New law allows families to recover human damages that previously were extinguished at death

A California man’s plight and subsequent death from mesothelioma played a pivotal role in state lawmakers’ decision to remove an unsympathetic legal restriction that prevented families of terminally ill people from recovering damages for their decedent’s suffering in civil lawsuits.

On Oct. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate bill 447, a new law that allows families to collect damages for mental suffering on behalf of loved ones who died. Previously, California was among a few states declaring that if a plaintiff died before a trial took place, the claim for damages of suffering died with them.

Man died before lawsuit decided

Alfonso Rocciola was an 82-year-old resident of Novato. The mesothelioma-stricken man contracted the disease from decades of asbestos exposure while working construction in the San Francisco Bay area. He filed lawsuits against the makers of the asbestos products, hoping to leave a significant amount of money for his family. He died late last year before that could happen.

It is a common tactic of insurance companies to drag out trials with the hope that the plaintiff dies before a conclusion.

Human Damages

The new law addresses a critical aspect of such cases. Non-economic suffering damages are often the largest sum at stake in lawsuits. Such restrictions had been in place since the 1960s, because California lawmakers were long influenced by insurance companies that sought limited payouts.

The law’s bite has some limitations, though. In a move to appease the insurance industry, the new law expires in four years.

This change was long overdue. Although money will not replace your loved one, it will provide some solace for families who have watched fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sons and daughters die from a man-made disease that industry knew would kill over a century ago.