Mesothelioma is a type of illness caused by exposure to asbestos, and it is the most serious of all diseases caused by asbestos exposure. The cavities inside the body that surround the chest, abdomen, and heart are surrounded by a membrane known as the mesothelium, and mesothelial cells help with the function of the organs. Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause malignancies within the membrane, and the result is mesothelioma.
There is no known cure for mesothelioma, although prognosis can be helped in some cases through surgery or chemotherapy. Types of mesothelioma include pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma. Before the public learned that asbestos could cause mesothelioma and other diseases, asbestos was commonly used in many products and in many buildings. Workers were routinely exposed to asbestos without knowing of the dangers.
Many jurisdictions have developed rules specific to asbestos cases, including distinctive statutes of limitations.
Unlike other injuries, mesothelioma may not be discovered for many years. Typically it only develops 10-40 years after exposure. Litigation related to mesothelioma and other diseases caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos can be intricate and take years to resolve.
An injured plaintiff may bring a products liability claim in connection with mesothelioma, but may also bring other types of claims, such as personal injury or wrongful death. Personal injury cases may involve primary asbestos exposure by someone who worked with or around asbestos, or they may involve secondary asbestos exposure where mesothelioma is contracted because a household or family member came into contact with asbestos. An example of secondary asbestos exposure would be a spouse who washed her contractor husband's clothes for years and unwittingly was exposed to asbestos fibers on the clothing on a regular basis.
Recovering Damages for Mesothelioma
Those who are exposed to asbestos and are diagnosed many years later may be wondering if they can sue to recover, particularly when the diagnosis comes several decades after exposure, and the general statute of limitations for personal injuries has long since run. However, in many states, there is a period of 1-5 years to sue a manufacturer after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis. A potential mesothelioma plaintiff should act quickly after learning of a diagnosis to avoid missing the statute of limitations period.
A plaintiff suing under a negligence theory will need to prove that an injury was suffered, that the defendant's negligence was the actual and proximate cause, and that actual losses resulted. Asbestos is the only known agent that causes mesothelioma. A plaintiff will have to show he or she was exposed to asbestos, even though the exposure most likely happened decades before the diagnosis. Proving exposure to asbestos can be the trickiest aspect of a mesothelioma case. A plaintiff's attorney will need to collect medical and employment records, often from years ago. In some cases, coworker testimony can help in proving exposure. The plaintiff will also need to show that the defendant—either an employer or a product manufacturer—knew of the danger of the asbestos-containing product, or that it should have known.
Issues That Arise In Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Even if a potential defendant has since gone out of business, a plaintiff may be able to recover compensation through an asbestos victims’ trust fund.
What if the company that manufactured or installed the asbestos that you believe caused your cancer has closed or gone bankrupt? In general, mesothelioma plaintiffs can sue and recover even when a manufacturer has been sold or gone bankrupt, due to asbestos victims' trust funds. Some courts have required that funds be set aside to compensate future victims. While some funds have been depleted, other funds are still large enough to pay reasonable settlement amounts.
Economic and noneconomic damages available to a person suffering mesothelioma include medical expenses, income loss, loss of enjoyment, and pain and suffering. An experienced asbestos attorney will collect information about the person's employment history, medical history, documentation of any disabilities or activities the person can no longer do, and expenses incurred as a result of mesothelioma. Although the verdict is likely to be larger if a lawyer presents a plaintiff's case to a jury years after you are diagnosed, many seriously ill plaintiffs would prefer to settle quickly because the life expectancy for mesothelioma is short.
When an asbestos victims' trust fund or an insurance company is involved, the lawsuit process may be faster than usual. In many states, the courts recognize that mesothelioma patients have a short life expectancy. Their cases will be fast-tracked. Asbestos cases are typically filed in either the plaintiff's home state or the state where the manufacturer has its headquarters. Generally, the plaintiff's attorney will pick the forum that offers the best chance to recover compensation.