Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. It is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma face not only serious health challenges but also significant financial burdens from medical bills, lost income, and other costs. Because mesothelioma is directly linked to asbestos exposure, patients have legal options to pursue financial compensation from companies that exposed them to the toxic mineral. Understanding these legal options is crucial for mesothelioma patients and their families.
Mesothelioma compensation can provide much-needed funds for medical treatments, replace lost income, and support loved ones. Legal options for compensation include filing personal injury lawsuits, making claims against asbestos bankruptcy trusts, applying for veterans benefits for service-related asbestos exposure, and utilizing life insurance policies.
Each option has its requirements, benefits, and drawbacks. Working with an experienced mesothelioma attorney maximizes a patient’s chances of success. Settlements and verdicts can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.
Making Claims Against Asbestos Trusts
For many victims of asbestos exposure, the asbestos trust fund provides a quicker avenue to obtain compensation. As many asbestos companies declared bankruptcy due to overwhelming litigation, they set up asbestos bankruptcy trusts to continue compensating victims. These trusts, stemming from the establishment of the asbestos trust fund system, are required to pay out a percentage of their funds to claimants. There are currently over 60 asbestos trusts holding more than $30 billion in total assets.
Filing a claim against a trust requires trust-specific documentation, such as proof of exposure to that company’s products. However, claimants do not need to prove the company’s fault, which expedites the process. Payouts are based on set criteria and payment percentages established by each trust.
The streamlined process means claimants often receive compensation from trusts in 3-6 months. This is much faster than lawsuits. Trusts also have lower evidentiary requirements. However, due to the high volume of claims, compensation amounts are often reduced.
Experienced mesothelioma attorneys understand the intricacies of each trust and can maximize payouts for their clients. Many plaintiffs file both lawsuits against companies and claims against trusts to maximize their overall compensation. The trusts allow them to receive some payment quickly, while lawsuits offer the potential for higher payouts later.
Filing Lawsuits Against Companies
While the asbestos trust fund offers a direct avenue for compensation, especially for those whose exposure was linked to companies that have since declared bankruptcy, there remains another potent legal recourse. Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the companies responsible for asbestos exposure is the most common legal recourse for mesothelioma patients. These lawsuits allow patients to hold negligent companies accountable and seek compensation for damages like exorbitant medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and wrongful death expenses.
To build a strong case, the plaintiff must prove that exposure to the defendant’s asbestos-containing products or worksites directly led to their diagnosis. Experienced mesothelioma attorneys will gather extensive evidence, including the plaintiff’s work history and records, testimony from coworkers who can corroborate the asbestos exposure and expert opinions from doctors linking the exposure to the disease. Lawyers will identify all potentially liable companies and name them as defendants.
The litigation process can be lengthy, often taking 12 – 18 months for resolution. The majority of mesothelioma lawsuits settle out of court before trial, as companies seek to avoid negative publicity. However, if a case does go to trial, multi-million dollar verdicts are possible. For plaintiffs, the biggest advantage of lawsuits is that mesothelioma attorneys work on a contingency fee basis – they only collect if compensation is awarded, so there is no financial risk for the plaintiff. Lawsuits also have no caps on potential compensation. The downside is that the process can be slow and stressful, and there is no guarantee of payment.
Pursuing Veterans Benefits
Veterans who were exposed to asbestos and subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma have options through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation program. Asbestos was used extensively on Navy ships, Army bases, and other military sites, putting service members at high risk. Asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma are considered service-connected disabilities by the VA. This makes veterans eligible for free medical treatment, monthly disability income, dependency benefits for spouses, and other compensation.
To receive benefits, veterans must file a claim with evidence of their asbestos exposure during military service, such as records of service on a ship known to contain asbestos. They also need a medical examination and an opinion from a doctor linking their asbestos exposure to their mesothelioma diagnosis. Approval times for VA claims vary widely, from 3-6 months to over a year in complex cases. Claims are often initially denied, but veterans can appeal the decision through a VA review process. Hiring an accredited VA attorney to handle the claim is highly recommended, as they understand how to best document asbestos exposure and navigate the claims process.
If denied compensation from the VA, veterans may also be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturers of asbestos products used in the military under the Feres Doctrine. These lawsuits function similarly to regular personal injury litigation.
Using Life Insurance Policies
Life insurance policies can provide critical financial assistance for mesothelioma patients and their families. One option is filing an accelerated death benefit claim while the policyholder is still alive. Most policies allow for 50% or more of the death benefit to be paid out upon proof of terminal illness. The funds can help cover medical bills or income loss stemming from the disease.
Permanent life insurance policies can also be converted into whole-life policies, allowing the policyholder to borrow against the value of the policy. Finally, if the policyholder dies from mesothelioma, their designated beneficiaries will receive the full death benefit payout. This income can help offset lost wages and provide for dependents. Checking all existing life insurance policies is an important step, as this coverage may be overlooked. An experienced financial advisor can help navigate the claims process and maximize payouts under relevant policies. While life insurance cannot make up for the suffering caused by mesothelioma, it can ease some of the ensuing financial burden.
The physical, emotional, and financial challenges of a mesothelioma diagnosis can seem overwhelming. However, patients have a number of legal options to pursue just compensation from the companies responsible for their asbestos exposure. With an experienced lawyer’s help, many patients receive settlement awards reaching hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. While no amount of money can make up for the suffering caused by mesothelioma, compensation can help patients and families afford the best care and improve their quality of life. Understanding these legal options is the critical first step on the path to obtaining the maximum compensation possible.