What to Expect From Your Asbestos Case
Filing a lawsuit is foreign territory to most people. We will help you understand what to expect at each stage of your asbestos case, but there are some general guidelines as to what you can expect as a plaintiff in a case involving an asbestos-related injury or illness.
To start with, here are some definitions of terms that will help you understand the process:
- The plaintiff is the person who says that they have been injured through no fault of their own, and files the suit.
- The defendant is the party who is accused of causing the injury to the plaintiff by their actions – the person or company being sued. If the injury was caused by the actions of more than one party, a lawsuit may name multiple defendants. In asbestos cases, there are often multiple defendants since a plaintiff may have been exposed to asbestos products from many different companies.
- The petition or complaint is a statement that identifies all the defendants, and alleges the wrongful actions of each defendant and how it caused an injury to the plaintiff.
- Discovery is the process by which each side learns the facts known to the other side. This usually involves interviews with the defendants’ attorneys who will want to know when and how the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos, when they were diagnosed and other facts about their illness.
- The statute of limitations is a deadline by which a lawsuit must be filed; usually, it is a certain number of years after the plaintiff’s diagnosis or death.
- A settlement is an amount of money that the defendants pay to the plaintiff to resolve a case. If you accept a settlement, you will not go to trial against the settling defendant.
A summary of the process
A lawsuit begins when the plaintiff’s attorney files the petition or complaint with the court. A copy of the petition or complaint is served, or delivered, to each defendant in the case.
Each defendant then has a specified amount of time – usually within 30 days – in which to present an answer to the court. It may also contain allegations that the defendant will use in their own defense. Typical allegations are that the petition or complaint was filed after the statute of limitations expired, or that the plaintiff is wholly responsible for his illness.
Throughout the process from the time that the original petition or complaint is filed, both parties of the lawsuit will engage in discovery.
Once the petition or complaint and answer are filed, the court will set a trial date. Depending on the court calendar and the backlog of cases to be heard, as well as the facts of the case itself, that trial date may be set for months in the future. In many jurisdictions, however, a case that involves a living plaintiff with malignant mesothelioma cancer may be rushed through by the courts.
In the weeks leading up to trial, the lawyers for both sides will often engage in negotiations of settlements. Your lawyer will bring you any settlement offers from the defendants, and advise you on whether or not to take those offers. Those negotiations will often be especially intense in the days and hours just before a trial. Most asbestos-related cases are settled out of court before the trial begins.
Your part in the process
Before the petition or complaint is filed, your lawyer will meet with you several times to learn about your medical and work history. He will ask for your medical records, and may recommend that you get particular tests or be seen by specialists in treating asbestos-related diseases. Once he has assembled all the facts he needs, he’ll file a petition or complaint with the court.
Your lawyer may recommend one of several courses of action, depending on how strong he believes your case is. He may suggest, for instance, that you join your case with the cases of other plaintiffs who are suing the same defendants to make a stronger case for all of you.
After the petition or complaint has been filed, the defendants’ lawyers have a right to see your medical records, your work history and any other items that may help them in preparing their defense against the lawsuit. They also have the right to question and interview you through interrogatories and depositions. Your lawyer will always help you with these, so that he can advise you on the legality of the questions that are asked, and whether or not you should answer them.
One or more of the defendants may offer to make a settlement before the case goes to trial. Your lawyer will present those offers to you and abide by your decision to take or reject any of those offers. Your attorney can advise you on whether to accept or reject the offers, based on his experience and knowledge of similar cases.
The majority of asbestos-related lawsuits are settled out of court. Many companies who are involved as defendants in asbestos lawsuits have developed a scale of payments that they will make to plaintiffs who have various conditions caused by asbestos once it is proven that the plaintiff was exposed to their products.
If your attorney feels that you have a strong case, he may recommend that you hold out for trial. During the trial you may take the stand and answer questions asked by your own lawyer, and by the lawyers for the defendants. After all the evidence has been presented, the judge or jury will deliberate and make a decision on your case.