What Is a Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuit?
A mesothelioma class-action lawsuit took place when one person (or a small group of people) brought a lawsuit against the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products on behalf of a larger group.
One person serves as the representative for the case, but dozens or even hundreds of people can take part in the lawsuit. If the representative won the lawsuit, then everyone else in the class received compensation as well.
Class-action lawsuits were just one of the many types of legal action taken by mesothelioma victims, but they are almost never used today for a variety of reasons.
Prior to the late 1990s, it was believed that class-action lawsuits could award mesothelioma victims fairly. For example, if 1,000 people were exposed to asbestos by the same products and developed the same condition — mesothelioma — they should, in theory, be awarded the same amount of money.
Yet class-action lawsuits only work when every person has suffered the same exact injuries from the same defendant, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
Further, class-action lawsuits usually cannot award mesothelioma victims with enough compensation to help them after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Because of these issues, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1997 that asbestos cases could no longer be heard as class-action lawsuits on a federal level.
- Today, mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are almost never filed. Those looking to take legal action usually need to file an individual mesothelioma personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
- As of 2020, mesothelioma class-action lawsuits can only be filed with state courts.
- Some class-action lawsuits sought to represent hundreds, thousands, or millions of victims exposed to asbestos.
- Class-action lawsuits pay the same amount of money to every claimant. While this helps ensure fairness, victims may be able to receive more through other types of legal action.
How to File a Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuit
To file a, must come together through the help of experienced lawyers.
Class-action lawsuits require at least 35 or more people affected by the same injury or illness. In a mesothelioma class-action lawsuit, one victim or a small group of victims will be named as plaintiffs to represent the entire group. The manufacturers of asbestos-containing products named in the suit become the defendants.
Courts will designate a lawsuit as a class-action if it meets the four prerequisites outlined in Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).
These prerequisites are:
- There are so many claimants that hearing individual cases is impractical for the courts.
- The legal issues in question are similar for each class member named in the case.
- The claims made by the main plaintiff accurately represent the claims of the other class members.
- The representative plaintiff will properly represent the interests of all class members.
Mesothelioma cases almost never qualify for class-action lawsuits today. Mesothelioma lawyers can help determine if victims can file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit to receive compensation.
Why Were Class-Action Lawsuits Filed?
Before 1997, class-action lawsuits were seen as an easy way for victims of asbestos exposure to receive compensation. Lawyers who handled mesothelioma class-action lawsuits could also earn large commissions through post-victory fees.
Benefits of a Class-Action Lawsuit for Mesothelioma
Class-action lawsuits allowed victims with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases to join a larger lawsuit as opposed to filing one on their own.
Benefits of a class-action lawsuit include:
- Convenience: Since one person (or a small group) represented the larger class, individual lawsuits did not have to be filed, built, and tried in court.
- Consistency: Once an outcome is determined, everyone will receive the same amount of money.
- Consolidation: Thousands of mesothelioma claims can be handled under one lawsuit by the court system. This was a very important benefit because the number of people filing asbestos-related lawsuits jumped from 21,000 in early 1982 to over 600,000 by 2000, flooding U.S. state and federal courts in the process.
Yet all of these benefits came with drawbacks for mesothelioma victims.
Drawbacks of a class-action lawsuit include:
- Poor representation: Each case of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma is vastly different. A class-action lawsuit cannot represent all victims’ interests in a fair way.
- Less money: Those who file a mesothelioma class-action lawsuit may not get as much as they would if they had filed a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
- Time: It may take several years for the victims to be compensated through a class-action lawsuit, while a personal injury lawsuit can start awarding compensation within a year.
Because of these disadvantages, mesothelioma class-action lawsuits cannot award each person with a fair amount of compensation and are therefore almost never heard in court systems today.
History of Class-Action Lawsuits for Mesothelioma
Class-action lawsuits played an important role in the history of asbestos litigation.
Get an in-depth look at how these class-actions were used and why they became obsolete.
- 1933: Scientists first discovered cases of lung and pleural cancer in autopsies of workers with asbestosis, a non-cancerous health problem caused by asbestos exposure.
- 1973: Courts in a case known as Borel v. Fibreboard ruled that manufacturers of asbestos-containing products are liable to workers injured as a result of exposure. This case opened the door for thousands of other asbestos-related lawsuits.
