How Much is My Asbestos Case Worth?

You may have heard of asbestos claimants getting million dollar verdicts, but will you?

By , J.D. UC Law San Francisco
Updated by David Goguen, J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 12/12/2023

If you're thinking about filing an asbestos lawsuit, one of your first questions is likely to be: "How much will I recover?"

Asbestos cases typically share certain similarities, but too many factors can influence a settlement—or, in the case of a trial, a jury verdict—to predict the dollar amount you might receive. Still, there are things to keep in mind when it comes to the potential value of an asbestos case.

Most Asbestos Cases Settle

In the context of personal injury law, a settlement is meant to:

  • compensate the effects of an injury or illness that was caused by someone else's negligent or intentional conduct, and
  • put an end to any ongoing or future legal action related to the injury or illness.

Most personal injury cases settle, That's true of asbestos claims too, a large majority of which will settle before a court trial takes place. Some will settle before a lawsuit is even filed in court. (Learn more about asbestos settlements.)

Key Factors Affecting Asbestos Case Value

Asbestos defendants, insurers, and fund administrators (more on these later) take a number of factors into account when negotiating a settlement with plaintiffs, and juries do the same when deliberating after a court trial. These factors include:

  • the type of asbestos-related illness suffered by the plaintiff
  • the nature and extent of the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos
  • the credibility of the evidence, and
  • the defendant's financial status or the amount of compensation available in the fund.

But the value of an asbestos case (either at settlement or at trial) is most often based on the plaintiff's economic and non-economic losses, and the defendant's share of responsibility for those losses ("damages" in legalese).

What Are Economic Damages In an Asbestos Case?

Economic damages are the more straightforward losses resulting from the claimant's asbestos-related illness. These include:

  • cost of past and future medical care necessary to treat the asbestos illness
  • lost income because of inability to work (and other resulting financial harm), and
  • the costs of hiring someone to do work you can no longer perform yourself.

The Medical Bill Component of an Asbestos Case

If your medical expenses were largely covered by insurance, your insurance company might lien your settlements to recover what it paid for in your treatment. If this happens, your attorney will need to negotiate with your insurer so you can keep as much of your settlement as possible. Learn more about health insurance liens on personal injury claims.

Lost Income Claims In Asbestos-Mesothelioma Cases

The value of your lost income (and future lost earnings) will usually be determined based on:

  • how much you were earning at the time you began to lose money from work because of your illness, and
  • how much longer you would be expected to work if you were healthy.

If you've already retired or are disabled from some other injury, your case will not have a lost income component. However, since an asbestos-related disease often shortens a person's life expectancy, your economic damages might include pension income and other retirement income you will lose because of a shortened life-span.

Cost of "Replacement Services" In Asbestos Cases

Many asbestos plaintiffs suffer loss of ability to do things around the house, such as housework, gardening, and household repairs. If you have to hire someone to do work that you once were able to do yourself, those costs are part of your economic damages.

What Are Non-Economic Damages In an Asbestos Case?

Non-economic damages are the effects of an asbestos illness that aren't all that easy to capture with a dollar figure.

The largest component of damages in a personal injury lawsuit is generally the "pain and suffering" that arises from the injury.

While some forms of pain and suffering are just what the term indicates (physical pain and discomfort), the concept typically captures a wide range of impacts, from the physical effects of the underlying harm to the more mental and emotional.

So, in the context of an asbestos-mesothelioma case, different kinds of pain and suffering might include:

  • physical pain and discomfort resulting from the plaintiff's asbestos-related health problems
  • physical pain and discomfort resulting from necessary medical treatment
  • anxiety, sleeplessness, fear, depression, and other psychological effects, and
  • inability to perform certain tasks or engage in certain activities—from doing household chores to running a planned 10K—because of asbestos-related health problems.

How Is "Pain and Suffering" Calculated In an Asbestos Case?

These kinds of losses are much more difficult to quantify when compared with economic damages. While it's fairly easy to look at an itemized medical bill or pay stub and arrive at a dollar figure, people experience pain and its different impacts in different ways, especially when it comes to the psychological side of things. One mesothelioma patient's mild anxiety might be another patient's devastation. So it's not hard to see that the way pain and suffering is defined from case to case—and how these damages are calculated―is much more subjective than it is formulaic.

In an asbestos case, the nature of the disease generally sets a baseline for the value of the pain and suffering. A plaintiff with mesothelioma or lung cancer is usually deemed to have suffered more than a plaintiff with asbestosis or pleural plaques. However, a person with severe asbestosis who is on oxygen might be more ill than a person who had Stage I lung cancer which was successfully treated. Your attorney will make arguments about the value of your case based on your pain and suffering, not on how much a coworker or friend's case was worth. (Learn more about pain and suffering in an injury case.)

Your attorney might also try to recover damages for loss of enjoyment of life, such as activities you can no longer take part in because of your illness.

How Clear Is the Asbestos Defendant's Liability?

The better your evidence that you were exposed to asbestos because of a defendant's product or activities, the greater your chance of a fair settlement with that defendant.

The "Trust" Factor In Asbestos Settlements

Many of the original manufacturers, miners, and suppliers of asbestos fibers and products have established bankruptcy trusts for people who can prove exposure to their products. These trusts might receive thousands of claims annually. Their settlement offers are usually a predetermined amount calculated based on disease, work history, and product identification.

For example, every plaintiff with asbestosis and five years of work as a pipefitter who can prove exposure caused by a particular bankrupt defendant will be offered the exact same amount in settlement by that defendant. If your attorney thinks this offer is for some reason unfair, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a higher amount.

What if My Asbestos Case Goes to Trial?

If your asbestos lawsuit goes to trial, your attorney will be presenting the same evidence that goes into settlement negotiations, but a jury will determine how much liability a particular defendant bears. In states with joint and several liability, the jury will determine the total value of the case and what percentage the defendant at trial owes. Your attorney can ask for a certain amount of money, but the actual award is ultimately up to the jury.

Getting Help With an Asbestos-Mesothelioma Case

Asbestos cases are complex enough, and especially when your illness is debilitating, figuring out how much your claim might be worth isn't something you need to do on your own. An asbestos-mesothelioma lawyer will have the skills and experience to analyze your situation and best position your case for success. Learn more about hiring and working with an asbestos lawyer.

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