Mesothelioma is usually caused by exposure to asbestos, so many people with the disease choose to file a lawsuit against the company that exposed them. Here are tips to help you find the right legal counsel.
A financial settlement won’t give you back your health if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma — a condition you probably developed because of long-term exposure to asbestos. But it can help pay for your astronomical medical bills, traveling to cancer centers, taking care of your family, and replenishing your bank account when you are forced to take time from work.
But before you move ahead with a lawsuit, you need to pick the right lawyer to represent you — a challenging task.
Mesothelioma and Lawyers: Do Your Homework
When considering legal representation, it’s important to ask the lawyer questions so that you can get a feel for how he would represent you.
“I would consider experience and record — are there any pending cases?” says Tanis Hernandez, MSW, an outreach coordinator for the Center for Asbestos Related Disease in Libby, Mont. A number of pending, outstanding cases could be a warning sign of a lawyer who is either unsuccessful or inexperienced — not someone you want representing you in a time-sensitive case.
Hernandez also suggests asking questions about what kinds of lawsuits can be filed. A wrongful injury suit can benefit you during treatment, but this type of lawsuit can take years. A wrongful death lawsuit, she says, can be filed by your family if treatment isn’t successful. Make sure that the lawyer tells you about both, and is willing to pursue both cases if need be.
Mesothelioma and Lawyers: Go Online
Doing research on the lawyer’s caseload involving mesothelioma and the success of prior lawsuits is an important place to start.
“The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization [ADAO] would advocate for somebody to do the same amount of research on your legal team that you would for your medical team,” says Doug Larkin, co-founder and communications director of the ADAO advocacy group, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, any law firm.
Asign of a good law firm might be if it has had great financial success with lawsuits against large companies. “There’s a lot of research that can be done online to see who the premiere plaintiff [suer] attorneys are,” adds Larkin. Law firms often list online how much money they have won in various lawsuits for people with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.
Because money is already tight and a big concern for anyone paying for mesothelioma treatment, you may also want to look for a law firm that waives up-front fees. Many law firms — confident in their ability to win a successful settlement — will take their fees from the financial settlement. If they don’t win your case, they don’t get paid.
Mesothelioma and Lawyers: Find the Right Fit
While the success rates of the lawyers you interview are certainly important — you are filing the lawsuit to get money, after all — finding a lawyer you feel comfortable with is also important. You want to feel that the lawyer you work with is focused on your well-being, and the well-being of your family. Mesothelioma is a sensitive, emotional issue, and it’s difficult to separate that from the legal aspects. With a good lawyer, you shouldn’t have to.
Paul S. Zygielbaum of Santa Rosa, Cal., was actually referred to a law firm by his oncologist. Zygielbaum had peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma, an extremely rare form of the disease.
“I talked to an attorney, and the first thing he asked me was, ‘Who is your doctor and have you arranged your medical care?'” he recalls. “He didn’t ask me about my legal case at all — he wanted me to survive.”
Encouraged by the lawyer’s concern for his personal health and well-being, he continued consulting with him. But because of his unusual circumstances — Zygielbaum had been exposed to asbestos in a variety of ways — his lawyer referred him to a bigger firm with more resources and experience to handle the case.
“I just felt so good about it,” says Zygielbaum, because of the lawyer’s honesty and interest. So he followed his recommendation and met with another law firm, which eventually took his case.
Zygielbaum has a few words of advice for other mesothelioma patients trying to choose a lawyer: “You’ve got to feel comfortable with that person,” he says, “because he will have an important role in your life.”