Settlements for Mesothelioma Patients
Once you file an asbestos personal injury lawsuit, there are two ways to receive compensation for your injuries. If your case goes to trial, you may receive a favorable jury verdict awarding you compensation for your injuries. But in many instances, asbestos lawsuits settle out of court.
Settlements occur when common ground is found on the amount a defendant is willing to pay and the amount a plaintiff is willing to accept for pleural mesothelioma or other asbestos injuries. Since there is no guarantee on how a trial will end, parties often reach settlement agreements to avoid prolonged litigation and the uncertainty of trial.
But just as there are no guarantees at trial, there are no guarantees that your case will settle. It is best to consult experienced pleural mesothelioma lawyers about your options during the case process, including options for settlement.
Determining When to Settle
Pleural mesothelioma lawsuits are usually filed against multiple defendants who allegedly contributed to the injury. Defendants are not always held equally liable, and states have different rules regarding how liability is divided among defendants. Because a case’s outcome may be different for each defendant, the chances of settling also vary for each defendant.
Parties can reach settlements any time after the complaint is filed. In some instances, it is possible to reach a settlement with one or more defendants early in the case process before many papers are filed or much discovery has taken place. This may be especially true for defendants who aren’t facing many lawsuits, don’t have much litigation experience, or are especially concerned about avoiding substantial litigation costs. They may be inclined to pay some portion of the claims to end the litigation. Plaintiffs may have incentives to accept offers from these defendants so they can have more resources to focus on the remaining defendants during discovery and trial.
Some cases settle during discovery, as more evidence comes to light and the strength of each party's case becomes clearer. Others settle on the eve of trial or during trial for the same reason.
Sometimes parties reach settlements after a jury has ordered a substantial award. In some cases, a plaintiff may accept a settlement that's lower than a jury award in order to ensure receiving some payment soon. In exchange, the defendant may agree to waive its right to appeal an award and thus delay payment.
Borel v. Fibreboard is a U.S. landmark asbestos case that has provided precedents for thousands of asbestos claims. It began in 1936 when Clarence Borel, a husband and father of six, started working in the shipyards and oil refineries along the Texas-Louisiana border. He was unaware that shipyards would soon become a leading cause of occupational asbestos exposure.
Diagnosis and First Settlement
In 1969, doctors diagnosed Borel with advanced asbestosis. That spring, he filed for a workers’ compensation claim for injuries caused on the job. He eventually settled for a little more than $13,000, but that was not enough to cover all of his medical expenses.
It was then that Borel asked Ward Stephenson, a Texas attorney, to sue the eleven asbestos manufacturers that knowingly exposed him to asbestos for $1 million in damages. A verdict of more than $79,400 was made in favor of Borel, but he died of mesothelioma in 1970 before his trial came to a close. All monetary damages were awarded to his wife.
Recognizing Manufacturer's Responsibility
Borel v. Fibreboard became known as the first case to recognize a manufacturer’s responsibility of warning and protecting their workers against the hazardous effects of asbestos exposure.
Since then, there have been many promising mesothelioma verdicts. A jury in Madison County, Illinois in 2003 ordered manufacturer U.S. Steel to pay Roby Whittington $250 million. He is a former employee who was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In 2012, a California jury awarded former construction worker Bobbie Izell $48 million in a lawsuit against Union Carbide. Izell was exposed to asbestos on various construction sites in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2011, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Factors Affecting Settlement
There are many factors influencing the decision to settle. This is true for both sides of a lawsuit. But these reasons can usually be traced to a common concern: Is there some economic incentive to settling a lawsuit?
Pleural mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are very aggressive. Their physical, emotional and financial tolls mount quickly. So although plaintiffs may want all of their losses compensated, it may be in their best financial interests to obtain some portion sooner rather than take a chance at receiving more compensation later.
Defendants want to limit their liability for asbestos claims. Sometimes the best way to do that is by agreeing to settle a case. Whether or not the defendant is engaged in multiple asbestos lawsuits will affect the decision. On one hand, settling a case may be a good strategy for avoiding a trial verdict that could encourage further lawsuits and litigation costs. Defendants usually settle without admitting any liability, so settlements can't be used as admissions of liability in other cases. On the other hand, agreeing to a substantial settlement could encourage further lawsuits or affect the settlement amount which other plaintiffs are willing to accept for the claims.
Another factor affecting settlement is whether or not insurance coverage is available to pay asbestos claims. This is particularly true with larger corporate asbestos defendants who usually have insurance policies that help them pay litigation claims and expenses. Their insurers are usually actively involved in litigation and have considerable input into whether and when the corporations agree to settle. The amount of insurance coverage available also affects the amount of settlement.
What Settlement Means for Plaintiffs
Plaintiffs usually have to do more than just deposit payments under settlement agreements. Before agreeing to settlements, plaintiffs should understand that they will likely be responsible for doing certain things under the terms of the agreement. For instance:
- They must usually agree to drop their lawsuits and waive any future claims against the settling defendant as a condition for settlement. Defendants have little incentive to settle if there's a chance a plaintiff could sue them again.
- In addition, plaintiffs must usually accept the settling defendant's unwillingness to admit liability. The defendant usually includes language in the settlement agreement that specifically denies responsibility for a plaintiff's injuries.
- Finally, plaintiffs usually can't talk about settlement agreement terms. In particular, they must usually agree to keep the amount of the settlement a secret. For this reason, pleural mesothelioma settlements are usually reported as settling for an undisclosed amount.
It's wise to consult a qualified pleural mesothelioma attorney before agreeing to settle an asbestos personal injury claim. An even wiser decision would be hiring an experienced pleural mesothelioma attorney to explain your legal options, file your claim, and potentially negotiate a settlement on your behalf.