01. Defining Class Actions
Defining Mesothelioma Class Actions
The two primary types of mesothelioma lawsuits are personal injury claims filed by mesothelioma patients and wrongful death claims filed by surviving loved ones. The goal of these lawsuits is to gain financial assistance for travel costs, medical expenses and other fees that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis. In most cases, a mesothelioma settlement is reached between the claimant and the defendant. However, if you choose to pursue a lawsuit it can be handled in many different ways, including as a class action.
A class action is a civil suit in which multiple plaintiffs who have similar claims are represented by a single member of the class. For mesothelioma cases, plaintiffs are patients or surviving family members looking to file a mesothelioma lawsuit as a result of asbestos exposure. Trying many classes as part of a single class action lawsuit could potentially result in many advantages, such as:
- Using a more efficient and cost-effective legal process than individual cases.
- Expert witnesses don’t need to appear multiple times to give the same testimony.
- Award amounts are typically much higher as the defendant has much greater liability for multiple parties versus just one.
- Asbestos companies are more likely to have to change practices or admit fault than with smaller cases.
- Standards of criteria can be established, avoiding inconsistency when cases are tried separately.
Not all mesothelioma claims are best handled as part of a class action lawsuit. Connecting with a mesothelioma law firm can allow you to explore all of your legal options and find what’s best for your case. If you’re considering pursuing legal action, it’s important to do so right away as each state has a statute of limitations for asbestos claims, requiring you to file a certain amount of time after diagnosis or death.
Class Action vs. Mass Tort
Class action lawsuits are often confused with mass torts. There are many similarities between the two, including:
- A large group of individuals claiming the same, or very similar, damages.
- The same defendants who allegedly caused that harm being claimed.
- An administrative consolidation of legal actions into one lawsuit.
However, there are substantial differences between the two. During a mass tort, individual plaintiffs are required to establish facts related to their specific case. In asbestos mass torts, each asbestos victim is required to describe how and when they were exposed, as well as whether that specific exposure led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.
Multidistrict Litigation MDL 875
Mass torts are often handled through multidistrict litigation (MDL). In these cases, a special court is established within a specific district of the U.S. federal court system, and often one or more justices are designated to preside over all the cases for that MDL. The MDL system is overseen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which assigns MDL cases to a specific district to ensure efficient processing of claims. Each MDL is given a number to which cases are assigned as they are filed in their respective venues.
MDL 875 is the multidistrict litigation number for asbestos federal mass tort cases. Created in 1991, relevant lawsuits are transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA), which handles asbestos MDL cases. With nearly 187,000 cases having been transferred to EDPA between 2006 – 2015, MDL 875 is the largest and longest-lasting MDL in United States history.
In general, MDL 875 cases are segmented into one of two categories, including MARDOC (Maritime Docket) and land-based:
MDL 875 Case Segments
These cases were brought by Merchant Marines, their spouses or survivors who were exposed to asbestos during the course of their work on shipping vessels. MARDOC contains the largest group of cases that have been handled by MDL 875, and there are some special administrative procedures related solely to MARDOC cases.
These cases arose from asbestos exposure on land, such as at mines or other worksites, making up the second broad category. Although there are more land-based cases than MARDOC cases, they can vary significantly from one to another.
Note that only federal asbestos lawsuits are handled by MDL 875. Individual states may have their own setups for handling multiple lawsuits. For example, the New York City Asbestos Litigation Court (NYCAL) regularly chooses a number of cases to be included as part of an in extremis cluster, meaning that the plaintiffs in these cases are in critical medical condition. While these cases aren’t necessarily tried together, they are put on the same docket due to the extreme nature of the diseases from which the plaintiffs are suffering.
Class Action vs. Individual Lawsuit
Asbestos class action lawsuits group individuals together, while individual lawsuits treat each case separately. Mesothelioma lawyers with experience handling both types of lawsuits can provide you with advantages and disadvantages of each, while providing guidance as to which option might give you the most compensation.
Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Mesothelioma patients often have the opportunity to opt out of a class action and file an individual claim. You may choose this option if you believe you have a stronger case on your own rather than as part of a group, or if you feel that your case is significantly different than the others in your class action.
Class Action Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Typically, once a lawsuit is filed, it needs to be certified as a class action. Certification usually happens after all of the preliminary motions and discovery phase of a mesothelioma lawsuit. Once the suit is certified as a class action, potential members of the class will be identified and notified about their possible membership.
If you are notified that you may be a member of an asbestos-related class action, you should immediately contact a qualified asbestos attorney who has experience litigating such cases to determine your next best course of action.
02. History of Class Actions
Brief History of Asbestos Class Actions
As one of the longest-running subjects of mass litigation, asbestos lawsuits have been around for over a half-century. This section provides a brief history of the development of class action lawsuits related to asbestos.
Asbestos Class Action History
- 1960: An epidemiological study by Wagner, Sleggs and Marchand establishes the relationship between pleural mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, inciting a flurry of lawsuits against companies like Manville Corporation.
- 1966: The Supreme Court amends Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), thereby establishing the prerequisites of class action lawsuits, among other things.
- 1982: Johns-Manville Corporation files for bankruptcy after thousands of individuals brought lawsuits alleging harm from asbestos in its insulation and other products used as far back as World War II.
- 1987: The Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust begins operating; however, the first settlements are not paid until court approval in November 1988.
- 1991: Federal asbestos cases were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for pretrial purposes. Multidistrict asbestos litigation continues to be heard in this court, and is known as MDL 875.
- 1997: In Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc., the Third Circuit decertifies a settlement class because it did not meet the prerequisites delineated in Rule 23 of the FRCP, a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court.
- 2002: Halliburton, which bought Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) in 1998, paid $4.2 billion to settle about 374,000 claims for asbestos exposure due to KBR’s waste-burning activities in previous decades. A trust fund was also set up to handle future asbestos claims.