01. Asbestos Class Actions
What Is a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit?
A mesothelioma class action is a type of lawsuit where several people sue the same asbestos companies. The people bringing the lawsuit represent a larger group with similar injuries. The larger group is called a “class” and generally consists of dozens or hundreds of people.
People with mesothelioma might be able to file a class action lawsuit. They might also receive notifications that they are part of the larger class that other people have brought a lawsuit on behalf of. Class members can choose to opt out of the action if they wish.
Today, it is uncommon for asbestos victims to file this type of lawsuit.
What Is a Mass Tort?
A mass tort is an act that injures a large number of people, like explosions, plane crashes and exposure to asbestos. In fact, asbestos exposure is the longest-running mass tort in United States history. Class actions are sometimes a legal option for mass tort victims.
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.
Understanding Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) for Asbestos Cases
Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a method of grouping cases for pretrial matters only. Examples of pretrial matters include exchanging evidence and motions to dismiss the case. An MDL court then transfers the individual cases back to their original courts for trial. Compare this to class actions, where a court handles a class’s case in one lawsuit from filing through trial.
In 1991, MDL 875 was created to handle all asbestos lawsuits filed in federal courts. Over the years, the MDL court has taken on fewer and fewer cases. Filing asbestos lawsuits in state courts has become more popular.
Class actions and MDL share many similarities. Both involve a group of people with similar injuries. Both use consolidation for more efficient and convenient litigation. But the two types of legal action have important differences.
Elements of Class Action
- Injured parties file as a group, or “class”
- High standard for similarity of injuries among class members
- Consolidation of all proceedings into one case
- Ruling decides all class members’ cases against the asbestos companies
Elements of Multidistrict Litigation
- Injured parties file their cases individually
- Lower standard for similarity of injuries among group members
- Consolidation of pretrial proceedings into one case
- Ruling decides cases for parties named in the lawsuit
02. Class Action Lawsuits for Mesothelioma
Are Class Action Lawsuits an Option for Mesothelioma Victims?
Class action mesothelioma lawsuits have become rare to nonexistent. A series of cases more or less concluded that asbestos class actions are not viable.
Mesothelioma patients and family members can talk to asbestos attorneys to explore other options.
Can You Still File a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit Today?
Mesothelioma class actions lawsuits are rare today. Courts think that people with asbestos diseases are poor candidates for class actions. Asbestos victims have other legal options, including individual lawsuits and trust fund claims.
Courts are hesitant to decide asbestos liability in class action lawsuits for several reasons, including:
- Asbestos victims’ injuries often differ in the type of mesothelioma and exposure history. This makes it hard to find people who can represent an entire class.
- The interests of class members who have an asbestos-related disease and those who may develop one are difficult to balance. Compare this to an explosion, where there are no future victims to consider.
While asbestos victims may not be eligible for class actions, other compensation options may be available.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney can help individuals explore other options.
History and Examples of Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits
The history of class action cases helped shape the current state of asbestos litigation. A brief timeline of asbestos class actions includes:
- In 1985, a judge allowed the first asbestos class action. The class consisted of about 800 asbestos claims pending in court in Texas. The lawsuit settled for $137 million.
- In 1999, a court overturned a class action that a jury decided in favor of approximately 3,000 asbestos workers. The class members received the initial jury award in 1986. But by the time the appeals process finished, asbestos class actions had already fallen out of favor.
After their initial successes, courts decided that class actions are a bad fit for asbestos litigation.
Why Asbestos Exposure Class Actions Are Uncommon Today
An influential case called Georgine v. Amchem Products outlined the problems with asbestos class actions. The parties in this case came to an initial settlement agreement to compensate any present and future asbestos victims. This agreement had the potential to settle the claims of up to two million people.
The Supreme Court rejected the settlement, citing several reasons for its decision:
- Class actions would unfairly settle on behalf of people not yet diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness.
- Current and future victims of asbestos exposure have a conflict of interest. The former will want generous payouts. The latter will want enough funding for future injuries.
- Various asbestos diseases and asbestos exposure histories are too different for class consolidation.
After this case, courts are unlikely to allow mesothelioma class actions.
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. Joining a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit
Should You Join an Asbestos Class Action Lawsuit?
Asbestos class actions rarely, if ever, make it past the initial stage where a judge approves the class. Filing or joining a class action may therefore be a waste of time and could delay compensation. Individual lawsuits provide much better chances for mesothelioma compensation. Asbestos victims asked to join a class action brought by other victims can opt out and pursue individual legal actions.
An asbestos lawyer can help individuals explore their options. Speaking with a lawyer soon after a mesothelioma diagnosis or death can help avoid missing any filing deadlines. Each state has deadlines for filing lawsuits outlined in laws called statutes of limitations. The amount of time to file a lawsuit may vary by lawsuit type. A lawyer can handle filing a case and all other aspects of the legal process.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits
It is rare for asbestos class actions to make it past the initial approval stage. However, they are not illegal. In theory, such a case can exist. Asbestos victims should consider the pros and cons of class action lawsuits.
- Possible efficiency: A class action may be an efficient way to handle similar asbestos cases. But the variety of injuries and work histories among asbestos victims makes class approval unlikely.
- Possible jury advantage: Juries may favor asbestos victims when made aware of a group of people harmed by a company.
