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California Asbestos Lawsuits
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California Asbestos Lawsuits

What is Asbestos Lawsuit in California

A California asbestos lawsuit is a legal claim filed by a plaintiff against a company or entity that is legally responsible for any injury or damages the plaintiff sustained due to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral previously widely used in construction for its flexible, strong, and heat-retardant properties. However, it was discovered that asbestos exposure can cause severe health risks, and consequently, California mesothelioma laws were established. if a person inhales airborne asbestos, the inhalation can cause severe damage to a person's internal organs, leading to terrible diseases. For this reason, there are state and federal laws in place that ban the new use of asbestos.

At the federal level, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates asbestos use and provides guidelines that protect workers and other members of the public from asbestos exposure. At the state level, California's Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) provides guidelines that detail the responsibility of contractors, building owners, and employers in minimizing asbestos exposure.

Since exposure to asbestos causes serious diseases, California laws allow persons exposed to or families of persons who die from asbestos exposure to seek financial compensation from the entities or organizations responsible for the exposure. Asbestos lawsuits are civil actions filed against solvent entities or organizations.

While it is clear that asbestos lawsuits provide compensation to the plaintiff, they also hold the defendant accountable for their role in the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos.

Types of Asbestos Lawsuits

There are two main types of asbestos lawsuits: wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits.

Wrongful death lawsuits: when a person dies due to asbestos exposure, the deceased's surviving family members or representatives may file a lawsuit against the entity or organization responsible for the deceased's exposure to asbestos. Wrongful death lawsuits provide:

  • Compensation to the deceased's family for funeral costs.
  • Lost income potential.
  • Any outstanding medical bills.
  • Other types of losses.

Personal injury lawsuits: patients or persons who suffer from illness due to asbestos exposure may file personal injury claims. Diseases that could arise from asbestos exposure include mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural diseases, and lung cancer. Individual claimants file personal injury lawsuits against organizations or entities legally liable for the claimant's exposure. The settlement from personal injury lawsuits compensates the plaintiff for medical expenses, lost income, travel costs, suffering, and other inconveniences.

Other types of asbestos lawsuits include:

  • Trust fund claims: as earlier stated, asbestos lawsuits are filed against solvent organizations liable for the claimant's exposure to asbestos. On the other hand, trust fund claims are filed against companies that have declared bankruptcy. These claims are filed outside the court and allow companies to provide compensation to victims while avoiding lawsuits. Asbestos trust funds also ensure that a victim or their loved ones can receive payment regardless of the defendant's financial status.
  • Mass tort lawsuits: also known as multidistrict litigation (MDL), mass tort lawsuits allow multiple claimants to file individual lawsuits using standardized processes that enable the court to handle various cases quickly. A mass tort lawsuit is different from a class-action lawsuit in that while class action lawsuits are treated as a single case, mass tort lawsuits are treated as individual cases.
  • Class action lawsuits: when one or more persons file a claim on behalf of a group of people, it is a class-action lawsuit. Class action lawsuits involve multiple individuals who have similar asbestos injury claims against the same defendant.

Who Can File an Asbestos Lawsuit in California?

Asbestos exposure can be dangerous even when it has been latent for years. Persons who have been exposed to asbestos or who develop asbestos-related diseases after exposure may file lawsuits and are entitled to compensation from the liable entity. Additionally, the relatives of a person who dies due to asbestos exposure may file lawsuits.

California has many asbestos deposits, and as a result, Californians face a high risk of exposure in many areas of the state. Persons who work in asbestos mines, naval shipyards, and other work environments that expose the workers to asbestos are at high risk and form the highest number of asbestos lawsuit claimants.

Other companies likely to be liable for asbestos exposure include asbestos fiber companies, landowners, and companies that supply asbestos products.

How to File an Asbestos Lawsuit in California

An asbestos product may be subject to liability claims even if it has a high-quality design or manufacturing process. Additionally, if an asbestos product does not come with a manufacturer's warning or if it is distributed for a consumer's use without appropriate notice, the product may be subject to legal claims.

Parties interested in filing asbestos lawsuits are advised to seek legal counsel or employ lawyers for representation. Lawyers better understand state and federal laws and processes and can provide helpful guidance on how best to proceed in asbestos lawsuits. Due to their extensive knowledge and experience, asbestos claim lawyers can adequately protect the claimant's rights and interests.

Persons who choose to file asbestos lawsuits must meet specific eligibility criteria, including the following:

  • The claimant must have proof of diagnosis of an illness caused by asbestos exposure.
  • The claimant must be able to prove asbestos exposure and evidence that the defendant is liable for the exposure: This could be proof of work history, showing that the claimant worked for the defendant or lived in the defendant's building.
  • The claimant must also be able to present financial records that prove that the asbestos exposure has caused financial hardship.

When a plaintiff files a claim, the court schedules a settlement conference where case parties may negotiate a settlement with the defendant. If case parties cannot agree, the case will proceed to trial.

Typically, lawyers guide claimants through the discovery phase, where relevant testimonies and documentation are gathered. Lawyers also manage communication between case parties, providing advice on settlement offers, trials, or trust fund claims. Persons interested in filing asbestos lawsuits in California must file within statutes of limitation.

