01. Asbestos Class Actions
What Is a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action is a lawsuit where several plaintiffs sue the same defendant. The plaintiffs represent a larger group of people with similar injuries. The larger group can consist of dozens or hundreds of people. This group is called a “class.” Class actions are often an option for victims of a mass tort. Asbestos exposure is an example of a mass tort. In fact, it is the longest-running mass tort in United States history. In theory, people with mesothelioma might be able to file a class action lawsuit.
However, mesothelioma class actions are currently rare to nonexistent. While not illegal, courts have more or less concluded asbestos is an inappropriate class action mass tort. Asbestos victims can instead pursue individual legal actions. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help victims explore options for financial compensation.
What Is a Mass Tort?
A mass tort is an act that injures a large number of people. Examples of mass torts besides asbestos exposure include explosions and plane crashes.
Mass torts are sometimes confused with class actions, but they are not the same. A mass tort is a type of act that injures a group of people. A class action is a type of lawsuit available to victims of a mass tort.
How to File a Class Action Lawsuit for Mesothelioma
There are several steps to filing a class action lawsuit. Mesothelioma class action lawsuits are unlikely to make it past the initial steps. Individual mesothelioma lawsuits are more viable. For example, mesothelioma patients may be able to file individual personal injury lawsuits. Patients’ loved ones may be able to file wrongful death lawsuits. Lawyers at experienced mesothelioma law firms can help people decide the best options to seek compensation.
To begin a class action, a group of plaintiffs files a lawsuit. These plaintiffs must claim to represent a class of mass tort victims. Then, a judge must certify the class using a set of standards, including:
- The size of the class: A judge is unlikely to certify a class smaller than several dozen people. A judge is also unlikely to certify if they cannot accurately determine the size of the class.
- The similarity of injuries among plaintiffs: A judge is unlikely to certify a class with injuries that vary in type and severity.
A class action cannot move past the initial filing stage without this certification. A series of cases in the 1990s made it difficult to certify asbestos classes.
These cases determined that it is too difficult to determine class size. Mesothelioma’s long latency period means class members could appear in the future. Compare this to a plane crash, where the class members are known right away. These cases also concluded that injuries among asbestos victims were too different to certify a class.
In the unlikely event that a judge certifies an asbestos class, the lawsuit can proceed. The case would follow a general process common for all class action lawsuits.
Class Action Lawsuit Steps
- Step 1: Plaintiffs claiming to represent a class of mass tort victims file a lawsuit.
- Step 2: A judge certifies the class.
- Step 3: The court identifies members of the class. It then notifies them about their inclusion in the lawsuit. In general, class members may opt out of the class action.
- Step 4: The case proceeds like a normal lawsuit.
- Step 5: Any damages from a settlement or verdict are divided up among all class members.
Asbestos class actions have fallen out of favor as a litigation strategy. This is because they are so unlikely to receive class certification from a judge. Individual mesothelioma lawsuits are more viable. An individual lawsuit may result in compensation from a mesothelioma settlement or trial verdict.
Understanding Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) for Asbestos Cases
A class action is a way of consolidating mass tort cases. This method has fallen out of favor in asbestos litigation. Another consolidation method is called multidistrict litigation (MDL). In MDL, a special court consolidates similar federal lawsuits for pretrial proceedings only. The individual cases in the MDL are then transferred to their original courts for trial.
MDL used to be more common in asbestos litigation. It is now more popular to file mesothelioma lawsuits in state courts. These courts are outside the asbestos MDL’s jurisdiction.
In 1991, MDL 875 was created to handle all federal asbestos cases. Over the years, the MDL has cleared its backlog and taken on fewer cases. Plaintiff attorneys saw the presiding judge as favoring defendants’ interests. Rather than be transferred to MDL 875, attorneys began filing in state courts more often. Different state courts will have different rules for MDL-style consolidation.
Class actions and MDL share many similarities. Both involve a group of plaintiffs with similar injuries. Both use consolidation for more efficient and convenient litigation. But there are important differences between the two types of legal action.
- Plaintiffs file as a group/“class”
- High standard for similarity of injuries among plaintiffs
- Consolidation of all proceedings into one case
- Ruling decides all class members’ cases against the defendant, including absent parties
- Plaintiffs file individually
- Lower standard for similarity of injuries among plaintiffs
- Consolidation of pretrial proceedings into one case
- Ruling decides cases for named parties only
Can You Still File a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit Today?
Mesothelioma class action lawsuits are rare today. Judges rarely certify asbestos classes for various reasons, including differences in injuries among victims. Mesothelioma victims have other options for compensation such as individual lawsuits and other asbestos claims.
There are several reasons judges are hesitant to allow mesothelioma class actions. For example, plaintiffs’ injuries often differ in type of mesothelioma and exposure history. This makes it hard to find a plaintiff who can represent an entire class. It is also difficult to balance the interests of class members who have mesothelioma with those who may develop it in the future.
This does not mean that there are no compensation options for individuals affected by mesothelioma. An experienced asbestos attorney can help individuals explore different options. Patients or their loved ones may be able to file individual lawsuits. They may also be able to seek compensation in other ways, such as by filing an asbestos trust fund claim.
History and Examples of Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits
The history of class action cases helped shape the current state of asbestos litigation. In 1985, a judge certified the first class action of asbestos workers’ claims. The class consisted of about 800 asbestos claims pending in the federal court in Texas. The lawsuit settled for $137 million.
The same judge later certified a class of approximately 3,000 asbestos workers. The jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs. But the case did not finish the appeals process until the late 1990s. By this time, asbestos class actions were already out of favor. In 1998, the court vacated the verdict.
