Class Action Lawsuits

When seeking compensation for their condition, mesothelioma patients have several legal options to choose from, including, in rare cases, asbestos class-action lawsuits. Although these lawsuits were once the norm for asbestos exposure victims, the federal court has judged that such cases are too unique for a class action to be a fair approach. However, some state courts still allow class-action suits.

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What is a Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuit?

Class-action lawsuits are when many plaintiffs with similar cases form one suit against a similar defendant. One plaintiff is named as the lead to represent the entire group. Together, they ask the court to find the defendant liable. The class seeks money, which is equally split among the group.

Mesothelioma lawsuits are part of asbestos litigation. Lawsuits concerning mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and pleural disorders are the longest-running civil suits in American legal history.

There were so many asbestos-related lawsuits filed in the United States federal and state courts that the judicial system was unable to handle them individually.

Many plaintiffs banded together and had their claims heard jointly in class-action lawsuits.

For some time, class-action suits were seen as the most efficient way of dealing with hundreds of thousands of individual asbestos exposure claims. The theory was that since most plaintiffs had similar complaints against similar defendants, the outcome should be equally similar.

However, the one-size-fits-all approach to class-action lawsuits wasn’t suitable for mesothelioma cases. Too much money was involved to give blanket awards. Furthermore, the case facts differed from other asbestos litigations since mesothelioma was the worst medical outcome for someone exposed to asbestos. The consequences of mesothelioma were far more serious.

Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits Today

Mesothelioma class-action lawsuits were popular during the late twentieth century, but in 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled that class-action suits were inappropriate for mesothelioma cases.

Today, there are no mesothelioma class actions in U.S. Federal courts, and only occasionally are they heard at the state level. Now, most mesothelioma lawsuits are litigated as individual claims and settled according to their merit.

Legal Options for Mesothelioma Victims

Mesothelioma class action lawsuits are not the only options for victims of asbestos exposure. In most mesothelioma cases, individual lawsuits are filed. They can be filed as personal injury claims by mesothelioma patients or as wrongful death cases by loved ones.

Victims of mesothelioma can find compensation through several means:

Individual Asbestos Lawsuit

Individual lawsuits offer a much fairer approach to being compensated for this terrible disease. Every mesothelioma patient has their own story and case facts.

The case needs to be heard in a timely manner, which doesn’t suit the way class actions operate. In addition, the compensation amounts are higher in mesothelioma claims than in class action payments that must be evenly split.

Mesothelioma lawsuits are complex, but they don’t have to be lengthy or difficult for the individual plaintiff. Working with an experienced attorney who specializes in mesothelioma lawsuits is critical to getting proper compensation within a reasonable time.

Asbestos Trust Funds

In the 1960s, United States courts began hearing asbestos-related personal injury claims. Companies that made and sold asbestos products were ordered to pay billions of dollars in these lawsuits, forcing many into bankruptcy.

Asbestos trust funds were created by bankruptcy courts so that injured claimants or their family members could seek compensation.

By setting up asbestos trust funds, companies can continue to operate free from liability. This protects asbestos companies from lawsuits. Instead of suing the companies, current and future asbestos victims can access the money set aside in their trust funds.

Access Asbestos Trust Funds

If you have mesothelioma, you may be able to access asbestos trust funds. Over $30 Billion is currently available. Connect with us to see if you qualify.

See If You Qualify

VA Benefits

Benefits to veterans with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may be available.

Veterans may be able to receive money for:  

  • At-home care and nursing
  • Burial and memorial services
  • Aid for dependents
  • Disability based on the level of impairment
  • Medical treatment
  • Medications
  • Mobility and other medical equipment
  • Therapy and mental health counseling

Why Were Class-Action Lawsuits Pursued?

Class-action lawsuits are designed for large groups that have nearly identical claims. If 40 or more people have claims that are similar according to a court, a class-action may be formed.

If shown to be an efficient process for the justice system, a court will certify the case as a class-action lawsuit. To do so, courts follow Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).

