Class action lawsuits from mesothelioma
Recent lots of resonance was caused when 22 women won a case against Johnson and Johnson, and they were awarded a whopping 4.7 billion USD. It is not just an example of a lawsuit filed by a group of individuals with similar health issues, but also the case is somewhat related to mesothelioma.
Although class actions related to mesothelioma are now less frequent, but they are still an option. So what is a Class Action lawsuit? It is simply a name for the collective legal action, when a group of people files for legal action collectively, or an individual files a lawsuit on behalf of the larger group, instead of each filing lawsuit individually. As one can imagine the Class Action lawsuit, it has its upsides and downsides.
Mesothelioma is the cancer of mesothelium. Mesothelium is the thin outer covering of internal organs. Most cases of mesothelioma are caused due to exposure to asbestos sometime in life. Mesothelioma of the lung is most common, followed by mesothelioma of abdominal organs. Most people were exposed to asbestos while working in the mining sector, construction or other industry that uses asbestos. Women may also get exposed to asbestos through small particles brought home by clothing.
Asbestos and talcum powder naturally occur near each other. Although, it is now well established that asbestos exposure may lead to mesothelioma, however, whether talcum powder causes cancer or not is still a subject of discussion in the scientific community. Older talcum powders were more dangerous as they contained traces of asbestos and thus leading to various cancers including mesothelioma. Though newer talcum powders do not have asbestos, still some medical specialists think that talcum powder itself is an independent causative factor for cancer in some cases.
History of class lawsuits goes back to 1960s, an era when people realized that fighting against large corporations alone is expensive and complicated. However, it is not necessarily the case nowadays. The industry knew before the world war two that asbestos is related to aggressive kind of cancer called mesothelioma, and yet many in the sector failed to take precautions or warn the society at large. By 1960s it was quite clear that neglection of safety norms by several sectors is behind the upsurge of mesothelioma, and it is the period when several thousand lawsuits were filed against the large corporations.
Class suits make sense when a large group of people has been hurt by a single cause. In that case, it is easier to file a lawsuit collectively to save the costs. For the judiciary it means lower burden, they look at the case together rather than looking at thousands of cases individually.
Understanding class action lawsuits
So class action lawsuit is filing of a civil suit as one case by a group of individuals with similar claims, and such lawsuits have certain advantages:
- The process is more efficient both for individuals and the legal system. For individuals, it means reduced costs, lesser involvement, and dedication of time, lower stress. For the judiciary, it means one lawsuit instead of hundreds or thousands of very similar kinds of trials.
- It lessens the burden on witnesses and experts, especially when facts regarding the suit are well established. Experts do not need to testify hundreds of times for the same kind of case.
- Award amounts are generally huge as a defendant if proven wrong or liable is asked to pay compensation to the whole group of individuals.
- Class lawsuits make it difficult for large corporations to change facts or use their financial abilities to influence the lawsuit, as for individual it may be difficult to fight a civil case against the giant industrial corporation.
- Class lawsuit verdict often results in the establishment of a standard set of criteria for deciding the similar cases in future, though that may not be the case in individual lawsuits due to high variance.
Thus lawsuits have helped establish beyond doubt that if someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma and has a history of asbestos exposure, then he or she must be compensated for that. Because of class lawsuits, nowadays even individual pursuant can expect to get faster results.
The class lawsuit has certain drawbacks too, as not all cases are similar. Thus if someone has worked in the industry that used asbestos and is probable to get higher compensation than a person exposed to asbestos in less clear conditions. In the class lawsuit, individuals have less control over their personal issues or histories, and thus in a specific situation, one may get better compensation and faster results when such case is filed as an individual. Moreover, a class lawsuit may slow down the legal process when facts have been well established by earlier class action lawsuits.
Mass Tort or Class Action
Legal terms can be intimidating for most individuals. Though mass tort and class action have many similarities, yet they are legally different terms. They are similar in a way that in both the cases large group makes the similar kind of claims and demands compensations. The suit is filed against the same defendants who may have caused the damages. The case is consolidated as one legal lawsuit.
Nonetheless, there are specific differences between the two terms. In a mass tort, unlike a class action lawsuit, each individual is required to establish the facts specific to the case. Thus let us say that if 30 people are involved in mass tort, then each person would still need to prove that damage to his or her health was caused due to exposure to asbestos, and present every fact in details. On the other hand, in class action lawsuit individuals provide less information and such lawsuit is good when the points are better established, and individuals have gone through the very similar issue like most asbestos mine worker, and so on.
