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New California Law Aims to Protect Surviving Families in Mesothelioma Cases

California has enacted an important legal change impacting the terminally ill, which includes mesothelioma patients, and their family members fighting for justice. Starting in January 2022, a new law will allow surviving family members to collect “pain and suffering” damages on behalf of their deceased loved ones.

Senate Bill No. 447, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 1, expands the scope of recoverable damages in survival actions. Damages from pain and suffering tend to be the greatest sum of money at stake in civil litigation but since the 1960s, California law prohibited such damages from being awarded to plaintiffs who die before the conclusion of their case.

This loophole has long shielded asbestos companies from paying these damages once the plaintiff died. Defendants essentially received a “death discount” if they utilized delay tactics to drag out legal proceeding and trial at the detriment of ailing meso patients and their families, thus potentially saving themselves millions of dollars. This crisis became even worse during the height of the pandemic when courts came to a standstill.

According to Senator John Laird, who authored the bill sponsored by the plaintiff’s attorney advocacy group, Consumer Attorneys of California:

“California is one of only five states in the entire nation that rewards defendants for prolonging court procedures – leaving victims unable to obtain justice. SB 447 will end decades-old injustice by finally extending a victim’s right, and the right of their loved ones, to pursue accountability for human suffering – even if they die prior to case resolution.”

However, the battle isn’t over yet. In a compromise with the insurance industry, the law is set to expire in four years in January 2026, unless lawmakers take further action.

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