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California Mesothelioma Claims

What is Mesothelioma Claims in California

A California mesothelioma claim allows a victim of mesothelioma to collect compensation from an employer or corporate entity liable for their injury pursuant to California mesothelioma and asbestos laws. Mesothelioma (or malignant mesothelioma) is a medical term for a rare and deadly tumor that affects the lining of the abdomen, lungs, and other internal body organs. This type of cancer almost exclusively stems from exposure to asbestos, a mineral that had many commercial, industrial, and household applications decades ago - and which caused many people, especially those who worked with it and those who lived with asbestos workers, to contract life-threatening diseases like mesothelioma.

The United States of America has a long and dark history of organizations knowingly exposing people to carcinogens (cancer-causing minerals, chemicals, or substances) to make a profit, and in the case of mesothelioma, this was what mostly happened. Many U.S. asbestos manufacturers, suppliers, and others playing key roles in the asbestos industry knew of the toxic effects of asbestos. Yet they diligently hid and downplayed medical research findings, ultimately choosing financial gain over the health and safety of workers, their families, and society at large. For this reason, it was years later before the public found out the truth about asbestos. By that time, an untold amount of people had been wrongfully exposed, and some were either beginning to develop a terminal illness or were fighting one. A good number were already deceased.

The rise in mesothelioma incidences and deaths led to thousands of claims being filed by victims to obtain relief and hold the negligent corporations accountable. One U.S. state that saw a majority of mesothelioma filings, given its large population density and history with asbestos, was California.

In California today, despite the implementation of several federal and state asbestos regulations, new mesothelioma claims are still being filed. The primary contributing factor is that a diagnosis of mesothelioma is normally made after at least 20 years have passed, as the disease remains latent for an extended period before the first symptoms appear.

Eligibility Requirements for Filing a Mesothelioma Claim in California

Any individual diagnosed with mesothelioma (or their family member) can file a legal claim to obtain financial compensation in California. However, there are eligibility requirements for filing a mesothelioma claim, which often vary according to the claim type. These requirements can be summarized as follows:

The statute of limitations: An important prerequisite for filing a mesothelioma claim in California is that the victim (formally referred to as the claimant or plaintiff) must file within the timeframe established to receive damages.

Per Section 340.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, California's statute of limitations to file a mesothelioma claim is one year. This period usually runs as follows:

  • Within a year of a mesothelioma diagnosis or death
  • Within a year that a claimant should have reasonably known that a death or injury was caused or contributed to by mesothelioma

As rightly seen, the California legislature offers a small window to file a mesothelioma claim. Hence, each victim must act promptly after discovering their illness, as any delay may strip them of the right to receive financial compensation in the state.

A mesothelioma diagnosis: In addition to filing a claim within the legal limits, a victim must have medical records showing evidence of a mesothelioma diagnosis. The records must carry the signature of a qualified physician. Having diagnostic records does not only simplify the process of preparing the claim but affects the sum that the victim might receive as compensation.

Evidence of asbestos exposure: In mesothelioma proceedings, a claimant's success often rests on the provision of supporting evidence. Simply put, the claimant must have proof that they were exposed to asbestos (the singular cause of mesothelioma) and that exposure occurred due to the defendant's deliberate action or inaction. Proof of exposure may include:

  • Documentation detailing one's asbestos exposure history. For example, proof that a claimant worked for a defendant within a certain period or proof that one's illness is connected to the use of an asbestos product manufactured by a defendant.
  • Eyewitness accounts and testimonies from co-workers.

Types of Mesothelioma Claims

Mesothelioma victims or patients in California can file three types of legal claims to recover damages: a personal injury claim, wrongful death claim, or an asbestos trust fund claim. The first two can be filed in court against a solvent company or employer, whereas the latter can be filed against the asbestos trust fund of an insolvent (bankrupt) company or employer.

Personal injury claims

A personal injury claim allows a living victim of mesothelioma to obtain relief from an at-fault entity. When filing such a claim, a plaintiff can pursue negligence, product liability, or premises liability on the defendant's part. By basing a personal injury claim on negligence, a victim alleges that a defendant's careless action or mistake exposed them to mesothelioma. For example, the defendant failed to include an adequate or clear warning on their product, purposely manufactured or sold a product containing asbestos (like in the case of the Johnson & Johnson talcum-based baby powder), or created or supported workplace conditions that substantially increased a person's risk of mesothelioma.