- 1991: Over 26,000 pending asbestos claims in federal court were consolidated by a panel of judges and sent to the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The high volume of claims proved impossible to handle, and most of the cases simply laid dormant.
- 1993: The Center for Claims Resolution (CCR), representing 20 manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, tried to establish a class-action settlement deal that awarded victims based on their diagnosis. As part of the deal, anyone who could develop asbestos-related diseases in the future was automatically bound to the terms unless they opted out.
- 1994: In Georgine v. Amchem Products, the U.S. 3rd District Appeals Court confirmed that mesothelioma cases did not conform to the class-action criteria as outlined by FRCP Rule 23. The cases could not reach a global settlement, as the individual claimant facts were too unique.
- 1997: In Amchem Products Inc. v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the CCR’s proposed deal. The court ruled that the claimants had too many varied interests to be properly represented through a class-action lawsuit for mesothelioma.
Since the Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling, class-action mesothelioma lawsuits are no longer heard in federal courts.
Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits Today
Mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are almost never heard by courts today. Personal injury and wrongful death mesothelioma lawsuits are much more common.
Can You Still File a Class-Action Lawsuit?
While it may technically be possible to file a class-action lawsuit through state courts, it is highly unlikely that you will actually be able to do so — and even if you are able to, it more than likely would not be in your best interest.
A personal injury or wrongful death mesothelioma lawsuit is much more beneficial. Mesothelioma personal injury lawsuits often award $1 Million or more, and many victims started to receive their money in less than a year’s time.
State-Level Mesothelioma Class-Action Lawsuits
Some asbestos class-action lawsuits have been filed at the state level in extremely rare cases.
For example, a notable class-action asbestos lawsuit filed in Missouri settled for $80 Million in October 2016.
This lawsuit sought to create a fund to cover medical expenses for those exposed to asbestos while they worked in a courthouse that was being renovated. The renovations allegedly disturbed dangerous asbestos fibers. Two plaintiffs represented up to 7,500 possible victims.
Other Legal Options for Mesothelioma Victims
Since mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are usually not a viable option for victims of asbestos exposure, victims are encouraged to explore their other legal options.
Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Most mesothelioma cases are filed as individual personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.
With help from an experienced lawyer, victims can determine exactly when, how, and where they were exposed to asbestos. The lawyers can then file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products responsible.
If the manufacturers in question are found to be liable, the victim may receive more money than they would have through a class-action lawsuit.
For example, in 1994, the CCR proposed paying current and future asbestos victims $60,000 at most. This comes out to about $100,000 today when adjusted to inflation.
In contrast, individual mesothelioma lawsuits award an average of $1 Million through a settlement and $2.4 Million through a trial, according to recent industry reports.
Asbestos Trust Funds
When a manufacturer files for bankruptcy, all legal action against them stops, and they can no longer be sued. Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products that went bankrupt were also forced to establish asbestos trust funds if they wanted to stay in business.
An estimated $30 Billion has been set aside in asbestos trust funds for victims of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos trust funds have established values for different types of asbestos-related diseases, and mesothelioma awards the most money in almost every case. Mesothelioma victims can access a portion of this money if they used asbestos-containing products made by manufacturers that established trusts.
Experienced mesothelioma lawyers can help victims determine which asbestos trust funds they may qualify for and take the legal steps needed to secure this compensation.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also awards financial compensation to veterans with mesothelioma.
Veterans can apply for VA benefits to receive financial compensation, access medical care, and ensure their loved ones will also be taken care of.
VA benefits can cover:
- At-home care and nursing
- Burial and memorial services
- Disability care
- Medical treatment
- Mobility and other medical equipment
- Pension plans for survivors
- Therapy and mental health counseling
Veterans can apply for VA benefits in addition to filing a lawsuit or an asbestos trust fund claim. A mesothelioma lawyer can help guide veterans in both areas.
Discover Your Options for Mesothelioma Compensation
While mesothelioma class-action lawsuits are almost never filed today, there are still other legal options available to help victims of asbestos exposure seek justice.
Through an individual mesothelioma lawsuit, an asbestos trust fund claim, and/or a VA benefits claim, you may be able to receive compensation and hold accountable the manufacturers at fault.
To learn more about mesothelioma compensation and your legal options, download our free mesothelioma guide.