Kazan Law’s clients and potential clients are often curious about what happens in an asbestos lawsuit.
This is a difficult question to answer. Every case we handle is unique. And, one of the things that make Kazan Law distinctive is that we handle every case on an individual basis.
Nevertheless, asbestos cases in California and across the country, whether for mesothelioma or another asbestos–caused disease, have some common features which are worth becoming familiar with. If we believe that California is not the right place for your case, we will discuss this with you and put you in direct contact with an associated attorney whose work we know and trust and who practices in an appropriate jurisdiction, and we will work with this attorney throughout.
We first meet
When a potential client with mesothelioma approaches our office, the initial contact is often with our intake department. This starts an information-gathering process. We ask potential clients to provide us with essential information about:
- Family members
- Work history
- Exposure to asbestos
- Medical history
We also obtain releases so that we can order employment and medical records.
Usually one of our investigators interviews the potential client and one of the attorneys will call or visit. As soon as we have sufficient information, we decide if we can recommend filing suit and if our firm can represent this person.
Criteria for taking your case or referring it
We accept a case if we think there is a reasonable chance of a successful outcome. We need to be confident that we can establish the diagnosis, and that there are defendants who are responsible.
In addition we make sure that clients know up front that obtaining justice is a function of a lot of things. These include that:
- Kazan Law is located in California and file our cases in California, but not every person has a viable case in California.
- If we conclude, after reviewing all the facts, that a case should be filed in another state, we call upon the most appropriate attorney in our long-established network of attorneys in different states whom we have worked with previously. We make a recommendation to the potential client that we associate with an attorney who practices in the most appropriate jurisdiction for the case.
The latter is very important. Asbestos cases must be filed in the right jurisdiction to have a reasonable probability of success, and we believe that this decision should be made at the beginning of the process rather than mid-stream.
Retaining Kazan Law
When we take on a new client, both parties sign a retainer agreement, a contract between the client and Kazan Law. It sets out the details of our representation, the contingency fee structure and more. An attorney from the office meets with the potential client to go over these matters in detail.
At this time, we also determine if there is a viable workers’ compensation claim against the client’s employer(s). Workers compensation claims for complex asbestos matters usually take about six to twelve months to resolve, and we work with experienced lawyers who are workers’ compensation specialists.
Filing the complaint
The formal start of the case comes when we file the complaint against all companies that we believe might be responsible for our client’s asbestos exposure.
Our clients are known as the plaintiffs in a lawsuit because they are making a complaint. The companies that the plaintiff sues are called defendants because they are defending. (The defendants have about a month after receiving the complaint to respond).
Types of companies we commonly file complaints against include:
- Asbestos mining companies
- Insulation contractors
- Other contractors whose workers used asbestos products (e.g. sheet-metal, joinery, fireproofing) or were responsible for safety (e.g. the prime or general contractor)
- Owners of the sites where exposure occurred
It is obvious that determining which companies to sue is a complex matter, and a critical step in the process of maximizing your compensation.
We usually file suit against more than a dozen defendants, and sometimes as many as forty. Because we have been handling asbestos cases for over 38 years, we have extensive resources to enable our attorneys to make well-informed decisions about whom to sue and how to go about it. Kazan Law also has:
- A team of seven investigators
- An extensive document archive
- A database of records and depositions
- Cooperative working relationships with many other plaintiffs’ law offices around the country and in Britain, Australia, Canada and other parts of the world
We use state-of-the-art technology, are obsessive about being properly prepared to powerfully advocate your case, have the resources necessary to successfully handle even the most complex circumstances and have recovered significant compensation for clients from many well-financed adversaries.
Discovery is a legal term, but it really means nothing more than the process for all the parties in a lawsuit to discover things relevant to the lawsuit.
Instead of using flashlights and maps, attorneys discover things by:
- Asking written questions—called interrogatories
- Asking for documents—subpoenas and requests for production of documents
One form of discovery that directly impacts every client is the deposition. This is a legal proceeding that takes place in or near the plaintiff’s home or at our offices:
- The plaintiff, under oath and on videotape, answers questions posed by the attorneys.
- We begin and ask the first round of questions.
- Then the attorneys for the defendants have their chance.