Usually, with negligence claims, the claimant must prove the following:

  • The defendant had a legal duty toward them
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The breach caused the claimant's injury (also called the "causation")
  • The claimant was harmed because of the breach

Meanwhile, product liability (sometimes referred to as "strict liability") puts the blame squarely on a defendant who manufactured or sold an asbestos-containing product. In this circumstance, the liability exists regardless of whether production or sale was due to the defendant's negligence, as the party should have reasonably deduced that their product was inherently dangerous.

Premises liability, on the other hand, is unique to cases involving property owners and their inhabitants or visitors. California's premises liability law imposes a duty on building owners and landlords to maintain their properties in a manner fit for human occupation or use. Hence, an individual exposed to asbestos on a premises and who later developed mesothelioma as a result of that exposure can file a personal injury claim for premises liability.

Wrongful death claims

A wrongful death claim lets the surviving family member or personal representative of a deceased mesothelioma victim receive financial compensation for the death. By filing this type of claim, a victim's loved one can recover economic and non-economic damages, such as loss of income, medical expenses, funeral bills, loss of normal life, and pain and suffering.

Asbestos trust fund claims

As earlier mentioned, not all mesothelioma claims are filed with a California court to recover damages. A claim can also be filed out-of-court against a company's asbestos trust fund.

Following the asbestos boom in the United States, which witnessed hundreds of thousands of people exposed to debilitating diseases, many companies that participated in the manufacture and sale of asbestos products or materials began to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code due to the increasing number of claims and lawsuits filed against them. While companies who filed for bankruptcy became immune to lawsuits, the concession to declaring bankruptcy in this manner was that each bankrupt company provide a means to compensate present/future victims and their families. Hence, the establishment of asbestos trust funds.

Today, mesothelioma victims have access to a substantial amount of money via asbestos trust funds. To be eligible for compensation via such trusts, a victim must be able to link a bankrupt company's actions or products to their asbestos exposure. However, a trust will usually only pay a fixed sum of money to a mesothelioma victim. For this reason, it is not unusual to see a plaintiff file a claim with the asbestos trust fund of a negligent bankrupt company but still proceed with a claim in court against a viable company responsible for their injury or loss. Nevertheless, a victim may be qualified to collect compensation from multiple trusts in certain cases.

Besides a legal claim, it is worth noting that a victim of mesothelioma can qualify to file other types of claims, including a veterans (VA) disability claim and workers' compensation claim. Military personnel who served in the United States armed forces, got exposed to asbestos during service, and developed mesothelioma can file a veterans claim. More information about the procedure can be found on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website.

On the other hand, an asbestos worker can file a workers' compensation claim to receive compensation benefits for their injury, as many cases of mesothelioma stem from occupational exposure to asbestos. To qualify to file a workers' compensation claim, a victim's employer must have workers' compensation insurance, and the employer must have directly employed the victim. An independent contractor is ineligible to file such a claim.

Furthermore, the victim must meet California's statute of limitations for filing a workers' compensation claim:

  • 30 days from the date of injury for informing the employer about the work-related injury, and
  • One year from the date of injury to file a claim with the Workers' Compensation Division.

This one-year deadline should disqualify a mesothelioma victim from filing a workers' compensation claim since mesothelioma is a latent disease, and it is often decades later (perhaps when the victim is no longer employed in the same company) that symptoms appear. However, Cal. Labor Code § 5412 lists an exception for cases involving cumulative injuries or occupational diseases. In such situations, the deadline for filing a claim begins to run from the date the victim first suffered a disability and either knew or should have rightly known that the injury (in this case, mesothelioma) was tied to their present or prior employment.

It should be noted that a workers' compensation claim limits the payout a mesothelioma victim can receive from their employer. The sum received only covers some medical bills and partial wages, not punitive damages or damages for pain and suffering.

Generally, a workers' compensation claim is not a lawsuit or legal claim requesting damages from an employer, nor does it place the fault of an injury on an employer. In these cases, a victim is entitled to compensation regardless of who is at fault. However, anyone who files such a claim loses the right to sue their employer for damages.

