Paul Kelley of Satterley & Kelley talks about what you can expect when you file a mesothelioma lawsuit, including first steps, the statute of limitations, how long a lawsuit takes, and advice for people considering starting a lawsuit.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Paul Kelley. Paul is a partner with the Kentucky personal injury law firm, Satterley & Kelley, which has over 30 years of collective experience in handling cases involving mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Hi, John. How are you doing today?
First Steps in a Mesothelioma Lawsuit
John: Good, thanks. So Paul, today, we’re talking about what to expect in a mesothelioma lawsuit. What are the first steps that someone should take if they’re diagnosed with mesothelioma, perhaps even before they know when or how they were exposed to asbestos?
Paul: Well, the first thing I tell everybody, obviously, their medical care is certainly the most important, and they want to make sure that they’re seeing the right doctors and getting proper treatment. But at some point, they’re going to be asked by a physician, or nursing staff, or someone of that effect, “Where do you think you were exposed to asbestos? Were you exposed to asbestos?” It’s a harmless enough question by the physicians. They want to get a little bit of idea. Perhaps it might have an impact on how they treat people, but the first issue is not to jump to any conclusions and not guess or speculate where exposure was. The reason why that’s important is because if a legal case is filed at some point, what somebody tells their physicians may or may not be accurate at the time because they haven’t had an opportunity to really consider where they were exposed.
Some people may have very good recollection because of some prior experience or some information that they received by the time they were diagnosed, having a perfect idea where they were exposed. Other folks may not, and that’s not their fault, because the companies that they worked for, frequently — the manufacturers of products, the suppliers of products — they didn’t tell people their products contain asbestos, and so they don’t know. But what we frequently see with a lot of the clients that we represent is that they tell the doctors something about a possible exposure that they didn’t really know, and that turns out not to really be the exposure they had.
I think it’s critical to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Talk to somebody that has lots of experience, who can take a detailed work history from you, and probably be able to assist in pinning down where the exposure occurred. There may be coworkers. There may be other people that you can talk to that will assist in doing that, but the last thing you want to do is guess or speculate where the exposure was, and be wrong about it.
John: Like you said, there’s a lot of places that you can be exposed to asbestos and just have no idea that there might have been an exposure there, whereas you have a lot of experience with it, and you can walk somebody through, ask them some questions. “Hey, where did you work? Where you go to school? What was your job? What are the things that you did on a day-to-day basis at your job,” and really start to piece it together. Whereas if somebody’s just taking a guess, they could say, “Oh, yeah. Well, I think I might have had some asbestos on some pipes down in my basement. Maybe it was that.” Then you talk to them for a little while and you find out, “Oh, yeah, but you had a job for 30 years where you were actually probably exposed to asbestos on a daily basis for 30 years.” That’s much more likely to be the culprit.
Paul: Absolutely. We see that all the time, John. Sometimes we see that people have a hobby where they’re exposed. Sometimes we see that people did mechanic work, and they were exposed to asbestos brakes. Sometimes we see that mom and dad had an exposure at a job when the client was a child, and that’s where their exposure came from. It can come from a multitude of places. We, and other lawyers, have had an opportunity to really understand where these exposures occur. Most of the time, we’re able to identify it through extensive interviews and investigation with the client.
Next Steps in Filing a Mesothelioma Claim
John: Once it’s clear, or pretty clear, how they were exposed, what’s the next step that a person should take in order to file a claim against maybe a company or an organization that might have caused their exposure?
Paul: Well really, it’s just as simple as once the exposure’s identified, then we have to determine whether or not the company or the companies that they were exposed to…whether those companies are still solvent companies and businesses. Unfortunately, over the last 25 years or so, 60 or 70 companies have gone into bankruptcy, which have made it a little bit difficult to pursue claims.
John: That’s 60 or 70 companies that had potential asbestos exposures for their employees?
Paul: That’s absolutely right.
Paul: That’s not to say that there’s an inability to recover from those companies, and perhaps in a subsequent podcast, we can discuss that. But what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to identify the companies that are still around that are responsible for the exposure. That can be manufacturers that still are in business. That can be suppliers. That can be property owners where exposures occurred. When we talk about property owners, we’re talking about powerhouses and giant manufacturing plants in industrial locations, and those sort of things.
Once the exposures have been identified, the potential defendants have been identified, then lawsuit can be filed. Our recommendation and advice to anyone, as difficult as this is…mesothelioma is not a pleasant diagnosis, and quite frankly, the prognosis is typically dire. Moving as quickly as possible is critical. That means it’s critical for someone who’s diagnosed with that disease, or the family member of that person, to talk to a lawyer immediately. It’s important for the lawyer to react immediately because if the patient or the client potentially becomes more ill, then their case becomes more difficult to pursue, and frequently, there’s no coworkers and things like that, so being expedient and efficient is one of the primary goals whenever we talk to someone who’s been diagnosed with this disease.
Statute of Limitations in a Kentucky Mesothelioma Lawsuit
John: That brings up the concept of a statute of limitations, which I know can be an issue in terms of filing a claim. Is there a statute of limitations on how quickly a lawsuit has to be filed, and what’s the start date at which that that counter, if you will, starts to tick down?