The defendants find out things about the plaintiff, such as employment, marriage and medical history. On behalf of the plaintiff, Kazan Law finds out relevant information about who was responsible for the asbestos exposure at different places and at different times. Using this information, each side puts together its case.
The deposition is sometimes over in a couple of hours, but on other occasions the defendants stretch it out for more days. An experienced Kazan Law attorney will meet with the client before the deposition—to explain what will happen, prepare the client, and address the client’s concerns—and will protect the client throughout the deposition.
Working hard behind the scenes on your behalf
We do our best not to disrupt our clients’ lives, so we try to limit the time we take for the deposition, document review and other preparation.
Behind the scenes, our team of investigators gathers information from many sources, to identify:
- The asbestos products that clients were exposed to
- The companies responsible for the products and for safety at the site
They are likely to:
- Contact co-workers
- Review depositions
- Visit libraries and archives
- Query our in-house databases
- Search our records collections
- Contact other law offices
- Access government document collections
- Examine company records
They leave no stone unturned as they expand upon the information gathered at the first interview. It is not uncommon for them to review thousands of pages and talk to over a hundred potential witnesses.
If our client is in poor health, this stage of the case is usually compressed into a couple of months. However, if there is no medical urgency, the to and fro of the discovery process between plaintiffs and defendants can extend over many months.
Over the years, a number of asbestos companies have filed for bankruptcy. Many have set up settlement trusts that are separate from the litigation process. While moving the case towards trial, we also submit claim forms and negotiate with these settlement trusts. The money received from these trusts is generally much less than would have been received had they been in litigation, and the terms of payment are often delayed over many years, but Kazan Law and the plaintiff have no control over this and we do the best we can in the circumstances.
Preparing for trial and reaching settlements
As soon as possible, we ask the court to put the case on the trial calendar. When a client is in poor health, we shorten the discovery process and ask the judge to expedite the case by moving it rapidly to the top of the trial calendar. A long period of discovery is a luxury that many clients cannot afford and we have been very successful at moving cases rapidly through the legal system. In a recent case in which we obtained a verdict of almost $6.5 million from a jury, we were able to resolve the entire case against eighteen defendants, including the five week trial, in less than seven months after we were hired.
Putting the case on the court’s trial calendar also marks the beginning of serious settlement negotiations. We consult with the client and enter into negotiations with the defendants. In this process our attorneys:
- Present each defendant with a demand that is reasonably based on that company’s share of liability in the lawsuit.
- When applicable employ the benefits of having settlement programs with several major defendants that give our cases favorable treatment.
Many defendants choose to settle once presented with the evidence against them, but we often start trial against one or more defendants. It frequently happens that during the course of jury selection the remaining defendants agree to settle; others settle during trial.
It is unusual for a case to go all the way to a verdict.
Asbestos trials usually last about a month with evidence being given by treating doctors, oncologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, industrial hygienists, co-workers, the client and family and others.
When a case goes through to verdict, the losing party or parties usually appeal. This means that the final outcome of the trial can be delayed for many months or even years.
Signing a release
When each defendant settles, the plaintiff and family members have to sign a release. This document releases that defendant from further responsibility in the matter— meaning that the plaintiff cannot sue them again for the same thing.
Distributing the money
There is also the question of how to distribute the money. It has to be divided, or apportioned, between the injured person and his/her dependents:
- One of the first requests we make to a new client is that they sit down with an attorney who handles wills, estates and probate matters and to review their entire estate plan or create a new one. Having a current, clear and accurate assignment of one’s property—including the potential value of the pending asbestos lawsuit— goes a long way towards making the settlement and money distribution process a smooth one.
- Once all the parties have signed the release document, payment is usually made within three months.
Unfortunately, if the client dies before we have resolved the case, we have to put the personal injury case on hold while we file a wrongful death case. Then we consolidate the cases, and pick up the process of discovery, trial preparation and settlement negotiation where we left off.
Keeping clients informed every step of the way
In summary, there is no rigid formula for a mesothelioma case and we could probably find an exception to everything that you have just read. These are complex cases, but we have a great deal of experience bringing them, successfully, to settlement or verdict.
There is one thing you can count on. We keep in close contact with our clients and potential clients, and are always available to answer questions and give updates on their cases.