The Asbestos Lawsuit Process
The civil lawsuit process follows a few general steps. Some states have slightly different procedures than others, but every lawsuit starts in the same manner and proceeds along a predictable path until its outcome.
Before filing a lawsuit, careful research must be done to evaluate whether or not your suit has a chance of success. An experienced attorney will know how to uncover your history of asbestos exposure and determine the companies responsible for your illness.
Your lawyer will collect as much information as possible to build your case, including:
- Medical reports
- Employment history
- Employment documents
- Military service records
- Witness statements
After your lawyer has collected the information needed, they will file a written complaint. A complaint explains the wrongdoing or negligence that caused you to develop mesothelioma. This written document sets out exactly what the defendant did to expose you to asbestos and outlines what remedies you are seeking as compensation.
File within the Statute of Limitations
Each state has a specific timeframe in which people can take legal action, called a statute of limitations. You will need to file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out, which is typically 2-3 years after receiving a diagnosis. Your lawyer will ensure that you file your claim within this period.
The defendants formally receive a copy of the complaint document and have a specific period to respond. Often, defendants will point out flaws in the documents or mistakes in the legal process and apply to have the case dismissed before it proceeds. These early steps are referred to as pleadings.
During discovery, plaintiffs and defendants share the evidence they have to support their claims. Legal teams on either side collect documents, photos and historical records, and may call witnesses to give testimony under oath. Discovery can be a slow process, but the court may accelerate the process for mesothelioma patients.
5. Pre-Trial Settlements
Before the lawsuit goes to trial, the plaintiffs and defendants weigh the evidence against them and determine the best course of action. Each party carefully considers offering an out-of-court settlement. Most defendants and plaintiffs prefer a settlement because it eliminates the risk of an unfavorable trial verdict.
Upwards of 95% of asbestos lawsuits reach a negotiated settlement instead of going to trial.
6. Trial Process
Although most asbestos-related cases never make it to trial, some defendants or plaintiffs decide to take a chance in the courtroom. During an asbestos trial, all evidence is called and cross-examined, and the case is decided by a jury. If the trial verdict finds that the defendant is at fault, the jury will assess compensation for the plaintiff.
While you may be able to get more compensation by winning a trial than accepting a settlement, you receive nothing if you lose.
Both the defendant and the plaintiff can file an appeal if they disagree with the trial verdict or award. So, even if you win in a trial, the defendant’s legal team may be able to appeal the decision. The appeal courts will deny an appeal unless the defendant’s legal team can show that the trial was not conducted properly.
Settlement vs. Trial
Most mesothelioma lawsuits are settled out of court because it reduces the risk of losing the case for both sides. Going to trial can earn you a much higher payout if you win. However, if you lose your case, you’ll receive nothing.