A class action lawsuit is one that is filed by many claimants who are suing on the behalf of a large number of people who have suffered harm of a similar nature by the same defendants. Mesothelioma cases are not filed as class action lawsuits any longer. Rather, claimants can file a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit. It generally has been found that combining hundreds or thousands of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits into one case is not a good legal option for the people who file them, as every asbestos exposure case is so different.
Class Action Lawsuits and Mesothelioma
A class action lawsuit is one where a large number of people bring a claim to the court. These lawsuits are filed against the defendant by several plaintiffs on behalf of a group of people in a similar situation. (Justia.com). State and federal courts have their own specific rules that govern class action lawsuits. Most legal experts agree that the group has to share very similar injuries that are caused by similar circumstances that raise the very same legal issues.
It is common for class action lawsuits to be used in cases where consumers were misled regarding the price or performance of an electronic device, and there have been successful class action lawsuits involving environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and explosion in 2010. (NBCnews.com).
The court needs to determine if there are enough similarities and that separate lawsuits would be impractical. At that point, it will certify the group as a class and will allow them to litigate their case as one legal entity.
Class action lawsuits for mesothelioma and asbestos started to occur in the late 1960s. At that time, the public became aware of the serious health problems related to asbestos exposure. Since that period, judges have used several procedural methods to manage mesothelioma and asbestos claims, which now are in the millions.
History of Asbestos and Mesothelioma Class Actions
Approximately 20 years after the initial mesothelioma and asbestos class action suits were filed, the number of the class action cases grew to more than 20,000. As awareness was raised and doctors diagnosed more patients with the disease, the number of claims spiked to 750,000 in another two decades. Judges were aware of the large number of claims and how hard it was to manage so many.
In 1991, a large number of federal asbestos cases were consolidated by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This was for the purposes of pretrial. Multidistrict asbestos litigation is regularly heard at this court, which is known as MDL 875.
Georgine v Amchem
The judge in this class action mesothelioma lawsuit was expected to make a global settlement between the largest asbestos defendants and the attorneys for the plaintiffs. This effort was unsuccessful. A group of manufacturers of asbestos products and large plaintiff law firms tried to negotiate a settlement. They did not intend to go to trial, so the parties decided to decided to file a complaint, answer and joint motion to certify the group as a class and to propose a settlement agreement for Georgine v. Amchem Prods, Inc.
Under this proposal, the parties would create a class action class only for settlement purposes. Any claims of unimpaired plaintiffs would be delayed until later and the payment matrix would be used on other claims; this would include any future asbestos claims.
The US Supreme Court eventually ruled that this could not be a class action lawsuit. The court found it was inappropriate because the number of claimants was large and had to many different diagnoses and interests. Also, the common questions of fact and law did not predominate in the class that was being proposed.
Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp.
Since Amchem, courts at the federal level have not been in favor of class actions for asbestos and mesothelioma. In this case, the US Supreme Court rules against the certification of a class action lawsuit. State courts generally are more willing to certify class actions than the federal courts. But still, asbestos class actions are still quite rare.
Should You Participate in a Class Action?
If someone asks you to join a class action for asbestos exposure, you can either join that class or opt out so that you can file your own lawsuit. You should think about consulting a mesothelioma attorney to advise you on your best legal options depending upon your circumstances.
Out of Court Settlement
In a mesothelioma and asbestos case, an out of court settlement is more likely when a large number of plaintiffs and attorneys are involved. Any settlement out of court would be divided among thousands of claimants. This could be attractive to patients who want to avoid a long trial and at least get some money faster. But it is always hard to get many defendants and plaintiffs to come to an agreement on complex legal issues. If all parties do manage to come to an agreement on the class action settlement, the court will still need to approve the terms of the agreement.
Large Plaintiff Number Difficulties
Class action members do not have as much control over their cases as claimants who file individual lawsuits. Lawyers who deal with class actions are representing the interests of hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs.
Attorneys for individual personal injury lawsuits may focus much more on the needs of their client. Most asbestos exposure victims want to have more control over their lawsuit and do not want to join class actions.
For the most part, per the ruling of the US Supreme Court, class actions for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma no longer exist. The court found that a mesothelioma award generally needs to be based on how much the plaintiff was affected by the exposure, where it occurred, when, the products involved and how much negligence the defendant displayed.
The one size fits all approach of class action lawsuits generally is not well suited to mesothelioma cancer cases. Also, too much compensation was usually involved to give large blanket awards. Further, the case facts differed a lot from asbestos litigation, as mesothelioma cancer is the worst medical possibility for a person exposed to the substance. Mesothelioma effects and consequences are a lot more serious than lesser asbestos-related diseases. There also were many lawsuits filed where the plaintiff was exposed to the substance but had not yet developed a disease.
As a mesothelioma patient, you can obtain compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, which is highly personalized and based on your unique case and diagnosis. Most mesothelioma patients will find the most success when they are working with an experienced mesothelioma attorney who understands the complicated legal and medical aspects of a mesothelioma personal injury lawsuit.
It is recommended that you speak to a qualified mesothelioma attorney in your area to determine the best legal options for your case. You can file a personal injury lawsuit in many cases against a third party that provided your employer with materials and products that contained asbestos. You also may file a worker’s compensation claim against your former employer. Yet another option is to file a claim with an asbestos trust fund that many large companies have established to compensate asbestos exposure victims.
- The Basics of Class Actions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/class-actions/
- BP Oil Spill Settlement Timeline Litigation. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/bp-oil-spill-settlement-timeline-litigation-n385736