October 30, 2011

Asbestos litigation is a...

An asbestos lawyer is a personal injury lawyer who specializes in asbestos litigation. Asbestos litigation is a personal injury lawsuit that deals with exposure to asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can result in mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis or other asbestos-related illnesses. People who were exposed to asbestos sue employers, asbestos manufacturers, and others responsible for their exposure, and an asbestos lawyer represents them. Many of these cases are large class action cases, which means multiple plaintiffs sue one company. 

According to the EWG Action Fund, as of 2002 approximately 730,000 people who were exposed to asbestos had sued, and more people were estimated to continue suing. Asbestos lawyers have had a very promising career with asbestos lawsuits, as EWG Action Fund states that asbestos litigation has been the longest running mass class action lawsuit(s) in United States History. Over $70 billion dollars had been paid out to lawyers and clients as of 2002.

Type of Law

Asbestos litigation is tort litigation. This means an asbestos lawyer must be a civil litigator. Civil litigation involves suits brought by one or more plaintiffs against other people or the government. It is different from criminal litigation, in which government representatives try people for crimes with the purposes of imposing criminal penalties. Civil litigators, like asbestos lawyers, sue to try to recover money or other damages for their clients.

As civil litigators, asbestos lawyers must understand how to file lawsuits on behalf of their clients. They must appear in court to make arguments on behalf of their clients and/or negotiate with the defendant to try to settle a claim on their clients behalf. In addition to appearing in court, asbestos lawyers have to do legal research and investigative work. This may involve proving that their clients were exposed to asbestos or that their clients actually suffered damages as result of the exposure.


Asbestos lawyers must graduate from law school and take the Bar Exam in the state they want to practice in. While there is no requirement that an asbestos lawyer specialize in personal injury litigation in law school, many asbestos lawyers did either specialize or participate in law school programs that provided them with time in courtrooms, such as moot court or working in clinics to get experience representing clients.
Many asbestos cases are handled by large law firms, as a result of the size and complexity of asbestos litigation. Large law firms tend to hire attorneys who had good grades in law school and who went to prestigious law schools.

Class Action Litigation

The vast majority of asbestos litigation is in the form of class action litigation. This means that instead of one victim suing separately, many victims get together and sue one company together. This can result in the company being more likely to settle. However, in order to be in a class action, the "class" or group of victims must be certified by the judge.

An asbestos litigation attorney may be responsible for finding a number of victims to be part of a class. They may also be hired by an individual who wants to join a class action, and they can work in conjunction with the "lead attorney" on the class action, to help represent their client as part of this group of victims.

Fees and Payment

Like most personal injury attorneys, asbestos lawyers are usually paid on a contingent fee basis. This means that instead of getting paid an hourly fee or getting money up front, they are paid a portion of the amount that their client wins in court or gets in a settlement.

If an asbestos lawyer is representing a class or group of plaintiffs, the lawyer still get a percentage of the total settlement for all plaintiffs involved. If several lawyers are working on a case together, the "managing attorney" who coordinates the asbestos class action litigation may also get a management fee. When there is a large class action with many victims who were exposed to asbestos, the contingent fee can be a very large sum of money. The average contingency fee is 30% of a settlement.

Possible Legal Changes

Asbestos reform legislation has been proposed to help stop companies from going bankrupt or being crippled by asbestos class actions. Potential asbestos attorneys need to be aware that asbestos litigation reform could change the nature of the asbestos law career. Under the proposed Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005 (FAIR), the government is proposing that companies create a trust fund to pay reparations to asbestos victims, instead of allowing victims to sue each company individually. If this provision is accepted (as of 2009, this law has not been passed into law), then asbestos attorneys would no longer be able to file large mass class action suits to recover damages for their clients as a result of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Defense Attorneys

An asbestos attorney can also defend the corporations and manufacturers of the asbestos. This type of defense work can involve disputing claims of people who claim they were exposed. This may involve investigation and looking back at old work records. Asbestos defense attorneys may also negotiate settlements with plaintiffs attorneys in order to minimize the potential financial risk to a company that might result from a jury verdict.