How Does Asbestos Litigation Work?
The dangers related to asbestos exposure have now been known and reported to the public for many decades. However, because it can take so long for mesothelioma to develop (sometimes decades), those who worked with and around asbestos can be left wondering for years if they will contract the deadly form of cancer. While some people are lucky and never become ill, others are not so fortunate.
For those who become sick, finding the best doctors, paying medical bills, and taking care of the family become primary issues. It is for these reasons that holding responsible parties financially accountable for their wrongful conduct can be absolutely imperative. In this article, we will discuss how asbestos litigation works and the options that exist for those who have been harmed by asbestos exposure.
What Is the Procedure if a Case Goes to Trial?
Keep in mind that most cases settle without going to a final trial. However, if a lawsuit is filed, good attorneys will prepare the case like a trial will occur, even if the case is ultimately resolved outside of trial. There are a number of typical steps in the trial process, and a lot of the work occurs outside of the courtroom. We’ll describe some important steps below.
- Pre-Trial Investigation and Analysis – this is a fact and evidence gathering stage. The attorney and staff consider the worker’s background and investigate the client’s asbestos exposure. The attorney also develops medical evidence. At this stage, experts are typically consulted.
- Discovery – this is a stage in civil litigation in which the parties may use various procedural tools to learn about the claims of the other party and the facts that support the plaintiff’s claims and the defendant’s defenses. The parties usually send written discovery first, then ultimately schedule depositions of the parties and their witnesses. Each side must also disclose the expert witnesses it plans to call at trial. Even though discovery can take a lot of time, it serves important purposes. First, it helps the parties narrow down the real issues to be addressed in a trial. Secondly, it forces all parties in a case to look carefully at all the evidence, whether it helps or hurts their side of the case. This often helps the negotiation and settlement process.
- Pre-Trial Motions – the parties will usually have some legal issues over which they disagree. When this happens, a party can file a motion requesting relief, which is decided by the judge.
- Scheduling Trial – the parties must first decide if they want a bench trial or a jury trial. In a bench trial, the judge sits as the trier of both law and fact, and makes all the decisions. In a jury trial, the judge decides issues of law and the jury decides issues of fact.
- Trial – the parties have now completed their preparations outside of court. If the case is a jury trial, the parties will engage in voir dire, the process of picking a jury, at the beginning of the trial. Through the course of the trial the parties present all of their witnesses and evidence. The jury then returns its verdict.
What Are the Alternatives to Trial?
Settlement – As we mentioned before, the great majority of cases settle outside of court. This can happen at any stage of the process. Sometimes it happens early. Sometimes it happens just before trial “on the courthouse steps.” We have even seen cases reach a settlement in the middle of a trial. The best chance of obtaining a good settlement is by thorough pre-trial preparation.
Asbestos/Mesothelioma Trust Funds – When claims and lawsuits over asbestos started proliferating years ago, numerous companies filed bankruptcy cases. In exchange for receiving protection against lawsuits, the courts required these companies to set up trust funds to compensate future victims suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Dozens of companies set up these asbestos trusts in an amount estimated at approximately $30 billion. With asbestos trusts, a claim is filed with the trust and a lawsuit is not required. However, the claim still must be properly prepared and presented. When a claim is paid, the amount of compensation varies and is based upon numerous factors. The ultimate idea is to process claims much more quickly and efficiently than the court system does. Many mesothelioma victims opt to pursue this route to obtain a quicker resolution to the case.
Call with Questions
If you are suffering from asbestos-related illness, you probably have many more questions than we can answer in a blog article. Please call us with any additional questions you might have. Our asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers are experienced and can help you understand all of your options. It’s only by holding accountable the wrongdoers that caused these problems that we can protect our future generations.