Mesothelioma is a rare but highly fatal form of cancer that affects the outer lining of the heart, lungs and stomach. It may take 20-30 years for symptoms to appear, but once the condition is diagnosed life expectancy is generally less than 24 months.
The Asbestos Link
The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a material commonly used in building, and may be found in insulation, ceiling tiles and fireproofing materials. It is also found in various industrial applications. In an undisturbed state, asbestos is not dangerous. However, when the asbestos-containing material is removed or damaged, asbestos fibers may be released into the air. These fibers, when inhaled, can eventually lead to mesothelioma or other conditions.
In general, the possibility of developing an asbestos-related condition increases with increased exposure. The amount of asbestos in the air, the breathing rate of the person who is exposed, the duration of exposure and even the weather conditions can all affect the amount of asbestos that is inhaled. However, asbestos-related conditions are sometimes found in people who have had only limited exposure to the material.
Statute of Limitations
As asbestos exposure is generally not known at the time of exposure, the law generally allows a claim to be filed after an asbestos-related condition is diagnosed. The statute of limitations is usually 12-24 months following the initial diagnosis. Family members generally have 12-24 months after the victim's death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Asbestos damage is generally permanent and irreversible, making it impossible for the person to be truly made whole. Therefore, monetary damages are awarded in proportion to the amount that the victim was damaged.
Each case is different, but possible categories of damages include but are not limited to:
1. Past and Future Medical Expenses.
The victim is usually entitled to reimbursement for medical care already obtained for the condition, as well as the projected costs of future treatment of the illness.
2. Rehabilitation Expenses
Like medical expenses, the victim is usually entitled to recover any present or future costs of rehabilitation.
3. Lost Wages
If the victim is forced to miss work or leave work altogether, he or she may be entitled to recover the wages that were or will be lost.
4. Lost Earning Capacity.
Related to lost wages, if the victim is no longer able to perform his chosen career, he may be entitled to compensation of those lost earnings.
5. Lost Enjoyment of Life/Emotional Distress/Pain and Suffering.
These amounts may be combined or separated. In general, this portion of the damage award is designed to compensate the victim for the very real impact that the illness has on his or her quality of life. The award is generally set in proportion to how life-limiting the illness is.
6. Punitive Damages.
The awarding of these damages seeks to punish the defendant for wrongdoing, rather than making the victim whole. Punitive damages are rare, but may be awarded depending on the relative wealth of the defendant and the magnitude of wrongdoing.
The Bottom Line
Mesothelioma is a rare but dangerous type of cancer that appears to be exclusively linked to asbestos exposure. Because of the length of time that usually elapses between exposure and onset, the statute of limitations generally does not begin until the illness is diagnosed. However, from that point victims only have 12-24 months to file a claim.