Mesothelioma and 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 deemed responsible. Class action lawsuits could be helpful in that they allow courts to manage groups of trials that would variously be much more difficult if each class member made a separate case.
In the case of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma patients, the federal courts decided against class action lawsuits, their primary reason being that mass litigation of tort claims (legal claims made from a party who was affected by negligence or a wrongful act) compromised individual justice. The courts didn’t think that each claimant would be adequately represented due to the uniqueness of each case, how expensive asbestos litigations can be, and how sporadically and delayed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses are in development.
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 can also qualify for benefits from the Veterans Association.
If you’ve served in Iraq or another country located in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, there’s a possibility you’ve had contact with asbestos. If you were ever around the demolition of old buildings, toxic asbestos fibers could’ve been expelled into the air, and subsequently inhaled or ingested. Construction workers also used asbestos in large capacities for several military products, such as housing, bases, vehicles, shipyards, and equipment.
The VA could decide to award veteran’s benefits if the person filing the claim has three critical items:
- Medical records that demonstrate illness or disability
- Service records that list your job and its specifics
- Statement from the doctor saying there’s a link between the patient’s contact with asbestos and their time in the military
Once you have secured these documents, your mesothelioma attorney can walk you through filing for benefits. VA benefits can cover health care and loss of wages due to illness. Compensation can also apply to the direct family of the veteran to aid in the cost of living without their spouse’s or family member’s financial income for support.
If a service member was dishonorably discharged or otherwise can’t receive benefits from the VA, they can also try and file a personal injury claim. This is the same claim that civilians would submit, and can also offer compensation benefits for mesothelioma patients and their families.
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 Class Action Lawsuits and Asbestos
There were a few cases that led the federal courts to rule out class action lawsuits for asbestos cases. The timeline is as follows:
Around the 1980s, the number of asbestos cases begun to rise significantly. Throughout the next ten years, cases continued to grow, with state cases far outnumbering the 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 a way 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 was overturned. The reason being that manageability of such mixed and 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 with this 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 and file a claim. Because of these facts, the class action suit could not satisfy the requirements of Rule 23.
Rule 23 has several prerequisites for class actions:
- The class is so abundant that it’s impractical otherwise
- There are questions of law or fact common to the class
- Claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class
- Representative parties adequately and fairly protect the interests of the class
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 the 1999 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 experienced 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.