Ann Maher Apr. 11, 2014, 7:56am

Until recently if you were a plaintiff filing an asbestos lawsuit in Madison County chances are you were represented by one of three local firms: Simmons, Gori and Julian or Goldenberg.

But when a docketing practice that provided advantage to those firms was eliminated for calendar year 2013, new opportunities opened for others.

Not only did the number of new filings explode after advance trial setting was eliminated last year, the list of lawyers bringing suit changed to include out of state giants and local newcomers to the busiest docket in the country.

Simmons of Alton once dominated the market in Madison County - followed by Gori and Julian and the Goldenberg firm of Edwardsville. The three firms in total controlled 82 percent of trial settings the last time dates were set in advance, and the cases they brought were predominantly on behalf of persons suffering from mesothelioma.

But now, New York-based Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, with a local office in Glen Carbon since 2012, is king with a caseload representing primarily lung cancer sufferers.

The firm’s senior partner Paul Napoli responded to an article in the Record quoting a defense attorney who said that if it were not for the influx of lung cancer cases, the docket would likely be seeing numbers at 2009-2010 levels. In 2009, there were 814 cases filed; in 2010, there were 752.

Napoli wrote at length about the causal link between asbestos exposure and lung cancer, and he also pushed back at criticism of the increase in lung cancer litigation in Madison County.

“The implicit suggestion appears to be that these claims for lung cancer arising from asbestos exposure are somehow caused by attorney advertising and less valid than claims for mesothelioma, with ‘huge numbers in Madison County put[ting] a burden on the courts and tax payers,’” Napoli wrote. “In fact, asbestos causes lung cancer, not lawyers and not attorney advertising.”

He closed his letter by stating that increased filings have positive benefits on the community.

“While defense counsel may decry the increased volume of filings in Madison County, we suggest that these filings are anything but detrimental to the Court and the community,” Napoli wrote.

“The community and its residents benefit from the increased business, jobs and tax revenues generated by new satellite law offices opening locally from large, out-of-state firms, as well as the increased business travel of out-of-state attorneys appearing before the Court. Revenues are increased for the court system in terms of filing fees and for the community in terms of restaurants, hotels, other businesses and vendors (court reporters, shippers, document management, office supplies, to name but a few) serving the local and transient legal community and the court system. Most of all, Madison County residents should be proud to know their community and Court system are helping those victims and their families whose malignancies, whether mesothelioma or lung cancer, will eventually lead to their death.”

In 2013, Napoli filed 33 percent of the record 1,678 cases filed in Madison County, compared to Simmons which filed about 23 percent of new cases.

In a review of the first 344 cases filed so far this year through March 24, the percentage of out of state firms filing in Madison County is 55 percent, or 189 of the cases:

-Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik – 86 cases or 25 percent of total

-Maune Raichle Hartley French & Mudd – 59 cases or 17 percent of total

-SWMK – 18 cases or 5 percent of total

-O'Brien Law – 10 cases or 3 percent of total

-Shader & Associates – 10 cases or 3 percent of total

-Richardson/Westbrook/Brickman – two cases or less than 1 percent of total

Local lawyers or firms brought 155 cases or 45 percent of the new suits so far this year:

-Simmons – 88 cases or 25 percent of total

-Gori & Julian – 49 cases or 14 percent of total

-Flint and Associates – eight cases or 2 percent of total

-Bob Perica – five casesor 1 percent of total

-Goldenberg – four cases or 1 percent of total

-Gori/Mark Lanier – four cases or 1 percent of total

-Michael Bilbrey – one case or less than 1 percent of total

The percentage out of state plaintiffs so far this year, like last year, is 90 percent. Just 38 plaintiffs in the first 344 cases were from Illinois.

Mesothelioma is the predominant ailment in those cases - 219 or 63 percent. There were 112 lung cancer cases or 32 percent and 13 other ailments or four percent.

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