It's your first opportunity to sit down and discuss your potential asbestos-mesothelioma case with an attorney. Here's what to expect, and what to ask so you can be sure your case is in the right hands.
If you've been diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos attorney will probably be willing to consider your case without any sort of initial medical exam, since mesothelioma is always linked to asbestos exposure. The same is true if you've been diagnosed with asbestosis or some other asbestos-related disease. If you don’t have symptoms of an asbestos disease, or have not been diagnosed with one, the attorney may want to take the case on a conditional basis.
If so, be sure to get clear answers on what additional steps you need to take, and when you can expect your potential case to be reviewed again. Also, a state law called the statute of limitations will determine the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit, so ask what the attorney will do if that deadline is close.
If all or a significant amount of your exposure occurred in a different state than where you now live, you should also ask if the attorney is able to sue defendants in the exposure state, or if the case can be referred to another attorney who does practice in that state.
Asbestos cases are customarily taken on a contingency fee basis, meaning that the attorney will take a percentage of whatever you recover via settlement or court judgment, rather than billing you by the hour. The attorney will also usually advance "costs," such as court filing fees or document copying expenses, and deduct them from your recovery. 33 percent is a standard contingency fee.
Before signing a fee contract, be sure you understand how the attorney’s fees are calculated.
The first question for many claimants is, “How long will my asbestos case take?” If you are very ill, ask the attorney if the court where you're filing your asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuit has a process for getting your case “fast track” or “preferential” status.
Regardless of your health, you should ask some other questions about timing:
The second question for many people is, “Will this go to trial?” The answer is usually “No,” because very few cases make it that far, but you should ask what this law firm's experiences has been in these kinds of cases, especially if you have a strong preference against going to trial.
A reputable asbestos attorney will probably not estimate the dollar value of your potential claim. The size of any settlement you receive will depend upon a number of factors, including how serious your illness is, how and when you were exposed to asbestos, whether the defendant is solvent or bankrupt, and how much your illness has affected you financially.
However, you can ask what sort of companies you are likely to be making claims against and how many of them there are. Although a large number of defendants doesn't guarantee larger settlements, knowing the size of the case will give you a picture of how involved it is likely to be.
Additionally, many of the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos-containing products have filed for bankruptcy and established trust funds for asbestos claimants. This may be a significant part of your case, so you should ask what bankruptcy claims are likely to be made, and how long they take.
For a lawsuit to work well, the client and attorney need to be able to trust each other. If you don’t understand something the attorney has said to you in answer to any of your questions, ask again. You should also ask about the other people in the office you are likely to be interacting with: paralegals, legal secretaries, or other assistants.
Finally, although you are hiring a lawyer, having an active lawsuit requires some participation on your part. Be sure to ask what your obligations as a client will be. (More tips on finding the right asbestos lawyer and being a good personal injury client.)