History of Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits are filed on behalf of a group of people with the same or similar injuries allegedly caused by one or more defendant. The intent is to streamline the judicial process and save time and money by grouping similar cases together.

When the American public became aware of the terrible health effects of asbestos exposure in the late 1960s, class action lawsuits were a natural option to hold negligent companies accountable.

State and federal courts have their own rules for governing class actions, but most agree on the basics.

Class Action Lawsuit Characteristics

  • Plaintiffs share similar injuries.
  • Injuries were caused by shared circumstances.
  • Circumstances raise the same legal issues.

Mesothelioma class action lawsuits were typically filed against companies in the construction, shipbuilding, mining or manufacturing industries. These companies were liable because their executives knew about the risks of asbestos exposure but hid this information from workers and consumers.

As more asbestos-related claims piled in, however, it became clear that mesothelioma lawsuits were best handled on an individual basis.

Why Mesothelioma Class Actions No Longer Exist

Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort in American history. But while the thousands of claims filed each year have a common theme — asbestos exposure — each case is unique.

Every patient diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease has a different story and unique circumstances that affect their case. This makes it problematic to group the cases together in class actions.

Class action lawsuits are better suited for groups with similar injuries and shared circumstances such as those affected by dangerous drugs, product defects or civil rights issues.

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Notable Moments That Changed Asbestos Class Actions

1991: Consolidation of Federal Asbestos Cases

In 1991, the federal courts consolidated their asbestos cases into the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Since then, a special court known as MDL 875 has heard multidistrict asbestos litigation at the federal level.

1994: Georgine v. Amchem Products Inc.

In Georgine v. Amchem Products Inc., a group of asbestos-product manufacturers and plaintiffs’ attorneys sought to negotiate a settlement agreement. Their idea was to create a class solely for settlement purposes and set up a payment matrix to calculate payouts for present and future claims.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled against the plan. It determined class certification was inappropriate because the group of claimants was too large and their circumstances were too diverse.

1999: Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against certifying an asbestos class action lawsuit in Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp. Federal courts generally uphold the precedent set by Georgine v. Amchem. Some state courts are more willing to certify class actions, but it is uncommon in asbestos litigation.

Benefits of Filing an Individual Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Most mesothelioma lawsuits are filed as personal injury claims or wrongful death claims. Compensation may also be available through asbestos trust funds, workers’ compensation or claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Filing an individual asbestos lawsuit brings certain advantages over a class action suit, including:

  • Amount of Compensation: A winning verdict or mesothelioma settlement typically results in a much larger award compared to the divided amount from a class action lawsuit.
  • Shorter Trial: Class action lawsuits can drag on for months or even years because they require so much cooperation between everyone involved. In contrast, mesothelioma patients in very poor health may have their personal injury claim expedited to save time.
  • More Control: Joining a class action means giving up control over your case and relying on the plaintiffs' lawyers, defendants' lawyers and courts involved to all cooperate. In personal injury and wrongful death claims, plaintiffs have more control and say in how the claim progresses.

It is best to consult an experienced mesothelioma attorney about your options for legal compensation. A qualified asbestos lawyer will focus on your individual circumstances.