In the American civil litigation system, legal lawsuits or torts are the long-established processes of resolving non-criminal disputes between two or more parties. Nowhere has litigation been more prevalent than in the decades-old tort involving the asbestos exposure issue.
Thousands of plaintiffs filed asbestos-related lawsuits against defendants who produced harmful, health-hazardous asbestos-containing materials. Many plaintiffs won their claims and received substantial compensation.
Filing Asbestos Lawsuits
Plaintiffs have achieved success in filing asbestos lawsuits because they carefully followed the legal system requirements. In almost all cases, claimants retained competent attorneys from established law firms specializing in asbestos litigation. Navigating the legal waters flowing around the massive asbestos exposure problem is a complicated journey. It’s not a voyage any novice should attempt on their own.
However, a complainant represented by a law firm with experience in asbestos litigation can find the process relatively low-stress and uneventful. The goal is holding offending parties accountable who contributed to asbestos-caused diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural disorders. The important thing for plaintiffs is to understand how a legal lawsuit process works.
Asbestos Lawsuit Process
The civil lawsuit process is similar in every court across America. Some individual states have slightly different procedures than others, but the overall legal system has long been framed by thousands of precedent-setting cases at every court level. That includes the circuit appellate courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Every lawsuit starts in the same manner and proceeds along a predictable path until its outcome or closing.
These are the primary steps a civil lawsuit follows:
- Research: First, anyone considering pursuing legal action in an asbestos-related matter should retain an attorney from a law firm experienced in asbestos litigation. There are too many precedent-setting cases that frame how an asbestos lawsuit should unfold. Careful research must be done to evaluate if there are sufficient facts and evidentiary pieces to support a suit. Sometimes, other compensation avenues are more applicable than suits. That could be appealing to asbestos company bankruptcy trust funds or some form of administrative agency like a workers compensation insurance fund or help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for military veterans.
- Filing: The next step is for a plaintiff to file a complaint. That alleges wrongdoing or negligence resulting in harm to the complainant. This written document sets out exactly what the defendant did to cause damages and outlines what remedies are being sought to compensate the plaintiff. It also shows the court where the complaint files has legal authority or jurisdiction to hear the matter.
- Response: The defendant formally receives, or is served a copy of, the complaint document. Defendants have a set time frame to make a written response to the allegations by way of the court. Often, defendants describe flaws in the documents or mistakes in the legal process and apply to have the case dismissed before it goes further. These early steps are referred to as pleadings.
- Discovery: This can be a slow-moving process, but it’s one of the most important phases. It allows both plaintiffs and defendants to discover what evidence each other has. Documents, photos and historical records are produced and shared. Witnesses can be called who are deposed or give testimony under oath. This includes expert witnesses such as medical professionals who prove the plaintiff has a certain disease caused by asbestos exposure. It also involves witnesses who show that the defendant was in some way responsible through negligent or intentional acts.
- Pre-Trial: Strategies emerge in the pre-trial phase where both sides evaluate their position and what the best action course may be. Discovery allows a candid look at how strong the plaintiff’s evidence is or how solid the defendant can withstand trial rigors. Motions are made for the presiding judge to decide what evidence is admissible and what is disallowed. Both sides give careful thought to offering an out-of-court settlement. This minimizes both parties risk of an unfavorable trial verdict.
- Trial Process: Most asbestos-related cases never make it to trial. Figures indicate that approximately 95% of asbestos illness lawsuits reach a negotiated settlement rather than taking a chance in the courtroom. Those that do run a trial have the option of waving their constitutional right to have it heard by a jury. Often, they request a bench trial heard by a lone judge. Evidence is called and cross-examined. Finally, the case is decided by a combination of sound evidence and the application of law. A trial verdict finds either fault or non-liability on the defendant. If at fault, then the trial process assesses compensation for the plaintiff.
- Appeals: Both the defendant and plaintiff have appeal options if they disagree with the trial verdict or award. This isn’t a wide-open option, though. The appellant must show there was an error in law rather than a fact-finding fault. The appeal courts also have a preference whether to grant leave for appeal. They will deny an appeal unless there’s an apparently serious error or a case-setting precedent is at stake.
Alternatives to Asbestos-Related Lawsuits
There are a few good reasons why so few asbestos-related lawsuits rarely make it to trial. For one, these litigations are expensive, time-consuming and there’s no guarantee that either side will see success. Attorneys generally agree that it’s safer to share the risk and reduce the awards by reaching a negotiated settlement.
Attorneys are also well-aware of how damaging fault-finding can be for defendants. This opens future litigations by other plaintiffs to use the trial precedent as evidence in supporting new cases. Almost all settlements have a no-fault clause where the defendant has not admitted to wrongdoing. Additionally, details in many compensation awards are kept secret as part of the settlement agreement. This also protects the defendant’s confidentiality from established settlement information from reaching future complainants.
Although trial compensation decisions typically return the highest compensation awards to plaintiffs, settlements do reach some significant figures. This depends on the severity of the individual case, the jurisdiction and the type of disease suffered by the complainant.
Mesothelioma cases have the highest historic compensation amounts followed by lung cancer, asbestosis and then non-malignant diseases like pleural disorders.
Experienced asbestos case lawyers sometimes assess a plaintiff’s case to be weak, and the success of a lawsuit is unlikely. Then they’ll suggest an alternative approach rather than filing a lawsuit. They know their client’s best interest may be laying a claim to an asbestos business’ bankruptcy trust fund, provided there is one. They may also explore compensation from the VA or an insurance company.
Retaining a Law Firm Experienced in Asbestos Lawsuits
Filing any lawsuit is a major experience for any layperson. It’s especially difficult for someone facing the strain and concern when they’re suffering an asbestos-related disease. It can be even worse for families who lost a loved one resulting from prolonged asbestos exposure.
Personal injury and unlawful death claims are the two lawsuit categories applying to asbestos-related litigation’s. Each process has complicated legal issues that must be handled by a competent lawyer attached to an experienced asbestos-litigation law firm. There is too much at stake to trust otherwise.