ORLANDO, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Asbestos.com, a website and advocacy group that supports those affected by mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, is one of many patient advocacy groups that receive funding from plaintiffs\ law firms.
According to its website, Asbestos.com is “part of the mesothelioma community, which has a blend of for-profit and not-for-profit websites and companies occupying it. We are a for-profit company. The site is owned by Asbestos.com, LLC, based in Orlando and sponsored by The Peterson Firm, a Washington, D.C., law firm.”
Asbestos.com explains further in its disclaimer that it is partly owned by Carl H. Peterson, the principal of The Peterson Firm, which focuses on asbestos litigation. The disclaimer also points out that Peterson “has neither day-to-day involvement with the activities of Asbestos.com nor any direct communication with its visitors.”
The Peterson Firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Asbestos.com offers free services to victims of asbestos exposure and their families, including information on asbestos and related diseases, access to a staff nurse and connection to an online support group led by a licensed counselor. The group helps patients find qualified mesothelioma doctors in their area, and if they need financial assistance, helps them secure veterans benefits and Social Security disability benefits.
Asbestos.com also recommends law firms that specialize in asbestos-related diseases to patients who need legal representation.
According to the website, “Legal representation is not the first topic that comes up when we talk to people affected by mesothelioma, but it is a central component of the disease. Why? Because this disease is entirely preventable, and people who contract asbestos-related cancer deserve to know that someone is probably responsible for the deadly disease they now have – and that financial penalties can be attached to that liability.”
The website also points out that “the attorneys we work with can help you access over $32 billion in trust funds set aside for asbestos victims and their families.”
Asbestos.com explains that The Peterson Firm started helping its clients file asbestos trust fund claims and lawsuits over mesothelioma at least 10 years ago. According to the website, when the firm decided to provide more than legal help, it set up The Mesothelioma Center – its patient advocate care center – through Asbestos.com.
The company points out that mesothelioma patients and their families are not required to become clients of The Peterson Firm to receive its free services.
However, in the disclaimer, the company states that “if you indicate to your Patient Advocate your desire to speak with an attorney about your legal rights, he or she may suggest a law firm that would work with The Peterson Firm, LLP on your case. If you decide to retain that firm and The Peterson Firm, LLP, it will handle your case on a contingency-fee basis. There will be no costs or fees charged to you unless a recovery is made. Your Patient Advocate can explain the process in more detail.”
There are six patient advocates at Asbestos.com who can outline legal options, as well as the rest of the company’s services, for patients and their families. The company also has four editors and writers who provide news, treatment information and clinical trial data involving asbestos-related diseases, as well as a five-member social media team.
Asbestos.com did not respond to specific requests for information related to how it is funded, what The Peterson Firm’s “sponsorship” means, or how many patients Asbestos.com and The Peterson Firm assist on average each year.
Walter Pacheco, the editor of Asbestos.com, sent this statement via e-mail: “Asbestos.com proudly provides many services to patients whose lives have been damaged by asbestos. These include helping people obtain medical care, providing access to experts in the field, placing patients in clinical trials, establishing support groups and educating people about advances in asbestos-disease treatment.”
Lester Brickman, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has studied and written extensively on asbestos litigation and asbestos bankruptcy trusts.
When asked if there are legal ethics issues surrounding the close relationships between patient advocacy groups and plaintiff’s law firms, he said “when it comes to asbestos litigation, ethical rules simply don’t apply.”
“Indeed, if an ethics rule were adopted by all jurisdictions that stated that the rules of ethics do not apply to asbestos litigation, there would not be any change in asbestos lawyers’ practices,” he said.