Asbestos lawsuit can be continued by survivors

DEAR MR. MYERS: Several months ago, you wrote about mesothelioma. My father worked for the same home builder for 45 years, but retired shortly before he was diagnosed with the disease. He filed a personal-injury lawsuit against the builder and the company that manufactured the asbestos that made him sick, but died before his case ever went to trial. My mother is still in their longtime home and wants to stay there, but the mortgage payments and dad’s hospital bills are making it impossible. What can we do? Can we continue with the lawsuit?

ANSWER: First, I am deeply saddened for the loss of your father. An estimated 48,000 men and woman have died from mesothelioma, an incurable type of cancer linked to the asbestos that was commonly used by workers in the construction industry, the ship-building business or U.S. Navy personnel who spent months or even years aboard an asbestos-laden vessel during World War II.

About 4,500 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. The relatively rare cancer is caused by inhaling the fibers released by the poisonous asbestos, which attacks the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. Although there’s no known cure for the disease, surgery or chemotherapy treatments can help.

If there’s any good news to be found in this answer, it is that yes, your mom and even you can likely resubmit the lawsuit to recover your late father’s hospital bills and receive punitive (money) damages. If you do so, though, it will become a wrongful-death claim rather than the personal-injury lawsuit that your dad filed before he passed away.

Your local office of the American Bar Association probably can refer you to an experienced attorney who has handled asbestos-related lawsuits or other claims before. There also are several organizations that provide the names and contact information of these specialized lawyers on the Internet.

If you decide to file suit, it would be better to do it sooner rather than later. Though it can take several years or even decades for mesothelioma to “present” itself, all 50 states set time limits on when a suit can be filed. Some states allow up to five years after the disease is first diagnosed by a doctor, but others allow as few as 365 days.

As I wrote in that previous column, several companies that manufactured asbestos or products that contained it filed for bankruptcy long ago after legal claims against them soared. But judges and Congress finally got wise to this ploy, and started demanding that each company establish a trust fund to help pay for future claims before their bankruptcy plan could be approved.

Filing a claim against these trusts can be much cheaper, and lead to a resolution much sooner, than filing a full-blown lawsuit. Again, you definitely should consult an attorney to weigh your options.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I am a professional electrician. Last year, I donated about 80 hours of my time to help Habitat for Humanity build homes for low-income people. Can I deduct the value of the time I donated to the nonprofit on my income-tax return?

ANSWER: Sorry, but the answer is no. The Internal Revenue Service does not allow a deduction for any time or labor that is donated to charity, even if it’s for such a fine nonprofit as Habitat for Humanity.

You can, however, deduct the cost of any materials that you donated to the group — junction boxes, wiring and the like — and 14 cents for every mile you drove in connection with your charitable work.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: American homeowners and businesses spend a combined 6 billion hours each year to prepare their income-tax returns, the U.S. government says. That’s roughly the equivalent of what 3 million full-time workers combined spend on their jobs annually.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We own a three-bedroom home, but it has only one bathroom that is shared by me, my husband and our three kids. We want to sell later this year or in early 2017. Would it make sense to add a second bathroom to increase our home’s resale value?

ANSWER: Probably not. Though adding a second bathroom would certainly make your family’s home life a lot more comfortable, a new report says you’ll recoup barely half the cost of the addition when you eventually sell.

The report was issued jointly by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. They polled real estate pros and consumers alike.

The average cost of adding a bathroom is $50,000, the study says, but the typical homeowner should expect to recover only 52 percent of that construction expense when the property is sold. That’s the worst return-on-investment that a home seller can expect among 20 typical improvements that owners can make, the report found.

Other big losers included adding a master bedroom suite (boosting resale value by just 53 percent of the average $112,500 construction cost) and renovating a closet at the typical $3,500 charge (57 percent).

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.