Asbestos litigation expenses – So, you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma. You had always figured that working with asbestos for all those years would have a negative effect on your health but you had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Now, you’ve been to a doctor, you’ve talked about the possibilities for treatment, and you and your family have prepared to face this diagnosis head on.
Yet, it still seems wrong…like you didn’t really deserve this. After all, if the company/companies you worked for had heeded the warnings about the dangers of asbestos use, maybe you wouldn’t be in the position you’re in today. Maybe you’d be looking at a long life ahead of you. Shouldn’t those negligent companies or individuals be held responsible for their actions, you wonder?
The answer is a resounding “yes”, but if you’re like other victims in this position, you may have a lot of questions about the particulars of an asbestos-related lawsuit. Most of all, you may be thinking that perhaps you shouldn’t proceed in the direction of filing a lawsuit, especially if it means having to use your money or that of a family member for litigation expenses.
That shouldn’t be a concern, asbestos lawyers explain, because it’s rare that the plaintiff needs to put money out up-front before the entire litigation process even begins or even during litigation.
What happens when you file an asbestos-related lawsuit?
Let’s take a closer look at the legal process so that you – the victim – and your family, can better understand just what happens when an individual files an asbestos-related lawsuit and why the cost shouldn’t be a deterrent to you obtaining the compensation you deserve.
The first thing you’ll need to do is find a reputable attorney who has experience in filing mesothelioma lawsuits. It’s also helpful if he/she practices in the area where you live and where your exposure occurred. This way, there is a better chance that this attorney is already familiar with the potential defendants and their use of asbestos, or – at the very least – familiar with the industry in which you worked. For example, Pittsburgh-area lawyers are often intimately familiar with steel mill-related cases.
Once you’ve interviewed the attorney you’re considering and are convinced that his or her firm can confidently handle your case, and once the attorney has decided that a mesothelioma lawsuit is indeed feasible for you, you will proceed, working together along the way. While everyone’s case will be different, the steps outlined below will happen for nearly everyone that files an asbestos-related lawsuit with a mesothelioma attorney.
Preparation – This step is exactly as the name implies – the process of getting ready for your lawsuit to proceed. Preparation will involve the gathering of pertinent material to determine in which direction the case will go. (Some of this will occur before the decision to sue is made, so it’s best to arrive at the law office for the initial meeting armed with as much information as possible, including medical records and proof of exposure.) Once a suit has been deemed viable and an attorney is hired, the client will be asked to sign a variety of paperwork that will represent a binding agreement between the client and the law firm.
Filing – The first official step in the lawsuit is the filing of a legal document in the proper jurisdiction, informing the defendant(s) of the suit against them. The document will outline all of your intentions, including any requests for monetary compensation from the defendant(s). Once the suit is filed, the defendant(s) will have a certain amount of time to respond. You can expect them to respond in one of two different ways: they will either deny responsibility for your illness or they will make a motion to dismiss the complaint. Many mesothelioma attorneys warn that defendants often try to use the latter response as a “stall tactic”, especially when the plaintiff is terminally ill and near death. Your attorney knows how to respond to both of those scenarios.
Discovery – This occurs during the time between the filing of the suit and the trial or settlement. Discovery involves the filing of motions, the taking of depositions, and the gathering of more detailed information, such as medical records and other important documents. During this time, the defendant’s lawyer may submit questions to be answered by the plaintiff and vice versa. Remember, however, that as a plaintiff, you will never be on your own. Your attorney will assist you through every step of your mesothelioma lawsuit so situations such as depositions needed be looked upon with fear. And always remember, you are the injured party and you have a right to ask for compensation.
Trial – Some mesothelioma lawsuits will not go to trial but will be settled with the defendant(s) outside of court. For many, that is the desired outcome as it involves less time and a definite payment. However, some cases do go all the way to trial. In cases where there are multiple defendants involved, some may settle out of court while others will prefer a trial, convinced that they will win in the long run. Parts of a typical court trial include:
- Jury selection (Your lawyer will be in the courtroom but parties to the suit will not be present for this)
- Opening statements by attorneys for plaintiff and defendant
- Plaintiff evidence is presented and witnesses testify
- Defendant evidence is presented and witnesses testify
- Closing statements by both parties
- Judge’s instructions to jury before deliberation
- Deliberation by jury
- Reading of the verdict
Appeals – If the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant(s) may choose to file an appeal. This will stall any monetary award that is made by the jury; however, the defendant must post bond for any financial awards deemed appropriate by the jury. If the defendant does not appeal, the plaintiff may begin receiving payments within a few months of the completion of the trial.