Since trust fund claims are slightly different from asbestos lawsuits, the filing processes differ in some ways from those of a lawsuit. Once a person files a trust fund claim personally or through their attorney, the trust reviews the claim. There are two types of review processes:

  • Expedited reviews: when a claimant meets the trust's criteria, the claim may undergo an expedited review process. The process is faster, but the payout for an expedited process is fixed. This means that the claimant or their attorney cannot negotiate payout amounts.
  • Individual reviews: in cases where the claimant has evidence that exceeds the trust's criteria. Typically, claims that go through individual reviews are unique and considered extraordinary in some cases. Individual reviews take longer, but the payout is not fixed; the claimant or lawyer may negotiate payout amounts with the trustee.

If the trust approves the claimant's claim, the claimant will receive payment.

How Long Do Asbestos Lawsuits Take?

The time an asbestos lawsuit takes typically varies from case to case and depends on several factors, including the type of lawsuit, the court's processes, the plaintiff's health, and the defendants. While some cases are resolved within months, others may take years to resolve. Some of the factors that determine how long an asbestos lawsuit takes include:

  • Litigation processes depend on court jurisdiction; however, case parties can typically expect the court to schedule a settlement conference or trial after filing. Depending on the court's calendar, settlement conferences or trials may be set for a few months or, in some cases, a year after the filing. The trial date is a good indicator of how long an asbestos lawsuit will take.
  • Claimant's health: elderly claimants, persons in ill health, or those who are terminally sick may get faster turnaround times on their suits. In California, persons over 70 may file a motion for preference with the court. Additionally, persons with illnesses that make it medically doubtful that they will survive beyond six (6) months may file a motion for preference (CCP § 36). If the court grants the motion, the court will shorten the expected timelines for the litigation processes.
  • Defendants: the number of defendants affects the timeline of an asbestos lawsuit. A lawsuit involving a person with one or two potential defendants may proceed faster than one where the plaintiff has had several points of asbestos exposure and therefore has several potential defendants.
  • Evidence: high-quality evidence is essential to the success of an asbestos lawsuit, and this takes time to gather. Both parties must collect and review case party testimonies, witness testimonies, and any other documents that either party provides as evidence.
  • Appeals: if case parties appeal any motions or verdicts in the course of the lawsuit, the appeal may extend the timeline or duration of the lawsuit. This is because appeals procedures and schedules are different from those of the lawsuit.
  • Backlogs: if a lawsuit is filed in a jurisdiction with many asbestos lawsuits, there may be a backlog of cases, which would affect the timeline for a lawsuit. Similarly, trust funds may have a backlog of claims, which could impact payment timelines.

Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits in California

Asbestos lawsuits can be handled as individual claims or class action lawsuits. While individual claims involve case parties filing claims for personal injury or wrongful death as individuals, class action lawsuits involve several individuals with similar injuries filing a case against one defendant. One or more persons represent the class of claimants in the lawsuit.

Before the court approves a class-action lawsuit, the court must first determine that sufficient similarities exist between the class members' claims. The court must also determine that individual lawsuits would be burdensome or impractical due to the number of claimants in a class. Once the court establishes these facts, the court allows the class action to proceed by certifying the class.

Class action lawsuits are an efficient way for victims of asbestos exposure to access compensation. They are especially beneficial when the claimants are exposed to asbestos at the same job site. However, a drawback of class-action lawsuits is that class action members may not receive as much compensation as those who file individual claims. This is because the total settlement amount must be split between members of the class. Another drawback of class action lawsuits is that there may not exist enough similarities between multiple cases. Persons who agree to be part of class action lawsuits waive their rights to individual trials. Also, members of a class-action lawsuit have less control over their cases.

Asbestos Lawsuit Statute of Limitations in California

The general statute of limitations for wrongful death or personal injury claims is two (2) years from the claimant's injury or death. However, the laws that govern asbestos lawsuits in California are slightly different. The period within which patients or their representatives must file asbestos lawsuits in California depends on the type of lawsuit.

For personal injury claims or claims related to illness and injury resulting from asbestos exposure, patients must file a lawsuit within one (1) year after the patients first suffer the damage, disability, or illness. Injury or illness sustained from asbestos exposure may not be immediately apparent. Therefore, California laws also allow claimants to bring legal action within one (1) year after the patient realizes that the injury, disability, or illness is a result of or caused by asbestos exposure.

According to California's Code of Civil Procedure (CCP), disability in an asbestos lawsuit may also encompass losing time from work due to asbestos exposure. In other words, if a person cannot attend to their regular work due to asbestos exposure, the person has suffered a disability.

For wrongful death lawsuits, case parties must begin action within one (1) year of the plaintiff's death due to asbestos exposure or one (1) year from when the plaintiff found out that the death was caused entirely or in part by exposure to asbestos. Claimants must bring any asbestos lawsuit action within the specified statute of limitations to avoid a time ban on the case. Beyond the statutes of limitation, case parties may no longer file asbestos lawsuits.