Legal Compensation for Asbestos Exposure Victims

Summary

Legal compensation is available to eligible individuals suffering from asbestos-related diseases. It has long been established that negligent asbestos companies are liable for the diagnosis of ill workers—victims of asbestos exposure. If you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you may have several options through which you can seek legal compensation.

History of Asbestos Legal Compensation

Asbestos litigation is the largest and lengthiest mass tort in American legal history. Torts are civil allegations of wrongful acts committed by a negligent party on an innocent and undeserving victim. Respectfully, they’re referred to as defendants and plaintiffs. Torts are legal processes seeking redress against the offending party.

They have three purposes:

  • Ensuring justice
  • Deterring others from committing similar acts
  • Providing compensation for victims’ costs

Asbestos torts began flooding American courtrooms in the early 1970s when asbestos-producing companies were no longer able to hide or withhold overwhelming evidence about asbestos-exposure health risks.

Many asbestos product suppliers and workplaces using asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were fully aware of how deadly long-term asbestos exposure was to anyone handling this once so-called miracle material.

Damages by Asbestos Exposure

It’s estimated over 27 million Americans suffered from asbestos exposure, that started in the early 1900s and continued until the mid-80s.

Hundreds of thousands of workers developed asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. It’s impossible to calculate how many U.S. citizens and military veterans died from asbestos exposure. But it’s safe to say many victims and suffering family members were never properly compensated for this terrible national tragedy.

Today, there are many court precedents set for establishing just compensation for asbestos exposure cases. Figures indicate plaintiffs have filed nearly a million asbestos-related compensation claims against over 8,000 different defendants.

Those figures are a moving target, as asbestos compensation claims keep piling in due to the unique structure of how asbestos-related diseases manifest. There’s an immense latency period from the time a person experienced asbestos exposure and the time a mesothelioma diagnosis is made. That can be anywhere from 10 to over 50 years.

Time delay from exposure to symptom onset depends on several factors. The amount and duration of exposure are primary reasons, as is the type of asbestos materials. Other factors include a person’s lifestyle like smoking and pre-existing disease.

Assessing Legal Compensation

There’s also no set consistency in how compensation claims are made, assessed and paid out. Too many variables come into play when deciding a plaintiff’s suffering and the degree of responsibility a defendant needs to be held accountable. Some of the deciding input for accessing legal compensation includes:

  • Health Damage: Illnesses stemming from asbestos exposure fall into two general severity groups according to health damage. Minor illnesses like benign tumors and non-life threatening tissue scarring are paid at a lower scale than serious and fatal cases of asbestosis, metastasized lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma.
  • Victim Costs: Courts and trust funds consider what costs a plaintiff has or will endure in asbestos-related disease cases. That can be existing medical costs for surgery and treatment. Compensation awards account for lost wages and personal suffering. They can also add in punitive damages against highly negligent defendants.
  • Other Payment Sources: Claim criteria also notes what other compensation forms a plaintiff has. That might be settlements from claims against other defendants for the same disease. It can be benefits from Medicare, Medicaid, disability awards and workers compensation. Veterans’ pensions are also assessed, especially where a plaintiff receives additional income for asbestos ailments.

Compensation claims adjusters often use a matrix approach for deciding payments. Years of experience in settling asbestos-related compensation files allow adjusters to form schedules of standard payouts depending on specific illness levels. Once a baseline is set, personal information is assessed and adjustments to fee schedules are made. It’s important to know many compensation awards are decided on a case-by-case basis. Severity is often the final factor.

Types of Legal Compensation

Legal compensation can be a complicated process. There’s no one-size-fits-all except for some adjustments relying solely on flat-rate schedules. Even those have variables when skillfully negotiated by legal counsel who specializes in litigating asbestos-disease cases. Much of it depends on where the money is coming from.

Compensation awards also depend on who is claiming compensation. That can be a living person who suffered workplace asbestos exposure, or it can be a relative claiming the wrongful death of a loved one. Compensation awards in deceased cases tend to be much lower than for living victims, that’s due to ongoing expenses for treatment in living patients.

Compensation awards originate from different legal processes. All have challenges and peculiarities making it hard for an untrained and uninformed claimant to navigate the systems alone. It’s imperative to have legal support and advice to determine what type of action to pursue.

Compensation money comes from these processes:

  • Lawsuits: Suing a negligent asbestos product manufacturer or supplier is the most complicated and time-consuming process. Compensation payments can be the highest by going through a trial and have a jury determine awards. It can also be the riskiest. There is no success guarantee when going to trial. However, the vast majority of lawsuits are settled out of court with the payments at a reduced rate than originally claimed.
  • Bankruptcy Funds: Bankruptcy for asbestos-producing companies doesn’t mean they’ve gone broke and run out of money. Historically, many of the largest asbestos companies saw this claim onslaught coming and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Courts allowed them to restructure and set aside dedicated trust funds that third parties administered. Filing an asbestos-related compensation claim is the safest and fastest way to get compensation, as long as the defendant has a trust fund.
  • Workers Compensation: Seeking compensation from workplace insurance is another option in asbestos health cases. That can be a state-run administration or private insurer. Normally, workers compensation only pays limited medical expenses and partial wages. There’s no provision for punitive and personal injury payment.
  • Veterans Affairs: The Department of Veterans Affairs looks after military service people who suffered diseases from asbestos exposure while serving their country. Like compensation insurers, VA deals with military-related expenses. They do not litigate against suppliers, and a veteran cannot sue their military branch for compensation.

Compensation Values and Payment Time

How much does a claimant get compensated and how long does it take to get paid? These are the two leading questions most people ask when exploring legal action in asbestos health-related cases. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer.

Compensation awards and timeframes depend on how severe a claimant’s case is and who they’re seeking payment from.

It also depends on the type of legal process. Lawsuits can take years to play out, and compensation awards are recorded in the millions of dollars. They can also fall flat on their face. Trust fund applications are the smoothest and quickest. Some claims get processed in a matter of months. Bankruptcy trusts pay anywhere from a thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. Government agencies and private insurers can be slow and miserly.

The most important thing any claimant can do when seeking asbestos-related compensation is retain an experienced, reputable law firm specializing in asbestos-related cases. All civil tort lawyers work on a contingency-based fee. There’s no up-front retainer and no financial risk to the claimant. Attorneys receive compensation for their time and expertise when claims are adjudicated. If they’re unsuccessful, they don’t get paid.

Asbestos victims must choose highly-experienced law firms specializing in asbestos-related litigation. Mesothelioma cases are a priority, and significant compensation payments have been negotiated for many clients. For more information on asbestos-related claims contact our Justice Support Team today.

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Sources
  1. Rand Institute for Civil Justice, “Asbestos Litigation Costs and Compensation”, Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/documented_briefings/2005/DB397.pdf Accessed on December 22, 2017
  2. Pleural Mesothelioma Center, “Financial Compensation”, Retrieved from https://www.pleuralmesothelioma.com/lawyer/compensation.php Accessed on December 22, 2017
  3. Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts “An Overview of Trust Structure and Activity with Detailed Reports on the Largest Trusts. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2010” Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2010/RAND_TR872.pdf
    Accessed on December 22, 2017
  4. United States Government Accountability Office, “Report to the Chairman, 2011, September. Asbestos Injury Compensation: The Role and Administration of Asbestos Trusts” Retrieved from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/585380.pdf
    Accessed on December 22, 2017

Last modified: February 19, 2018