Asbestos Lawsuit Trial Verdicts

Summary

Asbestos lawsuits are the longest-running mass tort in the American civil justice system. By definition, torts are wrongful acts or breach of individual rights leading to civil actions—breaches of contract notwithstanding. Litigating asbestos suits puts a massive load on United States court dockets. Asbestos-related injury lawsuits are complex legal proceedings. They need skillful preparation and presentation to reach successful trial verdicts.

Well-established figures show that approximately 95% of all lawsuits filed in American asbestos health claims don’t result in a court verdict.

That’s regardless if decisions are placed before a jury or a bench trial handled by a judge sitting alone. Almost all asbestos cases are settled privately after lengthy negotiations by lawyers representing the plaintiffs and defendants. Only a few matters end with a court-ordered verdict. That’s because these few individual cases have unique circumstances that can’t be settled out of court.

Verdicts are legally binding decisions made after evidence is placed before the court, then tested by way of cross-examination and motions reflecting current legal rulings and past precedents. This adversarial legal system has been honed over hundreds of years in American courts. Some states have minor technical variances in law application than others. Individual states have different statutes of limitations dictating a maximum period that a claim can be filed after the tort was recognized. Otherwise, the civil trial framework is universal across America including how asbestos-related torts are handled and how verdicts are reached.

Reaching Verdicts and the Civil Court Lawsuit Process

Reaching a verdict in civil court lawsuits is a time-consuming process. It can also be frustrating and even overwhelming, especially for people suffering from asbestos-related diseases. Time is not on these plaintiffs’ side. Neither is money as their medical and living expenses pile up.

It’s normal to take several years from start to finish in an asbestos suit. That can extend to five years or more from the time of filing a complaint to the final appeal. For most people suffering from asbestos-caused diseases, that’s far too long.

It’s also exhausting for their families as they follow this process:

  • Preparation: All civil cases start with the plaintiff preparing for the lawsuit. Lawyers work with clients and determine case facts such as the disease type, where asbestos exposure occurred, the duration or time length the plaintiff suffered exposure, the negligent party or defendant as well as the plaintiff’s prognosis for personal health.
  • Filing: Lawyers prepare a legal document called a complaint, which describes the case history and evidence along with specific grievances against the defendant. The complaint shows the filing jurisdiction has legal authority to hear the case and requests the court to seek relief through compensation or punitive damage awards. Formal copies of the complaint are served to the defendant.
  • Discovery: Both the plaintiff and defendant examine each other’s case through the discovery process. They discover what evidence exists and test it through pretrial motions. Witnesses are deposed under oath and cross-examined. Testimony is recorded and examined then weight to assess case strength. Lawyers often make settlement offers. If agreements can’t be privately reached, the case proceeds to trial.
  • Trial: Trials are usually the last resort for both parties. There is no guarantee of success for either side once a jury or judge begins hearing evidence. Settlements are sometimes made mid-trial but once a verdict is reached, settlements are no longer an option. Trial verdicts are binding and non-negotiable. If the defendant is found not liable, the case is dismissed and the plaintiff gets nothing. However, if the defendant is found responsible for the complaint, a second trial phase opens that determines compensation and possible punitive awards.
  • Appeal: The “loosing” party has verdict appeal options. These are normally limited to errors in law and procedure rather than findings of fact. Appeals are not automatic rights.  Appellate courts decide if case facts warrant court time and if the individual matter has an overall public interest that could affect other similar cases.
  • Compensation: Awards prescribed in asbestos-related lawsuit verdicts are ordered by the presiding court. They order defendants to pay within a prescribed period. Failure to do so results in contempt of court charges. Consequences for failing to pay are severe.

Settling Asbestos-Related Cases Prior to Verdicts

Court verdicts are legally binding on both parties. When a verdict is reached, a settlement is no longer possible and each side must do as the court directs. This outcome presents real risks for plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs could spend years of stressful anticipation only to come away empty-handed. Defendants also have risks. They could pay out far more than if they negotiated a settlement. They also would be found liable for wrongdoing, and this sets a precedent for other plaintiffs to follow suit.

Attorneys specializing in asbestos case litigation know full well the gamble of taking a complaint through a trial. They realize no matter how well-prepared and how solid their case appears, once a verdict decision is put to a jury it’s out of their control That applies equally to plaintiffs and defendants. It’s far safer to carefully and respectfully negotiate a fair settlement.

MJN Brief

Settlements are private agreements, but they’re ultimately approved by the court. In essence, the defendant agrees to pay the plaintiff a sum of money for releasing the defendant from all liability.

Several factors influence when and what settlements are made:

  • Time Factor: Settlements are usually paid immediately where verdict orders take years to conclude.
  • Disease Progression: Some plaintiffs have aggressively advanced disease and would rather conclude the case while they still have life quality.
  • Evidence Strength: Discovery often finds weak evidence and it’s safer to settle than ask for a court verdict.
  • Compensation Value: Without exception, verdict awards are higher than settlement values. Some plaintiffs with strong cases may choose to refuse settlements and wait for a verdict. Others take a lesser amount and move on.
  • Avoiding Risk: Risk aversion is usually the deciding factor in waiving a verdict in favor of settling. Most parties choose to limit unpredictable verdict risk.
  • Punitive Damages: Some plaintiffs want the defendant punished for causing their illness. They refuse to settle and are willing to let a verdict decide what punitive action is appropriate.

Legal Representation for Asbestos Verdicts

Taking complex asbestos-disease lawsuits through a civil trial is challenging for even the most experienced lawyer. No one should consider being represented by an attorney or law firm not having significant experience in litigating asbestos-related cases. Lawyers who specialize in asbestos matters know how to proceed by establishing medical facts, history of asbestos exposure and the many case precedents that apply to a particular case.

Experienced lawyers also weigh the risks involved in seeking a court verdict. These legal specialists are skillful negotiators. They use their knowledge, resources and reputation to act in their client’s best interest. Obtaining fair compensation is an honorable goal. So is reassuring an ill plaintiff that they’re in the best legal hands.

View Author and Sources
Sources
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  2. Forbes Magazine, “Industry Upset With Risk Of Higher Verdicts In New York's Asbestos Court” Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/legalnewsline/2017/10/17/industry-upset-with-risk-of-higher-verdicts-in-new-yorks-asbestos-court/#1bc328974e9a Accessed on December 27 2017
  3. Mealey’s Litigation Report, “The Consolidation Effect: New York City Asbestos Verdicts, Due Process And Judicial Efficiency” Retrieved from https://www.bateswhite.com/media/publication/97_NYCAL%20Consolidation%20-%20Mealey_s%20Litigation%20Report.pdf Accessed on December 27 2017
  4. Lawyers and Setlements.com, “Asbestos Mesothelioma Settlements, Verdicts and Rulings” Retrieved from https://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/settlements/case/asbestos_mesothelioma/ Accessed on December 27 2017
  5. United States Courts, “Civil Cases”, Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/types-cases/civil-cases Accessed on December 27 2017
  6. 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 27 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 27 2017
  8. University of California, San Diego, CA, USA, National Bureau of Economic Research, “Mass Tort Litigation: Asbestos”, Retrieved from http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~miwhite/asbestos_springer.pdf Accessed on December 27 2017

  9. Mark A. Behrens, “What’s New in Asbestos Litigation?” Retrieved from http://www.casact.org/education/clrs/2009/handouts/st1behrens.pdf Accessed on December 27 2017

Last modified: February 19, 2018