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Plaintiff-Friendly Asbestos Laws: A Beginner’s Overview


Asbestos lawsuits follow a kind of script. Each has a beginning, middle and end. Each is governed by certain rules. Each involves an injured party (plaintiff) and alleged wrongdoer (defendant).

Differences between cases mainly come from two sources. The first is the specific facts of the case, like exposure history and financial loss. The second is the laws of the state where your lawyer files a lawsuit.

Most states adopt a similar set of laws affecting asbestos lawsuits. But some have passed laws that are more plaintiff-friendly than others. Below is a brief explainer of laws you and your attorney may consider when filing a lawsuit.

Which States Have a Reputation for Being Plaintiff-Friendly?

Illinois, New York and California are a few states with reputations for protecting the rights of asbestos plaintiffs. Other states like South Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania also have several plaintiff-friendly laws.

These laws affect different parts of an asbestos lawsuit, including:

  • Deadlines for filing
  • Speed with which the lawsuit moves from filing to trial
  • Types of harms you can receive compensation for
  • Types of potential defendants

Asbestos laws can get very technical. Mesothelioma lawyers dedicate their work to understanding the asbestos legal landscape. You can speak to one of these lawyers to learn how these laws may affect your specific case.

Why Don’t States Have the Same Asbestos Laws?

Laws reflect the goals and interests of the government, the economy and the populace. State asbestos laws are no different. Government agencies, industries and advocates all work to get their preferred laws passed.

For example, insurance lobbies have opposed bills allowing money for emotional pain caused by wrongful death. In Illinois, this type of bill became law over the insurance lobby’s objections. In New York, the governor echoed insurance lobby talking points in vetoing the state’s version of this bill.

The above example shows how lawmakers favor consumers or industry in different ways. Illinois ended up with a law reflecting the policies of asbestos advocacy groups. New York’s policy reflects industry interests.

What Types of Laws Do Plaintiff-Friendly States Have?

States that protect asbestos plaintiffs’ rights often pass similar laws. They may vary in their exact details. Plaintiff-friendly states may have one or more of the following types of laws:

  • Expedited lawsuit rules: Some states, like Illinois, speed up the process leading to trials for patients. These laws reflect the urgency that comes with a mesothelioma diagnosis. This can help a terminally ill plaintiff see their case resolved.
  • Medically accurate causation standards: A few states, like Oregon, acknowledge the fact that any level of exposure can cause an asbestos disease. Defendants who caused minor exposures can be held accountable at trial. States less friendly to plaintiffs require proof a defendant caused a high level of exposure for the plaintiff to succeed.
  • Pain and suffering damages: Most states allow families of deceased patients to receive money for emotional harms. Only Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Florida adopt a plaintiff-unfriendly prohibition on this type of compensation.
  • Statutes of limitations: All states have statutes of limitations. These laws outline deadlines for filing lawsuits. Deadlines are generally 1 to 3 years after diagnosis or death. But some states allow as many as 6 years for a plaintiff to file.

The list above is not exhaustive. Some states have passed other laws designed to protect plaintiffs. For example, New York has a law requiring defendants to disclose insurance policies. This law may make it harder for defendants to claim lack of insurance to cover any judgment against it.

What Types of Laws Do Plaintiff-Friendly States Not Have?

The laws a state does not pass or rejects are often as important as the ones it has on the books. Just as states can have pro-plaintiff laws, they can also have pro-defendant ones. The following types of laws make a state less friendly for plaintiffs:

  • “Bare metal” defense laws: These laws apply to situations where a company makes a product that requires the addition of asbestos components later on. Some states allow this type of company to claim this defense to avoid having to compensate its victims.
  • Trust transparency laws: A number of states have these types of laws. They require plaintiffs to investigate all potential trusts they may have a claim against. In Iowa, judges can throw out cases for failure to perform this investigation properly. In Missouri, a trust transparency bill has failed to become law several times.

The list above is not exhaustive. States and defendants have come up with many tools to protect asbestos companies’ interests.

Beyond Plaintiff-Friendliness: The Role of Asbestos Lawyers

Despite some states being more pro-defendant, plaintiffs still succeed in them. Ultimately, the quality of your legal representation has a big influence on case outcomes.

Asbestos attorneys are experts in building strong cases for their clients. They gather and present documents showing why a company caused exposure. They use court rules and procedures to get evidence from defendants. And they present their client’s case in a compelling way.

State laws are only one thing that affects the outcome of an asbestos lawsuit.