So who pays for all of this?
Nearly always, mesothelioma attorneys work on a “contingency” basis. That means the client/plaintiff pays “contingent fees” to their lawyer only if the lawsuit is successful. As such, attorneys investigate thoroughly before accepting a case and work hard to insure they will be successful in the end.
In a contingency arrangement, the attorney will receive a pre-agreed upon percentage of the recovery – which is the amount awarded to the plaintiff in an out-of-court settlement or via a successful court trial. The percentages may vary with the out-of-court settlement as compared to the court verdict but this is something that will be decided upon at the time you hire your attorney and sign an agreement as to the particulars. In most cases, the contingency fees for an out-of-court settlement will be lower as such a settlement requires less work on the part of the attorney.
Remember, however, if you have a minimum amount that you’re hoping to receive in order to cover medical bills and other costs, it’s important to account for your attorney’s fees when you determine that number. (i.e. $200,000 settlement minus 30% contingency fee = $140,000) If the case is not successful and no award is made, neither the client nor the lawyer receives any money.
There are many expenses involved in putting together an asbestos-related lawsuit and the attorney often foots the bill from the beginning for many of these costs. This includes travel for the attorney where necessary, payment and travel expenses for any expert witnesses (doctors, etc.), industrial hygiene reports (which can cost up to $10K or more), deposition costs, copying and postage charges, and several other incidentals. Technically, the plaintiff is responsible for these costs, but in many cases, the attorney recognizes the inability of the plaintiff and/or his family to pay, so he/she assumes responsibility.
Hence, because an attorney knows what’s on the line, so to speak, he not only makes sure that the case is viable before he agrees to accept it but he also works hard to make sure that the outcome is positive.
Receiving Your Compensation
If you are successful in your suit and you are awarded a particular sum of money through an out-of-court settlement, you will likely see your money within a year of settlement. You will most likely not receive a lump sum but will be paid in installments. Often times, in the case of a plaintiff who is seriously ill, the process may be accelerated and payment (at least a portion of it) may be received within 4 to 6 months, with all funds paid within 12 months.
If your case makes it all the way to a jury trial and you are awarded a large sum of money, chances are that the defendant(s) will appeal the verdict. This means that payment to you will be stalled indefinitely. This is one of the reasons so many mesothelioma victims choose to settle out of court rather than risk the uncertainness of a court trial. You may eventually receive this jury-awarded compensation, but by the time it goes through appeals, the amount could be a long time coming and could also be reduced.
Medicare, under the secondary payer act, has the right to recover a percentage of proceeds that a plaintiff receives in their settlement. (This is for exposures occurring before Dec. 5, 1980.) The attorney must pay this as a client cost before he/she can release any payment to the client. The lawyer often has to hire a Medicare resolution lawyer to negotiate the payment, adding another fee to the client cost wheel. So, if you received Medicare benefits during your fight with mesothelioma, you can expect to lose some of your compensation to this government organization.
Finding the Best Lawyer for Litigation
Obviously, an asbestos-related lawsuit can be complicated and your success will depend on choosing the best attorney for your needs. You should be looking for the following qualities as you shop for the man or woman who will fight for your right for compensation:
Someone who has experience with asbestos-related cases and has overseen successful settlements and trials. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and DO check them.
Someone with a good overall working knowledge of the hazards of asbestos and, in particular, the asbestos problems related to the industry (or even the particular company) in which the plaintiff worked. That usually means hiring a local lawyer, not a large national firm with no knowledge of the region.
Someone with a sound knowledge of asbestos regulations and the laws of asbestos litigation.
Someone who seems to exude compassion for your situation and isn’t cold or unfeeling. In cases like this, you don’t want someone who is “all business” but, rather, an attorney who relates to people and their problems.
Someone who has your true best interest at heart; who can advise you as to your options but let you make the final decision as to which direction to take your lawsuit and whether or not to accept a particular settlement.
Keep Your Eye on the Goal
Remember, the ultimate goal of any asbestos-related litigation is to secure for you – the plaintiff – the best compensation available to someone in your circumstances. If upon interviewing any attorney you find that hiring them will be just another financial burden that your family needs to shoulder, then you should move on to the next attorney on your list. Litigation expenses should NEVER be a part of your burden and should never stop you from the desire to file suit against those who are responsible for your mesothelioma diagnosis.
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