Hundreds of thousands of Americans developed life-threatening diseases directly attributed to asbestos exposure.
Many filed lawsuits and compensation claims against negligent asbestos product manufacturers and suppliers. Lawyers specializing in asbestos litigation successfully sought compensation for victims of asbestos-related diseases. One of their biggest legal challenges wasn’t proving the facts. It was determining fair and just compensation cases values.
It’s fair to say there’s no such thing as universal values for determining compensation in asbestos disease legal cases. It’s not possible to take individual factors and slot them into specific boxes where certain dollar amounts are fixed. There are too many variables involved in deciding fair outcomes. That makes for significant difficulty in determining compensation case values.
Difficulty in Determining Compensation Case Values
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
One of the first things a lawyer experienced in litigating cases involving asbestos exposure looks at is how to approach available compensation funds.
That’s done before any attempt at calculating the amount of compensation a client is legally entitled to.
It’s a horse-before-cart situation, and experienced counsel will look at these main compensation sources:
- Lawsuit Settlements: Asbestos-caused illness compensation awards often come after filing a lawsuit against defendants like negligent asbestos product manufacturers and suppliers. Occasionally, they sue employers who negligently exposed workers to workplace asbestos hazards or failed to adequately protect them from asbestos exposure. Asbestos-related lawsuits don’t usually run to a full-length trail. Plaintiffs and defendants agree on a settlement compensation amount before trial or part way through. Settlement compensation amounts may be lower than initially claimed by the plaintiff but there is a guarantee of payment and the defendant’s risk of high penalty is lowered.
- Jury Verdicts: Asbestos cases going through a complete trial result in a jury reaching a verdict on liability. If the jury decides a defendant is not liable, the case is dismissed and no compensation is awarded. The plaintiff is out of luck. However, if a jury finds in the plaintiff’s favor, they’ll also be asked to establish a fair compensation value. Historically, jury verdicts are the highest compensation values and they reach in the millions of dollars for mesothelioma cases. Juries also tend to be sympathetic to the victim and award high personal injury values as well as punitive costs on the defendant.
- Bankruptcy Trust Funds: Today, bankruptcy trust funds are the most common compensation sources. This doesn’t mean the defendant asbestos supplier has gone broke and run out of money. It means there’s been a long history of litigation against a particular company that took a legal strategy to seek bankruptcy protection while they restructured. Courts ordered the company to set aside compensation funds to cover current and future compensation claims that are administered by a third party trustee. Bankruptcy trust funds tend to be lower than verdicts and settlements, but they have quicker access and follow fair schedules.
- Military and Workers Compensation: Military veterans may be compensated for asbestos-related disease costs and other financial support by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Various state administrations also provide workers compensation assistance in asbestos disease cases. These agencies generally pay lower case values than trust funds and lawsuit awards or settlements. However, they can be ongoing and guaranteed monthly compensation rather than one-time, lump-sum payments.
Assessing Individual Compensation Case Values
How individual compensation case values are assessed depends on the payment source. Each avenue considers the individual claimant’s situation and needs. The severity of injury, the degree of negligence and the amount of supporting costs are main factors. But, this is an ever-moving target. Historical figures of previous case awards come into play. However, current payment requirements don’t necessarily meet recorded precedents.
Consider these fluid factors:
- The costs of medical care often increase over time.For example, A 2017 study analyzed by the American Cancer Society showed that many cancer drug prices went up by 18-25% only a few years after they hit the market. The price of pemetrexed, which is used to treat mesothelioma, increased by 27% from 2004-2012. Case values need to extrapolate that future medical and support costs will continue rising. The claimant’s current age, life expectancy and likelihood their disease will advance need calculating.
- Income levels continually increase. Historic cases adjudicated on lower income levels when calculating lost wage compensation. Today’s annual incomes are higher and show no sign of increasing exponentially in future years.
- Defendants’ abilities to pay also changes. Some companies declare total bankruptcy and stop business. Others with healthy trust funds can accumulate wisely invested assets and have a greater money pool available in the future.
Setting these fluid influences aside, all compensation case value assessments take in certain baselines. Some case values depend on a fixed matrix that awards compensation based on a strict fee schedule with prescribed variables that add or subtract from total settlements. Other cases have compensation calculated on an individual case.
These are some of the factors going into determining compensation case values:
- Type of Disease: Higher compensation values occur with more serious asbestos-related diseases. Highest to lowest payments are for mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and then non-malignant diseases. Multi-million mesothelioma compensation cases are common whereas low-risk cases sometimes are only a few thousand dollars.
- Degree of Exposure: Cases of severe asbestos exposure usually command higher compensation value. This is especially true in gross negligence cases where defendants knowingly hid information that could have protected workers and prevented diseases.
- Claimant Age: Older claimants with less years remaining in life expectancy can expect smaller compensation awards. This follows a logical reasoning that will be less long-term expenses to support.
- Dependents: Claimants with dependents like spouses and younger children often receive higher compensation amounts.
- Medical Expenses: Previously expended, current and future medical expenses are calculated as part of an overall claim value.
- Jurisdiction: Most asbestos litigation is at the state level, not in federal jurisdiction. Certain states tend to approve greater claim value than others.
- Pre-existing Conditions: Contributing factors like pre-existing diseases affect claim values. Smoking is the chief issue in lung-related disease settlements.
Seeking Legal Representation in Compensation Claims
Determining appropriate compensation case values is not easy. Part of the problem is that few dependable figures are available to help set what current and future payments should be. Much of the historic information recorded on asbestos claim settlements is outdated or not available. Many asbestos settlement amounts were kept secret to protect defendants from being easy marks for mass claims.
The only consistency in predicting asbestos compensation case values is that severe cases like malignant mesothelioma will pay higher values than lesser cases like non-malignant pleural disorders. A key factor is whether the claimant was impaired by asbestos exposure and to what degree.
The only secure way to ensure just compensation awards is seeking legal representation. Law firms that specialize in asbestos-related litigation are current with compensation trends and figures. Asbestos litigation works on a compensation value fee percentage. There is no up-front retaining cost to a claimant and no monetary or legal risk attached.