Can family members bring an asbestos lawsuit on behalf of a victim? How are asbestos damages calculated?

The viability of an asbestos lawsuit on behalf of a deceased victim, and the calculation of potential damages in a wrongful death suit like this, are two distinct issues. The outcome of each will depend on the laws of the particular jurisdiction where the case will ultimately be filed.

An Asbestos Lawsuit Filed by Family Members

Family members can certainly file an asbestos lawsuit on behalf of victims that have passed away. These lawsuits, also called wrongful death lawsuits, are brought by the estate of the person who died, which is represented by a Personal Representative (PR) or a Special Administrator. The representative’s title varies from state to state, but PR can usually be used to denote the member of the estate bringing the suit.

An asbestos lawsuit brought by a PR tends to originate in one of two ways. Either the decedent had an active, unresolved suit at the time he died, or the decedent died of an asbestos-related disease that went undiscovered until his death. In the first instance, the PR basically stands in for the decedent. In the second type of case, the PR files the original suit on the estate’s behalf, in attempt to secure compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of future earnings or various forms of monetary damages. Any asbestos damages awarded would go to the estate, not an individual, and distribution of any award by the estate would likely be subject to court approval. 

An Asbestos Lawsuit: Potential Outcomes

If an asbestos lawsuit is first filed as a wrongful death suit (after the victim has passed away), it may encounter potential roadblocks related to the timing of the suit, the discovery of the cause of the victim’s illness, and the amount of asbestos damages that potentially could be recovered. Because the exact laws applicable vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, obtaining the assistance of a local asbestos attorney will be invaluable in determining a PR's likelihood of success in bringing the wrongful death suit.

With regard to the calculation of monetary damages, local law again plays a vital role. Some states, such as Michigan, have laws limiting the type and amount of asbestos damages that a PR can collect in a case. Other states, such as California or Illinois, are far more liberal in their potential verdict amounts. In nearly all jurisdictions, medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost income and household expenditures incurred as a result of a decedent’s passing are recoverable. Pain and suffering damages and punitive damages are not available everywhere. Again, a local attorney will be the best source of information regarding the potential avenues of recovery in a particular case.

If you are considering bringing an asbestos lawsuit on behalf of a loved one who has passed away, it is essential that you consult with an experienced and reputable asbestos attorney. Every decision in the case, including where to file and who to name as the PR, can affect the potential outcome. While the death of an asbestos victim does not preclude a lawsuit, it does create a new set of legal and procedural hurdles that must be navigated expertly in order to succeed.