According to a Reuters special report, mesothelioma settlements amounts in 2012 rose dramatically compared to the decade before. The resurgence in claims corresponds to the prognosis of asbestos-exposed mesothelioma victims who had received their diagnosis just a few years prior.
One case with nine defendants consisting of huge industry names like GE and Westinghouse commanded a $7 million verdict. The plaintiff in this case was the estate of Richard Merwitz, who succumbed to mesothelioma in 2010.
Eight of the nine original defendants consented to a settlement agreement before the trial, but the final defendant, Rockbestos-Surprenant Cable Corp., opted to bring the case to trial. “Rockbestos intended to assert all of its defenses and to let the jury decide the case,” noted one attorney involved with the trial. “The jury rejected them all.”
In total, the average award has risen since the mid-2000s when cases like the Merwitz Estates’ saw a resurgence. In 2009, the average award was $6.3 million. In 2010, it was $17.6 million. It fell to $10.5 million in 2011, but still remained at levels much higher than many insurance companies and specially-created trusts anticipated.
Individuals seeking damages have a long litigious battle ahead of them, but in many ways they have a better chance than ever of receiving their due compensation.
A Rise in Mesothelioma Settlements Amounts For Victims
Corresponding with the rise in legal action against companies for asbestos use is an increase in the number of plaintiffs with confirmable mesothelioma diagnoses or similar asbestos-caused health conditions. One firm notes that, in the past, many asbestos exposure plaintiffs were designated as unimpaired — they were not suffering any obvious health consequences and did not have a confirmed mesothelioma diagnosis.
Now, tragically, that is no longer the case. Many of the victims coming forward have been directly exposed to asbestos either through their employer’s environment or as a result of entering buildings, structures and vessels that have been contaminated with asbestos fibers.
One victim and successful claimant was Heather Von St. James, who was a daughter of a drywall sander who often worked with products containing asbestos. The dust on her father’s coat would enter her lungs when she would greet her father at the door with enthusiastic hugs. She would even wear the coat on her way outside to feed her pet rabbits.
She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005, just a few weeks after the birth of her daughter. St. James was fortunate to find treatment options that helped her go into remission, but they included a complete lung removal. Lacking the energy to care for her daughter or continue working as a stylist, she sought damages that equated what her attorneys estimated as $5 million in lifetime losses.
One issue the Reuters report raises is that many trusts set up by bankrupt or now non-existent companies often settle for far less than a typical jury award, paying as little as 18 cents on the dollar for agreed upon settlements.
Mesothelioma victims, their families and their estates must therefore take care when entering litigation to ensure that the compensatory path they pursue fits most appropriately with their goals and the extent of damages they seek. They can turn to resources like Mesowatch for up-to-date information on legal recourses against parties that contributed to asbestos exposure.