Do I Need a Lawyer For My Asbestos-Mesothelioma Case?

In some injury-related cases, representing yourself might be a reasonable move. Here's why an asbestos case is a different story.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Most personal injury claims arise from a one-time incident involving a handful of people, such as a car accident. An asbestos lawsuit, on the other hand, typically stems from years of exposure to asbestos-containing products ("ACP"), often from multiple manufacturers. These claims also require expert medical and scientific evidence, and they often include the potential liability of now-bankrupt entities.

It is especially important to have an attorney on your side if you're bringing an asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuit, even moreso if your health is deteriorating due to mesothelioma or some other asbestos-related illness. Read on to learn why an attorney's help is crucial to your case.

Understanding Exposure Evidence

If you have an asbestos-related disease, you have probably worked with many different ACPs (or lived with someone who has). For decades, asbestos was considered the "miracle mineral" and was used in many different products, including:

  • fireproofing
  • joint compound
  • pipe insulation
  • drywall
  • gaskets
  • valve packing
  • automobile brakes
  • clutch linings, and
  • cylinder head gaskets.

(Learn more about products containing asbestos.)

You may have been exposed to other ACPs without knowing about it. And if you've developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease and never worked with ACPs yourself, you may have no idea how you were exposed to asbestos. Chances are you can't remember the names of many products you've used over the decades, let alone the manufacturer or those products. This is a very different scenario from being rear-ended on a freeway.

Perhaps the most valuable asset an asbestos attorney can provide is information—collecting and putting together the kinds of documentation it would be impossible (or very expensive) for you to compile on your own. That includes identification of the types of asbestos-containing products you were likely exposed to, starting with a full investigation of your work history. If you were exposed to asbestos on the job and you worked on sites that employed many people, such as commercial building construction, refinery or industrial sites, or in the military, your attorney may already have information on what was used at the site. For example, you may not know what brand of fireproofing you scraped off to do other work, but someone else who worked on the building a few years earlier may remember what was sprayed on.

An attorney may also need to retain an expert, such as an industrial hygienist, to establish that a particular product contained asbestos or that the way you worked with it exposed you to asbestos. Finding and hiring experts is a major component of making an asbestos case.

Building the Medical Evidence

A crucial part of any personal injury lawsuit is showing that there was an injury in the first place, and that it was caused by the defendant. If you are bringing an asbestos case, you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. In the case of asbestosis, the diagnosis was probably made on the basis of X-rays or CT scans. If you have mesothelioma or some other form of cancer, a biopsy was probably done.

An asbestos attorney will retain medical experts who will review your medical records, radiology, or pathology reports to establish that your disease was in fact caused by exposure to asbestos. Medical experts will prepare reports about your condition and give testimony in depositions or at trial. This establishes causation, a key element of your case. Without expert medical testimony, a fair injury settlement is unlikely.

Accounting for Bankruptcy

Asbestos is dangerous from the time it is removed from the ground. Liability for an asbestos-related disease can extend to asbestos mining companies, distributors of raw asbestos fibers, and manufacturers of ACPs. Some mining companies and manufacturers of products which contain large amounts of asbestos have gone bankrupt, which means they can't be sued in a regular court. Many of the major manufacturers and suppliers of ACPs who have gone bankrupt have established asbestos claims bankruptcy trusts. These bankruptcy claims need the same medical and exposure evidence as in standard cases. Your attorney will make sure your bankruptcy claim is prepared properly and receives the right attention.

Litigation Strategy

In a civil case, there may be numerous defendants. Each defendant has the right to take your deposition, ask written questions about your exposure, and ask for medical proof. Many defendants will file motions for summary judgment.

An attorney will be able to coordinate a deposition, produce evidence, and respond to legal challenges for you. An attorney can also recognize when a defendant is asking for information it is not entitled to, when defendants have made procedural mistakes, and what a reasonable settlement offer looks like. In short, an experienced attorney will protect your rights at every stage in the proceedings, and will prevent the defendants from taking advantage of you. Get tips on finding and hiring the right asbestos lawyer for you and your case.

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