Why File a Mesothelioma Claim

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer and the most serious type a person can get from asbestos exposure, given that no cure exists and it has a high mortality rate. Statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the median survival rate of mesothelioma patients at one year.

Usually, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, the cancer will have already spread to other areas in the body, making it difficult to remove or even treat. Sometimes, doctors will use various treatments - including surgery, chemotherapy, and other therapies recommended in clinical trials - to extend a patient's life or enhance their quality of life. However, these treatments are quite expensive and significantly impact a victim's finances, considering the patient can no longer earn more money to cover the treatment costs.

Apart from the financial implications of mesothelioma, there is the added emotional distress, not just on the victim but their loved ones too. For a family member, the strain could come from watching their loved one fight with the disease, or it could be trepidation toward future survival, particularly when the victim is the sole provider.

The health, financial, and future ramifications of mesothelioma combined will often prompt a victim (or their family member) to seek damages from the entity that caused their suffering. Financial relief goes a long way to cover the medical fees, daily living expenses, travel expenses, and lost income of the victim, among other costs. It also pays for the pain and suffering endured by the victim and their family, and it provides better financial security for the victim's family.

How to File a Mesothelioma Suit in California: The Process

When considering filing a mesothelioma suit in California, it is imperative to first speak to a qualified attorney. Each claim type has a different process and outcome, and an attorney is better suited to explain the particularities of the law and a person's legal options.

Proceeding without an accurate understanding of the law and how it relates to a case can affect several aspects of a victim's claim - the amount in compensation they could receive, for one. In addition, ambiguous knowledge of the corresponding legal procedures can cause a victim to relinquish a few rights, such as the right to file a mesothelioma claim in California if one accidentally exceeds the state's statute of limitations.

After engaging an attorney, the next stage typically involves reviewing the case and gathering the appropriate documentation, e.g., medical records, financial records revealing hardships originating from the disease, work history records, etc.

Because the pre-filing stage is often drawn-out and demanding, and the mesothelioma victim may be immersed in treatments or therapies, it is prudent to work with an experienced attorney. An attorney (with the support of their legal team) can perform the following functions, all of which are necessary to the success of a claim:

  • Verify eligibility to file a claim
  • Determine the appropriate claim to file
  • Determine the right jurisdiction to file a formal complaint
  • Investigate a person's asbestos exposure history
  • Compile sufficient information and evidence to establish or support a claim
  • Identify the liable entities. This includes an employer, an asbestos product manufacturer, a premises owner, an asbestos contractor, a raw asbestos fiber company, etc.
  • Prepare and file a written complaint on the claimant's behalf
  • Obtain a fair settlement for the claimant
  • Manage the entire legal process

Following the filing of a mesothelioma claim and payment of the associated filing costs, the defendant(s) will be notified of the claim and legally mandated to participate in the ensuing court proceedings, which could lead to a jury trial and verdict if the claimant rejects a settlement.

How Long Does Filing a Mesothelioma Claim Take in California

There is no fixed timeframe for how long filing a mesothelioma claim would take in California. Each claim is unique to its circumstances and the parties involved. As such, what could take weeks in one case could amount to months in another case.

Nevertheless, the first thing any potential claimant must note is that there is a statute of limitations directing filings. This period is usually one year from a mesothelioma diagnosis or death. As such, while filing a mesothelioma claim may involve several activities, such as hiring an experienced lawyer, gathering evidence of one's exposure history, and determining who/where to sue, victims must ensure they satisfy the statute of limitations applicable to their case. Otherwise, they can lose the right to file a lawsuit or claim in California.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Mesothelioma Settlement in California

Generally, mesothelioma claims are resolved one of two ways in California: by jury verdict or settlement. A mesothelioma settlement compensates a victim before a case goes to trial or becomes subject to further litigation. It also releases the sued entity from further liability toward the compensated victim. Meanwhile, a jury verdict results from a court trial that took place because a claimant and defendant could not settle a claim outside the court.

Because the court's trial process may be lengthy - and receiving damages subsequently may take even more time (time the mesothelioma victim may not have) - many claims are settled before trial.

Altogether, it is difficult to say how much time it would take to get a mesothelioma settlement in California. However, it ultimately depends on how quickly both sides can decide on a settlement amount.