Manufacturing lawsuits

The Madison County Record Oct. 23, 2005, 6:46am

Illinois legislators are back in Springfield this week, and if pondering our state’s lagging economy they’d be best served to read Steve Korris’ investigation into Madison County’s latest asbestos lawsuit swoon.

Korris’ reports offer a rare and revealing look at how such “mass torts” were seeded, incubated, and prepared specifically to overwhelm an Illinois county courthouse.

In this case, the plaintiffs once lived and worked for locomotive-maker Electro-Motive in Cook County’s western suburbs. The company that “screened” them for their alleged asbestos-related maladies is from Mobile, Alabama. The plaintiffs’ lawyer—- Brent Coon—- comes from Beaumont, Texas.

The lawsuits were filed—- 138 of them, all at once last month— in our courts, here in Edwardsville.

Looking beyond the gaudy filing numbers, Korris has provided a unique glimpse at the individual—- and often unwitting—- accusers in these cases.

Of course, lawyers like Coon don’t want reporters like Korris to interview their plaintiffs.

That’s why they do the best they can on publicly-filed documents to shield accuser identities while still including what’s required-- a name. Middle initials are rare; towns of residence even more so.

Chattering plaintiffs don’t stick to the script. They admit what they don’t know —- like where Madison County is located or that they even filed a lawsuit in the first place. And they admit what they do—- that they were diagnosed by a firm called RTS.

That’s the much maligned and discredited RTS, under Congressional investigation after its owner admitted in U.S. District court that it lets law firms, not doctors, define “sick.”

That cases like these and characters like Brent Coon make a mockery of Illinois’ civil justice system is stating the obvious. Why state lawmakers aren’t taking aggressive action to stop them is just as vague.

For one, Cook County plaintiffs should file their lawsuits there, not 279 miles away on Madison County’s taxpayer dime. Sick should mean just that, as diagnosed by a real, bona fide doctor. And out-of-state lawyers should be forewarned with a stick that ours isn’t the place to go settlement fishing with their baseless lawsuits.

For the sake of our state’s economy, when will our elected leaders realize that you catch more flies-- and jobs-- with honey?

They don’t make trains in Chicagoland anymore. Electro-Motive moved its 14,000 jobs from Illinois to Canada more than a decade ago. We have some way of making their operators and investors regret it.

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