Class action lawsuits are filed on behalf of large groups of people similarly harmed by the same defendants. Pleural mesothelioma cases typically are not filed as class actions anymore. Instead, each individual claimant files a personal-injury or wrongful-death lawsuit.
In the late 1960s, the American public became aware of the terrible health effects of asbestos exposure. Class action lawsuits seemed a natural vehicle for holding negligent companies accountable. In this type of lawsuit, a group of people collectively bring a claim to court.
State and federal courts have their own rules for governing class actions, but most agree on the basics.
If a court determines there are sufficient similarities, it may certify a group of plaintiffs as a “class” and allow them to pursue their case collectively.
However, judges have generally decided this is not the best type of litigation for mesothelioma cases. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer with a long latency period. These cases are not straightforward, and it is difficult to combine many of them into one lawsuit.
Instead, over the decades the number of individual asbestos claims grew into the hundreds of thousands. Judges have had to use other procedural methods to manage this case load.
Mesothelioma class actions were typically filed against construction, shipbuilding, mining and manufacturing companies. Companies were liable because their executives knew about the risks of asbestos exposure but hid this information from workers and consumers.
Grouping mesothelioma patients into a “class” is problematic, because each case is so unique. But processing so many claims one-by-one also presents a problem for most jurisdictions.
During the 1980s, the rate of mesothelioma case continued to surge. It developed in thousands of workers who had been exposed to asbestos during World War II and the postwar building boom.
Growing awareness of the link between asbestos and cancer accelerated the flood of mesothelioma lawsuits.
In 1991, the federal courts consolidated their asbestos cases into the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Since then, a special court known as MDL 875 has heard multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level.
In Georgine v. Amchem, a group of asbestos-product manufacturers and plaintiffs’ attorneys sought to negotiate a settlement agreement. Their idea was to create a class solely for settlement purposes and set up a payment matrix to calculate payouts for present and future claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the plan. It determined class certification was inappropriate because the group of claimants was too large and their circumstances were too diverse.
The Supreme Court ruled against certifying an asbestos class action again in Ortiz v. Fibreboard. Federal courts generally uphold the precedent set by Georgine v. Amchem. Some state courts are more willing to certify class actions, but it is uncommon in asbestos litigation.
There are advantages and disadvantages to participating in a class action lawsuit. Remember that if you are asked to join a class action, you can choose to opt out of it and pursue your own lawsuit.
A class action lawsuit can help plaintiffs avoid the trial process and get to a faster out-of-court settlement. But joining a class action means giving up control over your case and relying on the plaintiff lawyers, defendant lawyers and courts involved to all cooperate.
It is often difficult to get large groups of plaintiffs and defendants to reach an agreement on legal issues. If the negotiation is successful, the presiding judge still has to approve the settlement terms. After that, the settlement payout is divided among the hundreds or thousands of claimants in the class.
It is best to consult an experienced mesothelioma attorney about your options for legal compensation. A qualified lawyer will focus on your individual circumstances.
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