Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits: What to Expect

If you think you have a legal claim for illness caused by asbestos exposure, here's what you need to know.

Updated by , J.D.

If you've been exposed to asbestos and been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be wondering if you can recover compensation via a lawsuit or legal claim. The answer is usually yes.

People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma after working with or around asbestos have an excellent chance of receiving "damages" either from the company that manufactured or installed the asbestos, or from an insurance company or asbestos victims' trust fund that has assumed liability for the company. This is true even if the original manufacturer has long since shut its doors or even gone bankrupt, thanks to the formation of asbestos victims' trust funds.

In this article, we'll discuss:

  • the statute of limitations deadline for filing an asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuit
  • the timeline of a typical asbestos case
  • key factors in assessing case value, and
  • tips on working with a lawyer

How Long Do I Have to Sue?

Mesothelioma tends to develop 10 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. State laws called statutes of limitations usually give people one to five years from the diagnosis or discovery of mesothelioma to file a lawsuit. But it's important to act promptly, because in a few states—including California, Louisiana, and Tennessee—the statue of limitations is only one year from diagnosis or discovery.

If a mesothelioma victim has already died, his or her spouse and other heirs typically have one to three years from the date of death to file a wrongful death action, which can also result in the recovery of significant damages.

If your asbestos exposure occurred while working jobs in more than one state, it's not always clear which state's statute of limitations covers your lawsuit. And if you developed mesothelioma or another type of cancer because of your use of a talc product like baby powder, the applicable deadline could be one that applies to product liability lawsuits. Talk to a lawyer for details on the statute of limitations that might apply to your potential case.

(Note that mesothelioma victims can't file or join in class action lawsuits because each person's medical history and prognosis is different, so mesothelioma cases must be filed individually.)

How Long Does an Asbestos or Mesothelioma Case Take?

Most asbestos cases are settled before they ever get to a jury (meaning the parties agree, outside of the court process, how much the mesothelioma claimant will receive). If you have gathered all the facts about your medical condition and employment history, and your lawyer runs an efficient office, and there is an easily identifiable payment source—such as an insurance company or an asbestos victims' trust fund—you could get your money less than a year from the date your lawsuit is filed.

In other situations, where the amount of money damages hinges on going to trial (or at least threatening to do so), it can take two years or more. Fortunately, the court rules in many states recognize that mesothelioma victims have a short life expectancy and as a result, fast track their lawsuits. Learn more about the timeline of an asbestos case.

How Much Can I Recover?

The dollar amount you are likely to receive as compensation for developing an asbestos-related illness is hard to estimate. Some cases result in settlements or jury awards in the millions, while similar claims settle for comparatively little. This is because over the years, many companies that manufactured or installed asbestos have closed down or gone bankrupt, which in turn has resulted in courts' requiring that large funds be set aside to compensate future victims. Some of these funds are still large enough to pay out all claims at full value, but others have been depleted to the point that far less is available, so settlement amounts must be rationed.

In addition to the size of the asbestos victims' compensation fund available for payment, each victim's particular mesothelioma illness and how it has affected their life is important to arriving at a cash settlement or jury verdict. The dollar amount of wages lost due to the illness, the cost of medical expenses, and, usually most important, the degree of the victim's "pain and suffering" are all key factors in putting a dollar value on a particular case.

A third factor in estimating how much money damages you'll recover is time. When cases are settled relatively quickly, the amount recovered tends to be significantly less than if your lawyer waits to present your case to a trial jury. But preparing and conducting a jury trial may take several years, whereas settlements can often be arranged in a year or less. For this reason, many seriously ill plaintiffs prefer a relatively quick settlement, and this is especially true when they learn that some lawyers charge substantially more when a case goes to trial, under their contingency fee agreement (more on this later).

All of this being said, many mesothelioma cases result in settlement or awards in the range of $1 million to $5 million or more, but when attorneys' fees, court costs, and medical expenses are subtracted, victims often end up with around two-thirds of these amounts.

Can I Get Disability Because of Mesothelioma?

The most common types of mesothelioma qualify for expedited disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Learn more about getting disability for cancers like mesothelioma.

How Do I Pay My Mesothelioma-Asbestos Lawyer?

Most mesothelioma cases are handled on a contingency fee arrangement. This means your lawyer charges you no fees up front, but instead receives a percentage of the eventual settlement or money damages you receive as the result of a court judgment, plus any expenses (for things like depositions, copying, and postage) that you agree to pay as part of a written fee agreement.

A typical contingency fee is 25% to 40% of money damages you recover. The exact amount depends on several factors, including whether a victims' trust fund places a cap on contingency fees (some allow no more than 25%), whether you settle out of court or go to trial, how much the lawyer wants your case (if the attorney believes your case is certain to win a big settlement or court judgment, you are in a much better bargaining position than if you are likely to receive a lower amount), and how hard you bargain before signing a fee agreement.

If you're thinking about getting legal help with your potential mesothelioma case, asking for an attorney referral from someone you know and trust can be a good way to get your search started. Learn more about how to hire a mesothelioma or asbestos lawyer and how a lawyer prepares an asbestos injury case. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to get connected with an attorney for free.

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