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.
Asbestos lawsuits are complex. No two victims have the same disease progression or outcome. By filing individual lawsuits, asbestos-cancer victims can present facts based on their own medical histories and experiences. Experienced mesothelioma attorneys help victims and their families file successful lawsuits for compensation for medical bills, living expenses and long-term security.
Filing a Class Action Lawsuit
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.
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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.
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. The first step to an asbestos legal claim is choosing an experienced attorney who can successful 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. 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.
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. Mesothelioma lawsuit pleadings are focused on the asbestos manufacturers that failed to post warnings about the dangers of exposure.
Attorneys file lawsuits in the clerk of court’s office, so plaintiffs do not need to be present. Each jurisdiction has different rules for filing pleadings.
At this point, the patients and their families are considered plaintiffs, and the mesothelioma companies are defendants.
Once the lawsuit has been filed and documented with the court clerk, each of the defendants receives a copy of the lawsuit.
Since asbestos-related diseases take decades to appear, the original companies may no longer be in business or may have filed bankruptcy. Attorneys who exclusively handle asbestos cases have many resources to track down the appropriate defendants to ensure they answer the legal claims.
Most defendants deny the claims, argue the complaint is not valid or say the disease was caused by another company’s negligence.
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.
As part of the discovery phase, attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants call depositions, which are question and answer sessions conducted under oath for the purposes of learning more information related to the lawsuit.
Depositions often take place in attorney’s offices and may be audio and video recorded. In preparing for a deposition, plaintiffs and their attorneys review questions in advance.
Typically several people are involved in depositions, including attorneys from both sides and a court reporter. Depositions, which can sometimes take several days, can be conducted in locations that are more convenient for the plaintiffs, including hospital rooms or home.
In addition to plaintiffs and their family members being deposed for the case, friends, co-workers and the plaintiff’s physicians may also undergo questioning. Executives and high-ranking officials involved in the defendant company will also be subject to depositions.
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.
Before the case ever goes to trial, the defendant usually offers financial compensation in an effort to stop the legal proceedings.
Defendants prefer settlements because they avoid costly public trials. A settlement also provides a quick end to what could be a protracted legal proceeding.
In reviewing a settlement offer, the plaintiff’s attorney can advise if the offer is reasonable or if the offer should be further negotiated. If an amicable settlement agreement is not reached, the trial goes forward.
The process of the trial largely depends on the jurisdiction. In some cases, it includes a jury that will make a final decision. In other cases, the judge makes the end determination.
During the trial, evidence and testimony will be presented. Often, the plaintiff does not have to appear in court. Instead, plaintiff attorneys keep plaintiffs informed of the events.
If the decision is ruled in favor of the plaintiff and there are no appeals, payments will begin within weeks of the trial.
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.
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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