- Lost chance at personal representation: If the jury decides in favor of an asbestos company, all members of a class lose. This includes class members not named in a lawsuit.
- Lower compensation: Compensation for individual actions is generally higher than awards divided among class members.
Mesothelioma patients and their loved ones can talk to a lawyer if asked to join a class action. A lawyer can explain legal options, including the option to opt out of a class action to preserve the right to file an individual lawsuit.
Receiving a Settlement From a Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuit
It is hard to determine average compensation for a mesothelioma class action. This is because this type of case has been almost entirely unsuccessful in the court system. For individual mesothelioma lawsuits, settlements average more than $1 million. Trial verdict awards average over $2 million.
In theory, a court may divide a class action jury award equally among asbestos victims. They may also distribute an award in proportion to individual losses. Looking at non-asbestos class action cases, payouts are often less than those from individual lawsuits.
How to File a Class Action Lawsuit for Mesothelioma
The first step to file a mesothelioma class action lawsuit is to speak to an attorney. An attorney can help decide if a class action is the best option for a person’s mesothelioma case. If a person decides to go forward with a class action, they can file the lawsuit with other victims with similar injuries. Then, a judge must certify the class using a set of standards, including class size and similarity of injuries.
Standard for Class Action Certification
- Class size: A judge is unlikely to certify classes with fewer than several dozen people. A judge may also deny certification if they cannot accurately determine the size of a class. For example, if victims are likely to appear in the future it may be hard to determine class size.
- Similarity of injuries: A judge is unlikely to certify a class with injuries that vary in type and severity. Too much variety makes it difficult to find a person to represent a group of victims.
Applying the Standard to Asbestos Cases
- Class size too difficult to determine: The long latency period of asbestos diseases makes class size difficult to determine. Even today, people continue to develop asbestos diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
- Injuries and work histories too different: Significant differences in injury severity and work histories exist among mesothelioma cancer patients.
A class action cannot move past the initial stages of a lawsuit without this certification. 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
The general class action lawsuit process involves the following steps:
- Step 1: People claiming to represent a class of asbestos victims file a lawsuit.
- Step 2: A judge certifies the class, allowing the case to move forward.
- 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. It may result in a settlement or jury verdict.
- Step 5: Any financial compensation is divided up among all class members, not just the class representatives.
Today, it is uncommon for judges to certify classes of asbestos victims. Individual mesothelioma lawsuits are more viable. An individual lawsuit may result in compensation from a mesothelioma settlement or trial verdict.
04. Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Advantages of Filing an Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuit
Most mesothelioma lawsuits are filed individually, not as class actions. Advantages to filing an individual asbestos lawsuit include:
- Having a dedicated legal team: An individual lawsuit’s legal team is dedicated to one case. A mesothelioma class action involves managing a group of interested parties.
- Making the decision to settle: In individual cases, the asbestos victim alone decides whether to settle a case. In class actions, a settlement offer may need the approval of multiple injured parties.
- Presenting a personalized case: Individual lawsuits are tailored to the specific facts of the victim’s injury and history of asbestos exposure.
- Receiving higher compensation: In general, individual lawsuits result in higher compensation than class actions.
The two main types of individual mesothelioma legal options are personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
Individual mesothelioma patients may file personal injury lawsuits. They file them against asbestos manufacturers and other companies responsible for exposure.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Family members of mesothelioma patients may file wrongful death lawsuits. These lawsuits are filed after a patient dies from mesothelioma.
Successful individual lawsuits may result in either a trial verdict or a settlement. The average mesothelioma lawsuit settlement amount 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 provide financial security. They can help patients and family members pay medical expenses and cover lost wages.
05. Other Legal Options
Other Legal Options for Mesothelioma Victims
Asbestos victims may seek compensation from sources in addition to class actions and individual lawsuits. Other options may include asbestos bankruptcy trust fund claims and veterans benefits claims. Victims may also qualify for workers’ compensation. A lawyer can help figure out eligibility to file any of these mesothelioma claims.
Asbestos victims can reach out to mesothelioma law firms to explore their options. Top firms offer free case evaluations for mesothelioma patients and their families. If, after the free consultation, a victim decides to hire the firm, their lawyers can handle the process of filing any claims.
06. Common Questions
Common Questions About Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuits
What is the average settlement for a mesothelioma class action?
- It is difficult to determine the average settlement for mesothelioma class actions. This is because these lawsuits are rarely successful. The average settlement for non-class action mesothelioma lawsuits is between $1 million and $1.4 million. The average 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. But individual lawsuits have resulted in large settlements and verdicts. One of the largest verdicts for a mesothelioma case was $250 million. The case later settled for a lower amount. It is not uncommon for verdicts in individual lawsuits to exceed $10 million.
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. People can talk to their lawyers about what may be taxable in specific cases.
Are mesothelioma cases usually class action lawsuits?
- It is uncommon to file a mesothelioma lawsuit as a class action. Courts have decided that asbestos lawsuits are poor candidates for class action. Asbestos victims may seek compensation through individual lawsuits or mesothelioma claims. An asbestos lawyer can explain compensation options based on a person’s case.
Why are mesothelioma class action lawsuits uncommon?
- Mesothelioma class action lawsuits are rare because it is difficult for asbestos victims to represent a large group. Differences in injury severity and work histories among asbestos victims make it hard to decide many cases together. It is also hard to weigh the interests of current mesothelioma patients against future patients.