Compensation Settlements for Mesothelioma

Summary

Asbestos exposure-related disease litigation is the American legal system’s longest running tort, and there’s no end in sight. Torts are legal processes seeking compensation for damage caused by wrongful acts. Thousands of new asbestos exposure damage claims are filed yearly. That includes lawsuits against negligent manufacturers and suppliers of products with asbestos-containing materials as well as compensation claims with bankruptcy trust funds.

These asbestos case legal actions have a common goal—to obtain fair and adequate compensation for innocent victims of asbestos-related illness brought on by no fault of their own. Successful claims properly compensate ill people for medical expenses and lost income as well as personal injury damages and punitive awards.

Some compensation claims are decided by trial verdicts or by fixed schedules administered by trustees. Others rely on compensation set out by government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs for military veterans or workers compensation boards for civilians. However, many times the best outcome for asbestos injury claimants is reaching a legally negotiated settlement.

Legal Litigation and Compensation Settlements

MJN Brief

Asbestos-related cases have different compensation courses. Each is a legal or paralegal process in place to pay people exposed to asbestos hazards in workplaces. It also includes those who experienced secondary asbestos exposure in their homes or other locations.

The key element in proving asbestos exposure claims is that the plaintiff suffered health risks after unknowingly inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. Supporting these claims is evidence that the defendant acted in an irresponsible, neglectful or intentionally culpable way.

Courses for asbestos-related health injury compensation include:

  • Workers Compensation Claims: State-run workers compensation boards and insurance programs are not legal litigations. Rather, they’re administrative processes designed to assist with compensation payments and related costs including retraining. No parties are held liable or responsible in insurance-type claims.
  • Military Compensation: The Department of Veterans Affairs looks after American veterans who claim compensation for asbestos exposure injuries while serving in the military branches. Payments aren’t litigated in VA compensation claims and no one is held accountable. Court precedents prevent plaintiffs from suing the American government.
  • Bankruptcy Trust Funds: Many negligent asbestos producing companies filed for bankruptcy protection after asbestos injury lawsuits started filling the courts in the later part of the twentieth century. Some restructured by establishing bankruptcy trust funds to compensate present and future claimants who developed diseases related to their asbestos products. Filing a bankruptcy trust claim is a legal action. Compensation is often decided on fixed schedules rather than individual case facts.
  • Jury Trials and Verdicts: Taking an asbestos-related injury lawsuit through a jury trial and asking the jurors to decide liability is a long and expensive process. It’s also a risky venture for both plaintiff and defendant as there is no guaranteed outcome. If a jury finds the defendant not liable, the case is dismissed leaving the plaintiff with no compensation and holding the bill for legal expenses. On the other hand, juries finding for the plaintiff often award the largest amounts of compensation that include punitive awards.
  • Negotiated Settlements: By far, the most common asbestos-case litigation outcome is through a settlement negotiated between lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant. Compensation amounts are usually smaller than jury awards, but the settlement approach is safer for both parties. The plaintiff is assured a reasonable amount of money to cover medical and legal expenses while the defendant is protected against excessive payouts that a jury may see fit. Negotiated settlements rarely require a defendant to admit liability, which shields them during other litigations.

Arriving at a Negotiated Settlement

Negotiating a settlement is a complex legal maneuver requiring a skilled legal team. Most judges encourage that counsel for plaintiffs and defendants cooperate in reaching a middle-of-the-road settlement which both sides find fair. This saves expensive public court time. It also speeds up the time-consuming legal process and lets both sides move on with other priorities.

To understand how an asbestos-case settlement works, it’s necessary to look at the entire tort litigation process. Each is a step requiring due diligence and documented proof of evidence.

Asbestos-case lawsuit litigations proceed this way:

  • Step 1: Lawyers work with aggrieved parties to research and document case histories. This takes in where asbestos exposure occurred, when it happened, the amount and type of exposure, the resulting injuries, the degree of manufacturer negligence, previous case precedents and assessing the value of compensation claims.
  • Step 2: Lawsuit claims are filed in a court having jurisdiction over the case. This depends on the state where exposure occurred, where the claimant resides and where the defendant’s business operated. Lawsuits can be filed by living claimants or brought on in unlawful death suits.
  • Step 3: This involves pretrial organization. Evidence is amassed and disclosed. Pretrial motions occur and the parties proceed to a discovery phase where evidence is presented and witnesses testify. No decision on liability or compensation is made. Each party’s case strength is tested.
  • Step 4: The trial phase is where decisions get made. All evidence is placed before a jury or, in some cases called a bench trial, a judge acts alone in deliberating outcome. The decision is binding and final including the compensation amount if ruled applicable. Appeals sometimes occur.

Negotiated settlements can happen anywhere along the four-step process. However, once a trial verdict is reached, settlements are no longer possible and the court decision stands. It’s a risky situation for both defendants and plaintiffs to let the court process decide their fate. Therefore, most litigations conclude with a negotiated settlement being reached in one of the steps. Sometimes, it’s on the courthouse steps right before starting a trial.

Negotiating a compensation settlement takes knowledge, patience and persistence. Civil litigation is a transparent process where all pertinent facts must be disclosed. That’s fundamental to the justice system and vital to reaching a fair settlement.

Some factors disclosed in the settlement process include:

  • Degree of Personal Injury: A main legal principle is if asbestos exposure caused impairment to the claimant. Merely being exposed to asbestos without developing an impairing disease is thin reason to seek compensation. Severe, life-threatening impairment like mesothelioma or lung cancer can result in large settlements.
  • Total Economic Loss: Medical expenses, lost income, spousal and child dependency, pain, suffering and even legal costs are calculated and form part of a final settlement amount.
  • Claimant Age: The claimant’s reasonable remaining life expectancy is an important factor. Settlement amounts are less where a claimant is in advanced years as opposed to still in and income-producing bracket where their disease symptoms will get worse.
  • Medical Causation: Personal lifestyle issues contribute to settlements. Smoking is a big factor as are pre-existing diseases that exacerbate asbestos-related illnesses.
  • Jurisdiction: Settlements vary according to legal jurisdictions. Some states lean towards higher compensation awards than other states. They also have different parameters and encouragement for parties to settle.

Legal Representation for Compensation Settlements

Negotiating an asbestos case settlement requires experienced legal representation. A knowledgeable attorney familiar with evidence and precedents in their jurisdiction will negotiate the best possible settlement for their clients. Plaintiffs claiming asbestos-related disease compensation must be represented by competent counsel from a law firm specializing in asbestos exposure litigation.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. United States Government Accountability Office, Report to the Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, “Asbestos Injury Compensation - The Role and Administration of Asbestos Trusts” Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/assets/590/585380.pdf Accessed on December 24, 2017
  2. 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 24, 2017
  3. Manhattan Institute, “Asbestos Litigation - The Problem of Forum Shopping and Procedural Innovations, and Potential Solutions”, Retrieved from http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/Manh-Inst-talk.pdf Accessed on December 24, 2017
  4. Pleural Mesothelioma Center, “Financial Compensation”, Retrieved from https://www.pleuralmesothelioma.com/lawyer/compensation.php Accessed on December 24, 2017
  5. 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 24, 2017
  6. Case Valuation Matrix pdf, Retrieved from http://www.wastrust.com/sites/default/files/documents/case_valuation_matrix.pdf Accessed on December 24, 2017
  7. Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 18, Number 2—Spring 2004, “Asbestos and the Future of Mass Torts”, Retrieved from http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/asbestos-jep-final.pdf Accessed on December 24, 2017

Last modified: February 19, 2018