Costs associated with an asbestos case can vary greatly depending on the nature of the claimant's exposure to asbestos products and the status of the companies that made or sold those products.
If the companies are bankrupt, the claimant may, at relatively little expense, file claims against the bankruptcy trusts that the court has ordered these companies to set up in order to compensate asbestos claimants. (Learn more about Bankrupt Defendants in an Asbestos Case.) But if the companies responsible for the asbestos products are still in business, the claimant will probably file a lawsuit.
Some claimants had exposure to the same asbestos product year after year, while others worked with many products and brands of products throughout their career. For instance, a worker at a rubber plant that used specific asbestos talc in the manufacturing process will likely proceed against the talc company and, maybe, a supplier. But a car mechanic may take action against several brake, gasket, exhaust, and car manufacturers and suppliers. Some of these companies may offer a settlement early in the litigation to limit their costs. Others will litigate all the way to verdict. In the sections that follow, we’ll detail the different kinds of costs that typically arise in an asbestos case.
(Note: "Costs" associated with an asbestos case are different from legal fees that are paid to an attorney for representing an asbestos claimant. Get the details on How Asbestos Lawyers are Paid.)
Because asbestos-related illness often develops 10 to 50 years after exposure, most asbestos lawsuits require some amount of investigation. The first step is often to obtain medical and employment records and, if relevant, union and military records. Attorneys representing claimants will speak to coworkers (and sometimes family members) to gain a better understanding of the nature of the claimant’s exposure. It may also be important to search public records for information on companies that may share liability, and the products that they made or sold.
Legal and Administrative Costs
In any kind of litigation, fees are incurred for filing the complaint and any other documents with the court, and serving those documents on other parties to the lawsuit. Courts may also charge administrative fees, such as jury fees and transcription fees. Over the course of an asbestos lawsuit, there will also be standard copying, mailing, messenger, and delivery expenses.
Before trial, attorneys for all parties will depose key witnesses for the claimant and for the companies. A deposition is an opportunity to question witnesses before trial, with a court reporter present to record the exchange. When deposing company representatives, attorneys for the claimants will request from the companies all documents related to their products and their knowledge of the health hazards of asbestos, so the attorney can probe these areas. Review and copying of company records, as well as transcription of depositions (which often include these records) are necessary costs in asbestos lawsuits. If there are travel expenses associated with depositions, those get tacked on to discovery costs as well.
Asbestos cases often require the retention and testimony of a number of medical experts, such as pulmonologists, radiologists, and epidemiologists. A pulmonologist or a radiologist will analyze x-rays, scans, or other imaging studies to show how asbestos affects a victim’s lungs. An epidemiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the cause of disease. In an asbestos case, an epidemiologist will present evidence linking asbestos to signature diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. On the financial side, an accountant or economist will typically assess the claimant’s lost income. In cases involving specific trades, a construction, refinery, or mechanical engineering expert may also be retained to analyze and later explain certain facts to the jury. (Learn more: Does My Asbestos Case Need an Expert Witness?)
In addition to expert fees for trial testimony, the main costs incurred at trial include daily jury fees and transcripts of the proceedings, as well as travel, local transportation, and accommodation for witnesses, including experts. Trial costs can vary greatly, from $10,000 to over $100,000, depending on the number of witnesses called to testify.