Even though United States health and safety regulators have set guidelines aimed at protecting workers from the dangers of asbestos, up to 3,000 people a year in this country alone are diagnosed with mesothelioma; worldwide, the numbers are even greater. For those workers and their families, a diagnosis is devastating. It means countless medical treatments, mounting medical bills and additional stress and worry about the future.
For those who have been exposed to asbestos on any level, there are legal remedies that can help victims alleviate some of the financial pressures that come with such an overwhelming diagnosis. Many have already turned to the court system to win financial compensation for their sicknesses.
The Litigation Process
A diagnosis of mesothelioma isn't something that comes quickly or easily. Because the disease symptoms start slowly and develop over time, it is often 20 to 50 years after an initial asbestos exposure that a patient is diagnosed with this devastating disease. Many people who develop mesothelioma do so after working in an industry that had utilized asbestos, including the military and construction work. Even family members of those workers are known to come in contact with asbestos through "household exposure" — that is, when the worker unwittingly brings the dangerous asbestos fibers into the home on work clothes and shoes.
For mesothelioma victims and their families, the litigation process can be difficult. Many states have time limits, called statutes of limitation, for asbestos victims to file lawsuits, so it is important to act soon after a diagnosis. Once you have found a qualified, experienced and knowledgeable attorney, you will be guided through the legal process. That includes discovery, depositions, possible settlement talks, a trial, a verdict and a possible appeal. However, because of the huge number of asbestos-related lawsuits, many never go to trial. They typically quickly reach a settlement.
The first step in any claim will be determining where the asbestos exposure happened and the best route to a legal remedy with the at-fault company or companies. Once you file a formal written complaint in court, your lawsuit begins. The complaint will detail your claims and helps outline your case. After the complaint has been filed, the company or companies that have been sued, called the defendants, have a set period of time to respond. During the next phase, called discovery, both sides work to gather information about your claim. Both sides will be asked to answer sets of written questions, produce evidence and documents and participate in depositions. Often this could take weeks to months. Many times the claimant is asked to participate in a videotaped deposition. You will be asked several questions under oath and it will be videotaped for future viewing. Your attorney will be by your side to help you prepare for the questions and responses and to advise and assist you.
Sometimes before a trial starts, and sometimes in the midst of a trial, the defendant's attorneys may ask to resolve the case for a set sum, called a settlement. Your skilled mesothelioma attorney will negotiate the best deal for you. If no settlement can be reached, the case will go to trial. A trial could take several weeks, but the claimant is often not required to attend. Upon winning the case, the claimant starts receiving payments within several weeks. To date, nearly one million mesothelioma litigation cases have been filed, resulting in millions of dollars in compensation.