Understanding multidistrict litigation (MDL) 875
A mass tort is one of the commonly used ways to get compensation in case a person has been affected by mesothelioma, and another way of doing it is through multidistrict litigation (MDL). These are special judicial bodies that are established to accelerate the trials, mainly when many people have been affected by a similar kind of condition. MDL is a particular kind of law court that is formed within a specific district and is presided by the one or more justices. They are created to ensure that claims are processed effectively and fast. Every MDL is given a specific identification number. Thus MDL has been assigned number 875 for cases related to mesothelioma or other medical conditions caused due to asbestos exposure.
Thus any mass tort filing for mesothelioma cases can be done under MDL 875. It was created in 1991, and all lawsuits filed under this number are transferred to Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA). Till date almost close to 200,000 cases have been assigned to EDPA between 2006-2018. As a result, making MDL 875 most massive and long lasting MDL in the US history.
Usually, MDL 875 cases are further sub-divided into two categories; one is marine related and another land-based.
- MARDOC (Marine Docket)- cases are filed under it if a person has been exposed to asbestos while working on ship vessels, and suit can be filed by either the person exposed to asbestos or family members. Marine cases are regarded as a separate group as there are some peculiarities of this group.
- Land-based- as the name says, it is for those exposed to asbestos while working in land-based sites like mines, construction sites, and so on. Although there are many similarities between MARDOC and Land-based cases, still few things differ between the groups.
Although MDL 875 is one of the proper ways to move forward, but not always. Moreover, some states may have a different kind of setup. Thus New York City has Asbestos Litigation Court (NYCAL). Which is often faster way to get compensation as it has been specifically set up to understand the urgent needs of those critically ill.
Class Action or Individual Lawsuit?
One always have an option to file a lawsuit as a member of class action, but in some cases, a person may choose to opt out and instead file the case individually. The individual lawsuit may be submitted as part of or not part of a mass tort. Often a person would choose to file a lawsuit as an individual when he or she thinks that his or her case differs much from other cases. For example, when a person has been exposed to asbestos under certain special conditions like the restructuring of some building or another project.
Filing mesothelioma lawsuits require to know many things. Thus it is best done with the help of an experienced lawyer who had understanding and experience of the subject. There are many minute things to know before filing a lawsuit else things may not go in right direction or person may end up getting the compensation that is too little and too late.
Becoming participant of Class Action
For most people participating in the Class Action may be simpler way to move forward. Majority of those diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos decades back while doing some job. However, there is the specific procedure to follow to become the participant of Class Action. It requires going through the so-called certification process. Once the suit is accepted as a class suit, he or she would be informed about it.
Once a person has been accepted as a member of Class Action, it is better to contact an experienced lawyer to decide the further course of action.
Short historical background of asbestos Class Actions
Despite understanding that asbestos exposure causes a number of illnesses, and many of the conditions are fatal including mesothelioma use of asbestos continued in various industries. Although, asbestos mining has stopped in the US, and so is its use in most of the consumer goods. Nonetheless, asbestos is still used in certain industries due to its specific physical and chemical properties.
The harm of asbestos was more than apparent to the medical world by 1960s.
- 1960 – was the year when various large-scale studies put an end to all the doubts, and it was finally accepted in the medical world that asbestos exposure not only leads to chronic disease of lungs but also to one of the most dangerous forms of cancers called mesothelioma. These finding led to the start of filing of lawsuits against various industries.
- 1966- The Supreme Court of the US amended Rule 23, to lay the legal basis of Class Action lawsuits.
- 1982- one of the big corporation involved in producing asbestos based products Johns-Manville Corporation files for bankruptcy as thousands of lawsuits are filed against it. Manville personal injury settlement trust is set up to compensate those who suffered from asbestos exposure.
- 2002 – Halliburton pays 4.2 billion USD to settle 374,000 claims
These are just a few significant moments in the history of asbestos lawsuits; in fact, such trials have led to most of the industries filing bankruptcy, that were either mining asbestos or producing asbestos-related products.
Finally, it must be understood that out-of-court settlement is also one of the options. However, it is rarely possible when there are too many claimants involved as large groups fail to reach an agreement.