Why Asbestos Class Actions Are Uncommon Today
In 1994, the case of Georgine v. Amchem Products signaled the beginning of the end for asbestos class actions. The case had the potential to settle the claims of up to two million people. The parties in this case negotiated a settlement. As part of the settlement, they created a payment schedule. They designed the schedule to compensate any present and future plaintiffs.
In 1997, the Supreme Court rejected the settlement. The Court cited several reasons for their decision, noting that:
- The injuries among the asbestos victims are too different for class certification.
- A class action would settle the claims of people not yet diagnosed with an asbestos disease.
- There is a conflict of interest between those diagnosed and those who may develop an asbestos-related disease. The former will want generous payouts. The latter will want enough funding for future injuries.
In 1999, the Supreme Court rejected a settlement similar to the one in Amchem Products. These two cases effectively ended efforts to litigate asbestos cases through class actions.
Going forward, individual lawsuits would dominate asbestos litigation.
03. Should You Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
Should You Join an Asbestos Class Action Lawsuit?
Asbestos class actions may not be worth pursuing because they rarely, if ever, make it past the initial certification stage. They have therefore fallen out of favor as a way to seek compensation for people affected by an asbestos-related disease.
A mesothelioma attorney can help individuals explore other legal options and find out what’s best for their case. They will know about any filing requirements, including any deadlines. Each state has statutes of limitations for asbestos lawsuits. The statute requires victims to file a lawsuit within a certain amount of time after a mesothelioma diagnosis or death.
Lawyers can handle the entire process of an individual asbestos case. After they file the case, they can see it through to negotiating settlements and litigating at trial.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits
It is rare for an asbestos class action to make it past the certification stage. However, they are not illegal. In theory, such a case can exist. Asbestos victims should consider the benefits and disadvantages of class action lawsuits.
Benefits of filing or joining a mesothelioma class action lawsuit include:
- Juries may be more likely to find a defendant liable when made aware of numerous victims of the same mass tort.
- It may be an efficient way to decide cases where asbestos victims have similar exposure histories and injury types. However, certification is difficult due to the variety of injuries among asbestos victims.
Disadvantages of filing a mesothelioma class action lawsuit include:
- If the jury decides in favor of the defendant, all plaintiffs in the class lose. This includes absent plaintiffs.
- Damages in individual actions are generally higher than those divided among plaintiffs in a class.
Mesothelioma patients should consult an experienced mesothelioma lawyer. A lawyer can help determine eligibility for different legal options. They can also help decide which options are best for an individual’s case.
Receiving a Settlement From a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit
Efforts to litigate mesothelioma claims through class action have been largely unsuccessful. As such, it is difficult to determine average mesothelioma class action compensation. For individual mesothelioma lawsuits, settlement averages exceed $1 million. Trial verdicts average over $2 million.
In theory, a court may distribute class action damages equally among plaintiffs. They may also distribute damages in proportion to individual losses. Looking at non-asbestos class action cases, damages are often less than a plaintiff would get in an individual lawsuit.
04. Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Advantages of Filing an Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuit
Most mesothelioma lawsuits are filed individually, not as a class. There are advantages to filing an individual asbestos lawsuit, including:
- Individual lawsuits can be tailored to the specific facts of the victim’s exposure history and injury.
- A legal team is dedicated to a single case. A mesothelioma class action involves managing a group of interested parties.
- A settlement agreement does not have to be negotiated among plaintiffs. Class actions may include hundreds of plaintiffs with conflicting interests.
- There is a likelihood of higher compensation than a class action.
There are two main types of individual mesothelioma actions: a personal injury lawsuit and a wrongful death lawsuit.
Surviving family members may file wrongful death lawsuits. They file them after a patient dies from mesothelioma.
Successful individual lawsuits may result in either a trial verdict or a settlement. The average mesothelioma settlement ranges from $1 million to $1.4 million. Mesothelioma verdicts average $2.4 million in compensation.
Individual lawsuits generally result in higher compensation than class action lawsuits. Payouts from individual lawsuits can help victims and their family members pay for medical expenses and lost wages.
05. Other Legal Options
Other Legal Options for Mesothelioma Victims
Asbestos victims may qualify to seek mesothelioma compensation in other ways besides lawsuits. Other options may include asbestos trust fund claims, VA claims and workers’ compensation.
- Various bankrupt asbestos companies have created asbestos trust funds. These help compensate current and future victims.
- Individuals can file a claim against the trust(s) of asbestos companies responsible for their exposure.
- Veterans may be able file a claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Veterans with mesothelioma must show asbestos exposure during military service and proof of diagnosis.
- Benefits are paid monthly.
- Workers exposed to asbestos on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation if they develop an asbestos-related disease.
- Workers’ compensation is more common for asbestosis and lung cancer than mesothelioma.
06. Common Questions
Common Questions About Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuits
What is the average settlement for a mesothelioma class action?
- Because mesothelioma class action lawsuits have been mostly unsuccessful, it is difficult to determine average settlement amounts. However, the average settlement for non-class action mesothelioma lawsuits is between $1 million and $1.4 million. The average mesothelioma verdict for non-class action cases is $2.4 million.
What is the highest mesothelioma class action settlement?
- Mesothelioma class action lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful. However, individual mesothelioma lawsuits have resulted in large settlements and verdicts. One of the largest verdicts for a mesothelioma case was $250 million. The plaintiff faced asbestos exposure at U.S. Steel and developed mesothelioma. The case was later settled at a lower amount.
Are asbestos class action lawsuit settlements taxable?
- In general, a mesothelioma settlement is not taxable. Under federal laws, compensation for treatment costs and diagnosis-related expenses is not taxable. However, compensation awarded for lost wages may be taxable. Plaintiffs can talk to their lawyers about what may be taxable for a specific case.