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Asbestos Lawsuits - Protecting Your Rights

Aug 17, 2007
Asbestos lawsuits have become a major issue in many states. The high damages that have been awarded to many plaintiffs have encouraged people suffering from asbestos related conditions to file their own asbestos lawsuits in the hope of recovering some of the financial costs of treating mesothelioma, asbestosis and other medical costs arising from exposure to asbestos. Because so many people have been affected by asbestos exposure, the courts in many states have become bogged down with hundreds and sometimes thousands of asbestos lawsuits awaiting trial.

To ease the crush of asbestos lawsuits awaiting trial, many states have taken a second look at the way that their court systems deal with asbestos related cases. In some cases, this has led to legislation that changes the statute of limitations on bringing an asbestos lawsuit, or in changing requirements for filing a lawsuit related to asbestos exposure.

The intent of most such legislation has been to reduce the number of suits filed and make it easier for those who are the sickest to have their cases heard in court the soonest. In California, for instance, asbestos lawsuits where the plaintiff has been diagnosed with mesothelioma go to the front of the queue for court scheduling.

Among the changes that are being considered in many states are laws that would restrict who can file an asbestos lawsuit in their courts, the time limits for filing asbestos related suits, and the type of suits that are allowed. Some courts will only hear asbestos lawsuits if the defendant or plaintiff reside in or do business in their district.

Others interpret jurisdiction far more liberally. Still others have passed legislation that discourages or prohibits the bundling of many asbestos plaintiffs into one case. In some states, you must have a diagnosed asbestos related disease in order to file suit, but at least one judge has ruled that plaintiffs may bring suit based on their risk of developing mesothelioma, citing the heightened awareness and fear of developing mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure.

The "asbestos crisis" has even prompted federal action. Since the mid-1990s, the federal government has been attempting to pass legislation that would remove the right to bring asbestos lawsuits from the hundreds of thousands of people who have been and may still be exposed to asbestos and become ill as a result.

These bills are highly supported by the insurance industry and those companies who have been held accountable for exposing their employees and the public to asbestos in the workplace and the environment.

The most recent iteration of federal asbestos legislation was the 2005 FAIR (Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution) bill. The bill laid out the structure of a national fund that would pay out specific monetary awards to people who could document particular illnesses, based on how sick they were.

The awards were to be funded by a trust made up of contributions from many of the companies who were guilty of exposing their workers to asbestos. The FAIR bill would have removed the right for people who were injured by asbestos to sue those responsible, and limited the amounts that they could recover to prescribed amounts.

The intent of the FAIR bill, according to its supporters, was to ensure that those who actually suffered damages from asbestos exposure are fairly compensated for their injuries without having to face months and years of trial.

While the intent sounds noble, the true purpose of the FAIR bill is to limit the financial accountability of industry for the damages that it has caused. According to most medical and legal experts who examined the 2005 FAIR bill, it was seriously flawed in a number of ways.

- It seriously underfunded the trust that was meant to completely compensate those who were ill with asbestos related diseases. The amount that it called for, said those experts, wouldn't even be enough to cover the current cases awaiting trial, let alone the several thousand new cases that are diagnosed annually.

- The FAIR bill would have removed the rights of those who were exposed to asbestos outside the workplace, either because their family members brought home asbestos dust on their clothing and in their hair, or because they lived in the vicinity of a plant that processed asbestos. Under the provisions of the FAIR bill, those people would not be able to file asbestos lawsuits despite the fact that the bill made no provision for compensating them for their injuries.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos related disease, you may have the right to recover compensation for your injuries and loss. Find out about your rights to file an asbestos lawsuit before the changing laws take them away for good.
About the Author
Tim Dillard is a marketing executive who has worked with some of the largest law firms in America. Dillard is currently the president of Dillard Local Branding (http://www.dlbllc.com), a Houston-based web design, Internet marketing and search engine marketing firm.
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