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Should asbestos claims be dealt with administratively? (1)

In January, a man named John Johnson died of malignant mesothelioma, less than two years after being diagnosed with the fatal disease. However, he did not spend the last days of his life with his wife and family, or doing the things that he loved to do. He spent them inside a hotel conference room, being barraged with questions from the defense attorneys in his asbestos lawsuit. In fact, he collapsed just after giving his last deposition and died the following day, a sad end to a life that had been cut much too short.

Unfortunately, the way Johnson spent his last days is not uncommon among plaintiffs in asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits. Knowing that their time is limited, many rush through the court process in order to ensure that their story is heard in court even if they do not survive to see it happen. While doing so, however, they must also deal with the painful, debilitating illness that gave rise to the lawsuit and which will ultimately cause their death.

But there have been questions about the propriety of the strategy employed in cases similar to Johnson's - putting a gravely ill plaintiff through hours of draining questioning by the defendants' attorneys. In fact, Johnson's family has filed a new complaint, claiming that the defense attorneys in his case purposely stretched out the legal process with the expectation that Johnson would not survive to see the inside of a courtroom.

Because Johnson did pass away before his case made it to court, his attorneys estimate that his family's chance of recovery has dropped by about 70 percent, with no way to recover for pain and suffering, mental anguish and bodily disfigurement.

We will continue this discussion in two additional blog posts later this week.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Mesothelioma victims deserve better than wasteful legal maneuvers," Michael Hiltzik, April 22, 2012

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