If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is in your best interest to speak to a qualified lawyer as soon as possible. Mesothelioma cases, as all other cases, are time sensitive, so you do not have the opportunity to wait. This is also true due to the very poor prognosis of the illness itself. Seeking legal advice as soon as possible is the most important thing of all, particularly if you are considering a class action lawsuit.

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit happens when several people have all sustained the same or similar injuries as a result of a defective product, or otherwise negligent behavior of someone else. In asbestos cases, for instance, class action lawsuits have been started against asbestos manufacturers, holding these manufacturers responsible for the various asbestos-related illnesses.

Class Action Lawsuits and Mesothelioma

The first class action lawsuits for mesothelioma cases were filed in the 1960s. This was when it became public knowledge that asbestos exposure could lead to serious illnesses. There are millions of different asbestos claims, and this has led to the judicial system setting up procedures to handle them. Class action lawsuits are not very common in asbestos cases, however, with most people filing either individual claims or mass torts.

In most cases, a mesothelioma class action lawsuit will be filed against asbestos manufacturers or against companies that knew asbestos exposure was dangerous, but did not inform their employees about this. These include construction companies, mines, asbestos distributers, and shipbuilders, to name but a few.

Mesothelioma Class Actions

Within two decades of the first asbestos cases, there were suddenly around 20,000 individual cases. People became increasingly aware of the asbestos dangers, and mesothelioma went from being a very rare cancer, to one that was frequently diagnosed. In fact, just 20 years later, there were 750,000 cases. This was overwhelming and made it very difficult for the judicial system to properly manage each individual complaint. This is why, in 1991, many cases were combined under MDL 875 (Multidistrict Asbestos Litigation), started by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This was done solely for pre-trial purposes.

MDL 875 was a landmark decision that has influenced many other class action lawsuits that followed. Another very important case was that of Georgine v. Amchem Inc.. Because of MDL 875, it was expected that a global settlement would be facilitated by the presiding judge. It did not, however, which was why the plaintiffs tried to come to a settlement agreement. They proposed what became known as the Georgine v. Amchem Prods., Inc. agreement. The agreement highlighted that a class could be formed with the sole purpose of coming to a settlement. A payment matrix would be created so that provisions would be made for current asbestos victims, as well as future victims. However, the U.S. Supreme Court did not agree to the proposal, deeming it inappropriate due to the large size of the class, within which many individuals had different interests.

After Amchem, asbestos class actions became very favorable. However, in the case of Ortiz v. FIbreboard Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court once again felt that a class action was not appropriate. State courts, however, usually accept class actions, whereas federal courts do not. This is believed to be one of the main reasons why asbestos class actions are not as common as in other tort types.

Should You Take Part in a Class Action?

People often worry about starting class actions. Firstly, this is because they are huge, lengthy cases, in which you are essentially not treated as an individual. Added to that is the fact that class actions, as explained above, are not common in asbestos cases. This could mean that you could invest a lot of time in a possible class action, only to then have to file individually. Since mesothelioma has a very poor prognosis, time is something you will be in very short supply of.

That being said, if you are requested to participate in a class action, it is something that you should at least consider. It is your right to join or to opt out, but it is a decision not to be taken lightly. If you opt out, you can start your own lawsuit, join a later class action if appropriate, or even take no legal action at all (this is not recommended, but it is your right). If you do receive a request to join a class action lawsuit, therefore, you should seek advice from an independent legal professional to determine what is the best way forward.

If you do decide to join in a class action lawsuit, it is very likely that an out of court settlement will be reached, which is the most common result when there is a large group of claimants, which can be as many as thousands of individuals. The settlement then has to be split between the claimants. If you want to avoid going to trial, then this may be a suitable option for you. However, reaching some sort of agreement on the various legal issues between plaintiffs and defendants can be very difficult. Furthermore, agreeing on settlement terms – which then has to be approved by the court – is equally difficult. Usually, some sort of matrix will have to be created to determine the share of each plaintiff.

There are some significant difficulties in undertaking a class action lawsuit in a mesothelioma case. You will usually feel like you are much less in control, as it is no longer about your individual story. Rather, your collective best interest will be represented. If you file your own lawsuit, your lawyer will be able to focus specifically on you, your personal situation, the issues you have faced and continue to face, and the various defendants that may be involved in your lawsuit. This is something that the majority of mesothelioma patients and their families prefer.