Class-action lawsuits need to meet these requirements:

  • There are so many claimants that hearing individual cases is impractical for court administration
  • Law and fact questions are common throughout the class
  • Defendant claims and responses are the same for every plaintiff claim
  • Representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the class interest
  • Prosecuting separate actions would be inconsistent with the groups’ general interest
  • The overall group interest predominates over individual interests
  • The class-action approach is superior to other available fair and efficient adjudication methods
  • The likely difficulties of managing a class action suit are less than handling individual cases

When a court rules that a class-action lawsuit is in the overall best interest of the plaintiff group, the group is seen as one collective plaintiff. A lead is named and acts on behalf of the entire group.

The process follows standard civil law procedures including discovery, depositions, motion filing, settlement offers, trial, verdict, and appeals.

Why Are Class-Action Lawsuits No Longer Filed?

At the heart of FRCP Rule 23 is the idea that the class action representative must represent the interests of all the group members. These interests must be typical for everyone and not at conflict with any individual.

The courts eventually found that class actions were particularly unfair to mesothelioma claimants. Rarely did two plaintiffs have the same circumstance.

Mesothelioma differs from other asbestos-related diseases because of the time factor. Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease, and by the time most mesothelioma cases are diagnosed, there is little time left for a claimant to wait while a class action lawsuit drags out.

Two prominent court cases limited class-action suits in mesothelioma litigation: 

  • In Georgine v. Alchem Products Inc., the U.S. 3rd District Appeals Court ruled that mesothelioma cases did not fit the Rule 23 requirements for a global settlement because the individual claimant facts were too unique.
  • In Amchem Products Inc. v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that mesothelioma cases didn’t conform to the class-action criteria. They ruled that mesothelioma settlement amounts were too large and the claimants had too many varied interests to be tried en masse.

The courts found that mesothelioma cases should take into account each individual’s circumstance. They found that mesothelioma awards need to factor in how badly a person was affected by asbestos exposure.

History of Class-Action Lawsuits

  • 1930s: Scientists began to link health problems to asbestos exposure
  • 1973: Courts in the Borel v. Fibreboard ruled that asbestos manufacturers are liable to workers injured as a result of exposure
  • 1978: Internal documents from asbestos companies contain information that lawyers for the largest U.S. asbestos manufacturer (Johns-Manville) asked scientists to soften news that asbestos was linked to lung damage
  • 1988: The Manville Trust began making payouts to its victims
  • 1991: Federal asbestos claims were consolidated into U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania
  • 1997: Courts ruled in Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc. that the facts in this case were unique and did not meet class action criteria

Mesothelioma Lawsuits and Consolidation

The U.S. Superior Courts see mesothelioma lawsuits as serious and unique to each plaintiff. For nearly two decades, mesothelioma class-action claims have not been pursued at the federal level. However, that is not necessarily so in some state courts.

While class-action suits are few and far between, some states take a creative approach to hear the volume of asbestos-related claims on their overloaded dockets.

The process is called consolidation, where the court masses litigations into one process rather than having plaintiffs appeal as a class. However, many states refuse to take this road in mesothelioma claims because they understand how complex and unique this legal process is.

Discover More Mesothelioma Legal Options

Mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are not the only options for victims of asbestos exposure. In fact, most mesothelioma cases are individual lawsuits.

They can be filed as personal injury claims by mesothelioma patients or as wrongful death cases by loved ones. There may also be money in asbestos trust funds, while veterans may be entitled to benefits through the VA.

Mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are only one option, and not a common one, but knowing all of your options is important to get the money you are entitled to.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact the Mesothelioma Justice Network right away to get a free case review.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: September 15, 2019

View 8 Sources
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  3. Justia U.S. Supreme Court, “Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591 (1997)”, Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/521/591/case.html Accessed on 15 January 2018
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  7. Yale Law School, “Understanding the Asbestos Crisis – Class Action Lawsuits”, Retrieved from https://law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/white.pdf Accessed on 15 January 2018
  8. Mealey’s Litigation Report, “Asbestos – The Consolidation Effect”, Retrieved from https://www.bateswhite.com/media/publication/97_NYCAL%20Consolidation%20-%20Mealey_s%20Litigation%20Report.pdf Accessed on 15 January 2018
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