Paul: Sure. Every state has a statute of limitations. Since we’re in Kentucky, we’ll talk about Kentucky, but this is pretty applicable to a lot of states. In Kentucky, we have a one year statute of limitations. What that means is that you have one year to file a lawsuit. Now, when that one year begins can be a little tricky sometimes. People don’t have a lawsuit when they’ve been exposed because of what’s called the latency aspect of asbestos and mesothelioma. Somebody who has an asbestos exposure is not likely to contract that disease for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years in the future, so they don’t have a lawsuit the day that they were exposed, if they know what the exposure was.
When they have a lawsuit is when they’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, mesothelioma being the most devastating of those diseases. Usually to be safe, we like to file those cases within one year of the diagnosis. However, sometimes that’s difficult because, as I’ve mentioned before, lots of times people don’t know where they were exposed. Sometimes people don’t know how they were exposed. Sometimes they didn’t have a reason to know that they were exposed. Kentucky follows something called the Discovery Rule, which allows people to file their claim one year from the date they know or should know if they have an injury, and know or should know the cause of that injury. Now when they have the injury, that’s easy to figure out when you’re diagnosed with mesothelioma. What caused it is a little bit more difficult.
Asbestos is universally accepted as the most widely known cause of mesothelioma, and some people can’t figure out whether they were ever exposed at all. There is a little bit of ability to file a lawsuit beyond the one year from the date of diagnosis, but again, as I mentioned before, if somebody came to me a month after they were diagnosed, we would move quickly, for a variety of different reasons. If someone passes away before the one year has expired then, under Kentucky law, they have one year from the date that someone is appointed the personal representative of their estate. If somebody was diagnosed with mesothelioma on January 1 of this year, and they died on February 1, and somebody was appointed personal representative on March 1, they would have up to a year to file that lawsuit no more than two years from the date of death. These are harsh rules. If you’re a day late, the court will throw the case out because they have to.
John: Right. They can’t make an exception for one person for a day, and then the next person says, “Well, it was two days for me.” Then the next person says, “Well, it was five days for me.” Then before you know it, there’s no statute of limitations there, so they have to draw the line somewhere.
Paul: That is absolutely correct.
How Long Does a Mesothelioma Lawsuit Take?
John: How long does a mesothelioma lawsuit typically take from beginning to end?
Paul: We’ll go with averages. I mean, usually a year to two years from beginning to end. Some cases go quicker, for a variety of reasons. Some cases go much longer. We’ve unfortunately had cases that have lasted 5, 6, 7 years for different reasons. But if we’re talking averages, in the state of Kentucky, we can usually get a case resolved one way or the other, within a year or two.
What Happens If the Client Dies of Mesothelioma Before the Lawsuit is Over?
John: Then that brings up an issue, which is that, unfortunately, with a diagnosis of mesothelioma – I think that we’ve talked before, and you mentioned — that the diagnosis is often 6 to 18 months before a patient might pass away. That makes it fairly likely that somebody might pass away before their lawsuit is completed. What happens in that case?
Paul: In Kentucky, the estate of the person who passed away has the authority to continue to pursue that lawsuit. Just because someone dies during the course of their lawsuit, doesn’t mean that the case gets dismissed. The family has one year from the date of death to revive the case, and they can continue to pursue it. Now, again, it’s important to note that the spouse or the children of the deceased, they can’t just pick up and continue to pursue the suit. They have to set up an estate. Someone has to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate — some people may be familiar with the terms “administrator” or “executor” — so that has to happen. But as long as that happens, and that happens within one year from the date of death, then the case will continue.
John: That kind of goes back to what you were talking about before with the statute of limitations, that you have this one year from somebody being appointed the head of the estate to file a claim.
Paul: That is correct.
John: But like you said, there’s some steps that they have to go through in order to actually legally create an estate, and their attorney could help them with that as well.
Paul: Absolutely. I mean, if we’re already pursuing a case on behalf of a client and they pass away during the course of the case, I assure you that we’ll make sure that all the steps necessary to continue the case will occur, and we’ll do it as seamlessly as possible for everyone, but it’s just one of those procedural hoops that have to be jumped through.
Selecting a Mesothelioma Attorney
John: Yep. Are there any other steps in the process of a mesothelioma lawsuit that you feel like people should know about?
Paul: Well, I mean, there’s so much, but quite frankly, the selection of attorneys is probably most critical. You want someone who has experience in handling these kinds of cases. You want someone who’s going to be familiar with the jurisdiction they’re in, familiar with the defendants that are at issue, familiar with the judges involved, and familiar with the appellate rules and judges in the event that a case has to go on appeal. There’s a lot of different factors associated with that, and it’s always good to have someone who is familiar with the lay of the land, so to speak.
John: Is there any other advice that you’d have for a person or a family suffering from a mesothelioma diagnosis regarding starting and going through the whole mesothelioma lawsuit process?
Paul: Just to do their research, to not be shy about asking questions about the process, either before they’ve retained someone or certainly after they’ve retained someone. The process is overwhelming, and most people, fortunately, have not been subjected to our legal system and had to file lawsuits for any reason. Most people have not had to use the legal system for something as significant as a mesothelioma lawsuit. Being comfortable with the process, being comfortable with the attorneys they hire, not being shy about asking what’s going on, and being informed every step of the way are the best advice that I can give to people, because it’s just such an overwhelming experience for a lot of folks who unfortunately are in the most vulnerable state that they’ve ever been in.
John: Absolutely. Well, that’s great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thanks, John. I appreciate it.
John: For more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the law firm of Satterley & Kelley at Satterleylaw.com, or call 800-655-2117.