Class Action Lawsuits and Mesothelioma

When a group of people has common injuries, they may jointly file a claim against a particular entity or company involved. When this happens, the group, or “class,” is suing the same defendant, rather than filing several individual cases.

Closeup of a mesothelioma attorney hands while gesturing to someone about class action lawsuits.

Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuits

A class-action lawsuit allows a larger group, or “class,” of people with the same grievance to file a suit against the particular corporation or entity responsible. Class action lawsuits are helpful because they allow courts to manage groups of trials that would, individually, be much more difficult to try in a court trial.

In the case of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma patients, the federal courts decided against allowing class-action lawsuits. Primarily, the court believed that mass litigation of tort claims (i.e., legal claims made by a party who was affected by negligence or a wrongful act) compromised individual justice. Essentially, the courts thought each claimant would not be adequately represented due to the uniqueness of each case, as well as how expensive asbestos litigation can be and the sporadical development of asbestos-related illnesses.

Alternatives to Mesothelioma Class Action Lawsuits

If a veteran has been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to corporate negligence, they can consider filing for VA benefits, a personal injury claim, or (if they’ve passed away and their family needs compensation) a wrongful death suit. Family members of veterans may also qualify for benefits directly from the VA.

VA Benefits

If you’ve served in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, there’s a possibility you’ve had contact with asbestos. If you have been near the demolition of old buildings, toxic asbestos fibers may have been released into the air. These fibers are subsequently inhaled or ingested. Construction workers also used asbestos in large amounts for several military products (such as housing, buildings, vehicles, ships, shipyards, and machine equipment).

The VA may decide to award veterans’ benefits if the person filing the claim has three critical items:

  1. Medical records that demonstrate illness or disability
  2. Service records that list your job and its specifics
  3. Statement from a doctor linking the patient’s contact with asbestos and their time in the military.

Once you have secured these documents, your attorney can walk you through filing for benefits. VA benefits can cover health care costs and loss of wages due to illness. Compensation can also be given to the family of the veteran to aid in the cost of living without their loved one’s financial income for support.

Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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Personal Injury

If a service member was dishonorably discharged or otherwise can’t receive benefits from the VA, they may also try to file a personal injury claim. This is the same claim civilians can submit and can also offer compensation benefits for patients and their families.

Wrongful Death

If a veteran diagnosed with mesothelioma dies before filing a claim, family members may file for a wrongful death suit. This type of claim can provide them with compensation to aid with health and living expenses.

Major Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits

There were a few cases that led the federal courts to rule out class action lawsuits for asbestos cases. The timeline is as follows:

1991: MDL-875

Around the 1980s, the number of asbestos cases began to rise significantly. Over the next ten years, the number of cases continued to grow, with state cases far outnumbering federal ones. By 1991, there were approximately 715,000 asbestos personal injury claims pending in the state and federal courts. Some people referred to this as the “avalanche of litigation” or “elephantine mass of asbestos cases.”

Congress began to search for ways to consolidate the masses of similar cases. Eventually, the agreement was to consolidate approximately 26,000 claims (also known as MDL-875). The hope was to create an established standardized procedure for resolving allegations of this multitude. But, eventually, the order was overturned due to the manageability of such large classes –– as well as considering future claimants who haven’t developed mesothelioma yet, was too difficult.

1994: Georgine v. Amchem

In 1994, a class action case unfolded that sought to settle claims of between 250,000 and 2,000,000 people exposed to asbestos. The problem was that mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions generally take decades to develop, and cases would reach settlement long before some people exposed would even develop the illness to then file a claim. Because of this, the class-action suit could not satisfy the requirements of Rule 23.

Rule 23’s prerequisites for class actions:

  1. The class is so abundant that it’s impractical otherwise.
  2. There are questions of law or fact common to the class.
  3. Claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.
  4. Representative parties adequately and fairly protect the interests of the class.

Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.

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In this particular case, the federal courts felt that the class size was so large and the asbestos cases so unique, that everyone involved wouldn’t have the chance to be represented and compensated appropriately, subsequently not satisfying the rule.

1999: Ortiz v. Fibreboard

In 1999’s Ortiz v. Fibreboard class action suit, similar issues arose. Defendants could be cleared of liability long before some would even develop an asbestos-related disease and file a claim, making it impossible to represent all claimants and fulfill Rule 23 adequately.

What Can I Do?

Talk to an experienced mesothelioma attorney about your case and the specifics, they’ll be able to help you determine which claim to file. VA benefits and personal injury lawsuits are the primary methods for receiving compensation for a positive mesothelioma diagnosis or other asbestos-related illness. Your lawyer will be able to walk you through all of it.

If you or a fellow veteran or loved one was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, odds are it was due to corporate negligence. Learn more about where veterans can get exposed to asbestos during their time of service.