Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits
Mesothelioma patients and their families have several legal options for collecting compensation from the asbestos companies that recklessly disregarded their health. In the past, class-action lawsuits were widely used for asbestos-disease compensation. Today, individual lawsuits have proven to be more beneficial for injured patients and their families.
Asbestos class action lawsuits gained traction in the 1960s when the public became aware of the dangers of asbestos. However, after years of legal proceedings, the U.S. courts now look unfavorably at class action asbestos lawsuits. While mesothelioma class action lawsuits still exist, they are not commonly used because they are typically not financially advantageous for the plaintiffs.
History of Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuits
Asbestos litigation began after thousands of workers and their families were sickened by exposure. By the 1980s, the number of lawsuits soared to 750,000.
Many lawsuits were filed in federal courts because the parties involved were located in a variety of states. Cases that had both the plaintiffs and defendants in the same state stayed in state court.
In an effort to stem the tide of litigation, federal authorities in 1991 consolidated federal asbestos cases in U.S. District Court for pretrial purposes. When the presiding judge failed to reach a global settlement in the Georgine v. Amchem Products asbestos case, a group of attorneys worked out a separate settlement for some plaintiffs.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme court struck down the $1.2 billion class-action settlement against Amchem Products because the plaintiffs’ claims were too varied. The class action lawsuit included plaintiffs who had developed asbestos-related diseases and other who had been exposed but not yet developed symptoms. The decision in this case, Amchem Products Inc. v. Windsor, has led to the direct decline in asbestos-related class action lawsuits being tried at the federal level.
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Filing an Individual Lawsuit
Since the Amchem decision, federal asbestos-disease lawsuits are handled as part of a multi-district litigation (MDL), which is a federal court proceeding that consolidates individual cases for pretrial purposes to save time and money.
The U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania oversees the mass tort, MDL No. 875, which has seen nearly 187,000 cases to date. Although mass torts are similar to class actions, mass torts treat each plaintiff’s case on its individual merits unlike class actions where plaintiffs file as one group with the same set of facts.
When filing an individual lawsuit mesothelioma victims have two options:
- Personal Injury: In the case of a personal injury lawsuit mesothelioma plaintiffs file a claim, typically against the manufacturer, that specific asbestos-contaminated products directly caused them to develop mesothelioma.
- Wrongful Death: In the case of a wrongful death lawsuit a victim’s family files for compensation, stating that the death of their loved one directly resulted from exposure to specific asbestos-contaminated products that led to them developing their terminal illness.
After the pre-trial court proceedings are completed, the cases are then sent back to the original jurisdictions for trial.
Individual vs. Class Action Lawsuits
The decision to file an individual lawsuit or to join a class-action mesothelioma lawsuit should be based on the distinctive facts of your case. Although mesothelioma class actions are rare, they offer specific benefits like:
- Convenience: Class action lawsuits are typically more efficient and cost-effective than individual lawsuits. Additionally, unlike individual lawsuits, expert witnesses (if necessary) will only need to appear once for the class action suit.
- Consistency: Since they all claims are filed collectively in a class action, these lawsuits can more effectively establish standards of criteria for similar cases, while individual lawsuits can leave wider gaps between results based on jurisdiction. Class action lawsuits also provide their filers with the same amount of compensation.
- Relief for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure: Workers exposed to asbestos at the same job site to the same asbestos-contaminated products have had success filing class-action lawsuits due to the similarity of their claims.
While class actions have their upsides, there are a number of limiting factors that may make it more difficult for victims to receive proper justice:
- Differing Circumstances: The fact that everyone’s mesothelioma diagnosis and disease progression can be varied, making them ineligible for a class action.
- Length of Trial: Due to the fact class actions require multiple parties to cooperate with one another, the process takes a long time. The trial phase doesn’t typically begin until years after the initial filing which means the process could potentially take years.
- Lower Compensation: Class actions typically provide less compensation to the victims filing the lawsuit. Mesothelioma victims deserve justice for their suffering in the form of substantial pay-outs.
Because of the broad and lasting effects of the Amchem decision, class actions face obstacles at the federal level that almost always outweigh the benefit of filing as a class action.
Filing a Mesothelioma Complaint:
In order for mesothelioma victims and their families to receive compensation, it is important they understand how to file their claims. A mesothelioma lawsuit has a specific step-by-step process, which includes:
- Filing a Written Complaint: A lawsuit starts as a written complaint, called a pleading, which is drafted by your attorney and filed in court. The pleading factually states the legal basis for the lawsuit, including specific details about the asbestos exposure and extent of disease. At this point, the patients and their families are considered plaintiffs, and the mesothelioma companies are defendants.
- Responses: Once the lawsuit has been filed and documented with the court clerk, each of the defendants receives a copy of the lawsuit. Most defendants deny the claims, argue the complaint is not valid or say the disease was caused by another company’s negligence.
- Discovery: During this, the longest phase of the pretrial proceedings, attorneys on both sides gather information to be used in trial. In some cases, the discovery phase can take months, but judges often hasten mesothelioma cases to ensure they are resolved quickly, particularly in the case of gravely ill patients. It is important to note plaintiffs are never left alone during this crucial step in filing an asbestos lawsuit. Your attorney will be involved in each step to ensure the process follows the letter of the law.
- Settlement: Before the case ever goes to trial, the defendant usually offers financial compensation in an effort to stop the legal proceedings. Defendants prefer mesothelioma lawsuit settlements because they avoid costly public trials and they provide a quick end to what could be a protracted legal proceeding. If an amicable settlement agreement is not reached, the trial goes forward.
- Trial: During the trial, evidence and testimony will be presented to either a judge or a jury, depending on the jurisdiction of the case. If the decision is ruled in favor of the plaintiff and there are no appeals, payments will begin within weeks of the trial.
- Appeal: Defendants have between 30 days and 90 days to file an appeal of the trial outcome. The appeal delays financial compensation, but defendants must post a bond that equals the trial award amount to guarantee compensation will be available immediately if the appeal is denied.
Get Started Filing Your Claim
The first step to an asbestos legal claim is choosing an experienced attorney who can successfully usher through the case. Mesothelioma attorneys understand every asbestos claim is different because the circumstances of each case vary.
Our network of attorneys has helped scores of asbestos victims determine their best path to financial compensation, whether it be through an individual lawsuit or through asbestos trust funds. Their experience and guidance will help you make a decision about your legal and financial options.
In addition to providing legal assistance, our services include Patient Advocates who connect patients with mesothelioma physicians and free medical treatment. Contact us today.
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- Labaton, Stephen. New York Times. “Overturning of $1.3 Billion Settlement With Victims of Asbestos Exposure Is Upheld.” Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/26/us/overturning-1.3-billion-settlement-with-victims-asbestos-exposure-upheld.html
- Dixon, Lloyd et al. Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts and Tort Compensation. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1104.html