If you've been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you should talk to a lawyer. You might be able to file a civil lawsuit and ask for compensation to cover your medical bills, supplement lost income, and relieve some of your pain and suffering.
Like many people, you might not know where to start your search for a lawyer. In this article, we'll provide you with some background on asbestos litigation and walk you through the process of hiring and working with an asbestos injury lawyer.
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion. Asbestos was commonly used in a wide range of industrial and consumer products, like building materials, auto parts, fabrics, and packaging from the 1940s through the 1970s. Testing has also found asbestos in some baby powder and makeup products.
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing serious diseases, including:
Asbestos litigation took off in the 1970s when scientific studies first connected asbestos exposure to the development of cancers like mesothelioma. Most asbestos lawsuits are personal injury claims filed by people harmed by asbestos ("plaintiffs") against companies who caused their asbestos exposure ("defendants"). Defendants might include manufacturers of asbestos products and owners of asbestos-contaminated commercial and residential properties.
Alternatively, you might be able to file a workers' compensation claim against an employer who exposed you to asbestos on the job, or a wrongful death lawsuit if your spouse or close relative died from an asbestos-related illness.
According to a KCIC report, a consulting firm that administers asbestos-related personal injury claims, over 4,000 asbestos injury claims were filed in 2018 and 2019, and nearly 3,700 claims were filed in 2020 (filings in 2020 were likely down, at least in part, because of COVID-19 court closures).
If you're one of the thousands of people living with an asbestos-related illness, or if someone close to you has died from an asbestos illness like mesothelioma, you might be eligible to file a lawsuit and get compensation for your losses ("damages").
A lawyer can tell you whether you have a good asbestos case. Asbestos cases are complicated. Asbestos-related illnesses can take years—decades even—to develop. An asbestos injury lawyer will have access to databases with information about companies that used and manufactured asbestos so you can connect your asbestos exposure to your illness and figure out the right companies to sue.
An asbestos injury attorney can also:
If you are thinking about filing an asbestos lawsuit, don't delay. All states set a deadline to file a lawsuit called a statute of limitations. In most states, plaintiffs need to file personal injury lawsuits within two or three years of when they developed or were diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness. If the deadline passes, you can't file a lawsuit and get compensation for your losses.
Learn more about deadlines to file personal injury lawsuits.
It can be hard to know where to start your search for an attorney. You can always ask people you know—friends, lawyers, coworkers—for a referral to an attorney they respect and trust. If you were exposed to asbestos on the job, your coworkers might have been exposed too and might already be working with an attorney.
If you, like most people, don't have a big word-of-mouth network when it comes to lawyers, you can turn to online resources like AllLaw or Nolo. Both websites offer free legal information and attorney directories to help you put together a list of potential lawyers to contact. You can also fill out the form on the top or bottom of this page to connect with an attorney for free.
State bar associations usually have websites that allow you to find out if a lawyer is licensed and whether the lawyer has been disciplined for unethical conduct.
Learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer.
When you talk to potential lawyers, you should ask questions like:
Remember you'll want an experienced lawyer you feel comfortable talking to about how your asbestos injury has affected your life.
Learn about working with a personal injury lawyer.
Under a contingency fee agreement, your attorney takes a percentage of any settlement or court judgment you win, and usually advances litigation costs, like travel expenses and expert witness fees. If you lose your case, you typically don't owe your attorney any fees. But, win or lose, you might have to pay your attorney back for some or all litigation costs at the end of your case. Your fee agreement should spell out:
Learn more about lawyers' fee agreements.
Costs and lawyers' fees are two different things in asbestos lawsuits. Costs are the expenses that your attorney pays to get the case started and headed toward settlement or trial. Costs typically include:
Most plaintiffs' attorneys advance their client's litigation costs. If you win your case, costs will be deducted from your award, either before or after attorneys' fees are deducted (see below). But if you lose, you might end up having to pay your attorney back for some or all of the advanced costs.
Litigation costs can add up quickly, especially in asbestos cases, which typically require a medical expert to prove that your illness was caused by asbestos exposure and not another reason like family history, weight, or cigarette smoking.
If you win your case, you'll likely have to pay all litigation costs. You'll want your fee agreement to spell out if costs will be taken from your award before or after your lawyer's contingency fee. The timing can make a big difference in how much money you end up getting.
For example, let's say your asbestos lawsuit goes to trial, and the jury awards you $200,000. Your litigation costs are $25,000, and your attorney's contingency fee percentage is 33%. If your litigation costs are paid before your attorney takes his or her contingency fee percentage, the attorney gets $57,750 (33% of $175,000) and you get $117,250 ($175,000 minus $57,750).
But if you pay for litigation costs after your attorney takes the contingency fee percentage, your attorney gets $66,000 (33% of $200,000) and you get $109,000 ($134,000 minus $25,000). That's a difference of $8,250 in your pocket.
Again, these kinds of financial details—and what costs you have to pay if you don't end up with a settlement or judgment—need to be clearly stated in the fee agreement you sign.
Sometimes things don't work out with a lawyer you've hired for whatever reason. You can change lawyers, but you might still owe the first lawyer a part of your fee and any costs advanced toward your case.
Let's say that sometime after you hire Attorney A, you decide to end the attorney-client relationship and take your asbestos case to Attorney B at a different firm. Attorney A probably has a "lien" (claim) on any advanced litigation costs, and on a proportional fee for representation, which will likely come out of any settlement or award Attorney B gets for you. The attorneys will sort this issue out between themselves, but it's something to think about before you change representation.
"Discovery" is a legal term for the procedures used to gather evidence for a lawsuit. Plaintiffs and defendants exchange information about the case using tools like:
Learn more about the discovery process in asbestos lawsuits.
Depositions are a common discovery tool used in nearly all asbestos cases. At a deposition, witnesses answer questions under oath, usually with a court reporter present to record everything the lawyers and witnesses say. Both sides get a chance to ask each witness questions, but no judge is present and depositions typically take place in offices, not courtrooms.
Learn more about testifying in asbestos cases.
Depositions might take a couple of hours, or extend for days or weeks. It's important to have an experienced attorney who will prepare you for your deposition and keep the process as streamlined as possible. It's also your attorney's job to protect you during your deposition, by objecting to certain questions and asking for breaks.
Your lawyer will work with a team of investigators behind the scenes to figure out how and when you were exposed to asbestos. Investigators will probably contact your coworkers, review depositions, visit libraries and archives, search databases and records collections, contact other law offices, and examine government and business records.
The best lawyers leave no stone unturned. It's not uncommon for asbestos lawyers to review thousands of documents and talk to over a hundred potential witnesses.
Asbestos cases involve complex evidence. One of the hardest things plaintiffs must prove is that asbestos exposure caused their mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural plaque/effusion, or other asbestos injury and not a preexisting health problem or other factors. Proving causation requires research and testimony from medical experts.
If you're considering filing an asbestos lawsuit, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can explain what to expect in your case and help you get the best possible outcome in your case. Learn more about finding the right personal injury lawyer. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with a lawyer for free.