In the weeks or months since a chest X-ray revealed something unusual on or near your chest wall, you have probably thought more about the intricacies of the human body than you ever had before. Unless you work in certain subfields of medicine, you probably have not thought about cell division or apoptosis since high school biology class, and now you are acutely aware of how much it affects your future. These days, you find yourself looking at images online of biopsies of cancerous and non-cancerous cells and imagining which one your test result will look like. You think about the route that the surgeon will have to take to remove the tumor and about what the chemotherapy drugs will do to the cancer cells and to the other cells in your body which are innocent bystanders to the whole mess. You worry about losing your hair and losing the ability to enjoy your favorite foods.
A mesothelioma diagnosis affects your life in non-medical ways, too. Considering how rare it is, mesothelioma is the subject of more specific laws and court decisions than many other more common diseases. Some of these laws give mesothelioma patients and their families the right to seek financial compensation from the parties legally responsible for failing to prevent the asbestos exposure that eventually led to the development of mesothelioma.
Basics of Personal Injury Law
Mesothelioma lawsuits are a type of personal injury lawsuit, and these kinds of lawsuits function according to tort law. A tort is anything one entity (usually a person or corporation) does to cause someone else to suffer preventable financial losses; the type of tort relevant to personal injury law is negligence. When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you are the plaintiff, and the entity you are suing is the defendant. To win your case, you must prove four things:
- The defendant had a legal duty (“the duty of care”) not to injure you or cause your illness.
- The defendant acted negligently (“breached the duty of care”) by doing something they knew or should reasonably have known was dangerous or failing to do something that they knew or should reasonably have known was necessary.
- You suffered an injury or illness as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence.
- You suffered financial losses as a direct result of the illness or injury.
In the case of a mesothelioma lawsuit, the defendant is the company responsible for your asbestos exposure. In many cases, it is the employer for which you were working when your work put you into direct contact with asbestos dust. If asbestos dust was present in your house, the defendant could be the company that built your house. It could even be the school board of the county where you lived as a child if you suffered asbestos exposure while your school building was being renovated. An issue that arises in many mesothelioma lawsuits is when companies became aware of the dangers of asbestos and whether they took adequate measures to protect workers and consumers from asbestos dust before and during the asbestos removal process.
Beware of “Door Lawyers”
When choosing doctors to treat your mesothelioma, you should choose someone who not only has experience treating mesothelioma patients but is also knowledgeable about recent research and treatment options for mesothelioma. Given that mesothelioma is one of the less common forms of cancer, there are not very many doctors in the world who can provide effective treatment for mesothelioma; even if you are only counting oncologists, who have completed a residency program after medical school where they exclusively worked with cancer patients, the percentage who work with mesothelioma treatment is quite low. In practice, this means that your medical team will consist of doctors in different cities, or at least on opposite ends of the same metropolitan area, so living with mesothelioma often means traveling to get to different doctors’ appointments. For example, the hospital systems in every major city have medical oncologists who prescribe and administer chemotherapy, but you might have to drive 50 miles or more to get to a thoracic surgeon who can remove the mesothelioma tumor.
Just as you would not trust just any person who has graduated from medical school to manage the complex medical issues of your mesothelioma treatment single-handedly, you would not trust just anyone who has graduated from law school to manage all the complex legal issues related to mesothelioma patients. Some lawyers are willing to take on the case of any client who walks through the door; thus, they are known in the legal profession as “door lawyers.” This approach to legal practice works well for law firms, especially in small towns. They are able to achieve a satisfactory outcome for most of their clients, who are usually seeking their help with relatively simple matters such as breach of contract between small businesses, enforcing or modifying child support orders, personal injury cases related to car accidents, and criminal defense for common criminal offenses such as DUI and drug possession.
For a mesothelioma lawsuit, however, you need a mesothelioma lawyer. Personal injury law firms often list on their website the various types of personal injury cases they represent. You will probably find a drop-down menu on the website that lists car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, premises liability (slip and fall) and the like. Some even include more specialized areas of personal injury law, such as workers’ compensation and medical malpractice. You should only work with a law firm if their website lists mesothelioma law as one of the types of cases they take.
Can I Afford to Hire a Lawyer?
Your first Google search about how much it costs to hire a lawyer will leave you feeling like you cannot afford to hire one. Of course, those numbers only tell one part of the story. When businesses hire lawyers to help them resolve business disputes, they can pay as they go for every hour of the law firm employees’ time they use. People who are unable to work because of injuries or occupational diseases cannot afford to do this, though. Therefore, many personal injury lawyers, including mesothelioma lawyers, operate on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay the lawyer anything until you receive a settlement from the defendant. At your first consultation, which is usually free, your lawyer will discuss payment options, including contingency fees. contact our asbestos lawyers for legal information.
Who Is Legally Responsible for the Asbestos Exposure That Caused My Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma lawsuits differ from simpler kinds of personal injury cases in several ways. In a car accident lawsuit, for example, there is no question as to when the car accident occurred, which vehicles were involved, or who owns the vehicles. Things only get complicated when there is room for debate about who is at fault for the accident and what share of the fault belongs to which driver; likewise, if the plaintiff has a pre-existing medical condition that can cause symptoms similar to the symptoms that the plaintiff is suffering, the defendant might argue that the accident is not the cause of the plaintiff’s current need or treatment or is only one of several factors contributing to the plaintiff’s ill health.
Because mesothelioma symptoms can develop so many years after the patient’s exposure to asbestos, it can be difficult to know how you were exposed to asbestos and which party had a legal responsibility to protect you from that exposure. When you meet with a mesothelioma lawyer, your lawyer will conduct a series of detailed interviews about possible exposures to asbestos dust that you might have experienced. This will determine how you should proceed in your mesothelioma lawsuit.
You Can’t Put a Price Tag on Health
Unless a preventable accident or illness has ruined your finances, you might wonder why people bother to file lawsuits about illnesses and injuries and what it solves when someone has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more, to someone who suffered harm as a result of someone else’s negligence. Managing mesothelioma requires you to travel to different doctors and endure surgeries, hospital stays, and treatment with expensive chemotherapy drugs. As the disease progresses, you may need to enter a nursing home or have a home health aide help take care of you. Even if you have health insurance, the medical bills and long-term care bills alone can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more than a million over the course of a lifetime. Likewise, mesothelioma treatment is a full-time job, so it may force you into an early retirement if you were still in the workforce when you got diagnosed.
When you seek economic damages, you are asking the defendant to reimburse you not only for your medical expenses but also for the income you lost when you became unable to work because of the disease. You can also seek noneconomic damages, which are monetary compensation for the suffering and distress that the disease has caused you and your family.