After a mesothelioma victim learns of their diagnosis, and begins to come to grips with this life altering news, they typically seek the input of an attorney to deal with their right to obtain compensation. The legal process is often times lengthy and complex, which may be why there are a relatively limited number of legal specialists who deal with mesothelioma lawsuits. For those suffering from mesothelioma, compensation through the civil legal system is their only recourse, and while such a lawsuit provides no relief from the disease, it can provide the comfort and security of financial stability for a surviving family.
There are two components to the resolution of a mesothelioma lawsuit. Settlements can be obtained through the bankruptcy trusts which have been established over the course of the past ten years or more. The first bankrupt company, Johns-Manville, has been paying victims through their bankruptcy trust for fifteen years, while other bankrupt asbestos companies have only recently opened trusts which pay victims of their dangerous products. Still other companies, like Pittsburgh Corning Corporation and others, are presently attempting to develop bankruptcy trusts to pay victims. Since by definition these companies did not have sufficient funds to pay victims the full measure of their damage, the bankruptcy courts have permitted these companies to collect all of their assets, including revenue, insurance, stock, etc., into a single fund for the payment of victims’ claims. There are more claims than can be paid, so each victim receives only a percentage of the full value of their claim from each trust. For example, the Johns-Manville Trust may pay victims only ten percent (10%) of the full value of their claim.
There are presently more than twenty (20) bankruptcy trusts opened and operating and paying individuals who are suffering from asbestos-related conditions, including mesothelioma. The payments range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per company. Each company has their own requirements for payment, which may include medical experts’ reports, coming from board certified experts in pulmonology and pathology, specific proof by affidavit of product exposure, and a whole host of additional case specific information. Claim forms are at times voluminous, and procedures for obtaining payment can be complex and difficult to understand. Most trusts allow for a short form version of the claim, or a longer form which will permit individualized review, with a prospect of a greater recovery. The attorneys who specialize in these cases know the whereabouts of all of these trusts and how to file Proofs of Claim to document entitlement to compensation.
The second source of recovery is from asbestos product manufacturers that are not bankrupt. These companies must be identified by case specific product identification, often coming from the victim or the victim’s co-workers. The products must be identified by manufacturer name, location where the product was used, and the manner in which the victim was exposed. This product identification burden rests squarely on the shoulders of the victim. This is often the defense used by the asbestos companies to escape their obligation to compensate: that is, you were not exposed to our product. If product identification can be established, the tort system is the route by which claims are made, and compensation is obtained.
All fifty (50) states have their own unique asbestos laws, and lawyers specializing in handling these cases need to prepare the proper Complaints, do the discovery with respect to each of the companies involved, and prepare the case for Court. Many of the companies will agree to settlements, which may range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars per company. Other companies have chosen to defend these lawsuits to verdict. Therefore, the lawyers who are truly experts in this field will retain the necessary experts and prepare a mesothelioma victim’s case for trial. In Court, it is typically up to the jury to determine the measure of compensation. The victim and the victim’s attorney will need to prove specific product identification, medical causation, and the measure of damages. Depending on the law of the particular state, the damage award would then be divided among the various asbestos companies which the jury believes were responsible for the plaintiff’s illness. Once again, recoveries vary greatly, depending typically upon the age of the victim, the victim’s work and family history, the quality of product identification, and, of course, the jurisdiction where the case is being litigated.
Mesothelioma victims, and all victims of asbestos-related disease, are entitled to compensation. Despite the growing number of bankruptcies, compensation to asbestos victims is ongoing, and all asbestos disease victims should pursue their legal rights in the court system to obtain the compensation to which they are entitled. Victims should take their time to search for an attorney that specializes in this area of law, and that is in or near their home, so that they can establish a meaningful, trusting lawyer client relationship. The disease process is more than most individuals and families can bear. Obtaining compensation, with the assistance of competent and communicative counsel, requires patience, time and lots of attention to detail.