In order to recover damages, is it better to file an asbestos lawsuit individually or as a member of a class?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 20, 2013

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State laws dealing with asbestos and asbestos lawsuit proceedings vary greatly, especially in terms of recovery and when and how to file. If you’re participating in an asbestos class action or personal injury suit, you’ll need to contact an experienced asbestos plaintiff firm. Your lawyer can help you determine whether a class action or an individual asbestos lawsuit bests serves your needs.

Individual Asbestos Lawsuit vs Asbestos Class Action: Payouts

Individual asbestos suits tend to offer much higher payouts, in the aggregate, than asbestos class action suits. But do not be surprised if your attorney recommends that some aspects of your lawsuit be handled as a class action, while other parts be handled as individual suits. Part of the reason is that the rules for making claims against bankrupt asbestos defendants vary by state. If you’re suing a bankrupt company, it’s possible that local law may require you to join a class.

In addition to monetary considerations, there are also some tangible benefits to joining a class action suit. The amount of time you’ll have to personally devote to the suit will likely be more limited in a class action than in a private lawsuit. Once you’ve been identified as a potential class member, all you need to do is fill out the appropriate paperwork and you’ll be considered part of the class. As another benefit, an asbestos class action class action suit offers relative anonymity. The process is very impersonal, and if a settlement is reached, you’ll simply receive your monetary award as long as you are a properly registered member of the class.

While class actions generally pay less than individual lawsuits, they generally pay more frequently. Once a class action settles, the court and attorneys involved will develop a schedule of payouts that are due to members of the class. Funds are disbursed after the court approves the settlement.

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Individual Asbestos Lawsuit vs Asbestos Class Action: Other Considerations

An individual asbestos suit offers a higher potential payout. However, in an individual suit an asbestos plaintiff will most likely have to invest a lot more time in furtherance of the claim. In most individual asbestos suits, plaintiffs will be required to answer a large number of written questions designed to provide information regarding the plaintiff’s work history, health history, and other potential avenues of asbestos exposure.

Individual plaintiffs will also likely have to give deposition testimony. A deposition is a question and answer session that allows defense attorneys to ask a plaintiff questions relating to the issues of the case. Asbestos depositions normally involve multiple defense attorneys, often up to 20 or 30, taking turns asking an individual plaintiff questions about her work and health history, specific job duties, and specific questions regarding products that may have contained asbestos. These depositions can last for an hour or multiple days depending on the jurisdiction in which the case was filed. Depositions can be arduous and may delve into very personal issues. If you are not prepared to divulge details regarding the most personal aspects of your life, do not file an individual lawsuit.

In an individual asbestos lawsuit, settlement usually occurs subsequent to the plaintiff’s deposition. Normally, asbestos settlements consist of multiple small settlements. While Company X may only be paying 500 dollars to settle the case, a plaintiff is recovering from many other companies in like amounts. The total settlement may reach tens of thousands of dollars, depending on exposure.

The decision to file as part of an asbestos class action or as an individual should be discussed with a lawyer. Jurisdictional quirks, a particular plaintiff’s job and health history, and various other factors can all play a role in the decision. If you file as a member of an asbestos class action, expect a lower monetary award but a higher degree of success. If you file an asbestos lawsuit as an individual, the monetary rewards can be much higher, but the inherent risk and the demands placed upon you as a plaintiff can increase accordingly.

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