. If you are working with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer, reviewing their record of successful claims may be a great way to understand how they may help in your case.
Step 4: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.
Mesothelioma Claim Payment Sources
Because each company deals with its mesothelioma claims liabilities differently, there are several sources from which you may receive compensation from a successful mesothelioma claim.
Primary sources of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related payments include:
- The Company -Payment may be received directly from the company that was responsible for the asbestos exposure.
- Asbestos Trust Funds -A major force in the asbestos compensation space, many companies established asbestos trust funds to help them ensure that they are able to deal with their financial liability in asbestos exposure cases. Claims are processed based on specific criteria as laid out in the trust, and the trust exists to prolong the company’s ability to compensate asbestos victims for their injuries.
Supplemental Financial Assistance & Community Support
Beyond primary mesothelioma claim compensation, there are additional ways to seek financial assistance to help you. Depending on the program, you can receive financial and other assistance in a few weeks to a few months.
Below are a few examples:
- Disability Compensation -If you are unable to work due to your illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits or Long-Term Disability Insurance.
- Medicare or Medicaid -If you are a senior citizen, have a qualifying disability, and/or have a limited income, you may be able to receive health insurance coverage through these programs.
- Filing a VA Claim -If your exposure was a result of your service in the U.S. military or other armed forces, you may be eligible to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Though the claims process may be lengthy and complicated, a VA-accredited claims agent may be able to help you navigate this process.
- Community Support -Organizations may offer financial assistance to help pay for the associated costs of treatment that are not covered by insurance such as travel, food, and where to stay. Many of these groups also help with non-financial assistance as well, so you may want to check with your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or other cancer support groups to understand the support available to you and your loved ones.
Considering Your Claim Options?
The asbestos trust fund claims process can be extremely complicated, time-consuming, and stressful. From gathering all of the necessary documents to actually filing your claim, deciding how to proceed in this situation is a big step, so consider your actions carefully. Often, finding someone who understands your situation and how to get you the compensation you deserve can help ease some of that burden and guide you through the process. That’s why many people who have been injured based on their asbestos exposure choose to consult with experienced mesothelioma lawyers, who understand what you’re going through and what it takes to get you compensation you deserve.
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Reviewed by Daniel Wasserberg
Attorney and On-Site Legal Advocate
Daniel Wasserberg was a New York metropolitan area “Super Lawyer Rising Star” from 2013 to 2018 (attorneys under age 40), and a Super Lawyer in 2019. In 2017, Daniel was named a “Top 100 Civil Litigator” by the National Trial Lawyers organization. This recognition is rarely awarded to attorneys under the age of 40. Daniel is proud to call himself a Trial Lawyer, and is often asked to speak at gatherings of the nation’s leading attorneys, from both sides of the bar.