New Jersey plaintiff's asbestos case kicked out of Madison County

Steve Gonzalez Oct. 27, 2005, 7:42am

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack

Scolding a New Jersey plaintiff for not seeking justice in her own state court, Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack followed through on his promise to dimiss asbestos cases not directly connected to Madison County.

“It is clear to the court...plaintiffs have resided in New Jersey and have no connection with the State of Illinois whatsoever," Stack wrote in a dismissal order Oct. 5.

Irmagard Berndt of New Brunswick, N.J, claimed her husband, Fritz Berndt, died shortly after being diagnosed with mesothelioma in November of 2003.

"And, since it has been demonstrated that there is an asbestos docket available near their home with similar provisions as our Madison County docket, it is clear that the only remaining issue for this court to consider regarding convenience is the timeliness issue.”

Last October, in his first forum ruling as chief of the nation's largest asbestos case docket, Stack stated that the "astronomical burden" of looming trials demanded he dismiss cases with no direct connection to the venue.

Fritz Berndt worked various maintenance and manufacturing jobs from 1950s through 1986, but never in Illinois. His widow's lawsuit sought compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $300,000.

Stack pondered how Madison County would hold up if every asbestos lawsuit filed in its courts did go to trial, suggesting that the "cash cow" asbestos docket would quickly overwhelm local taxpayer resources to the expense of plaintiffs.

"It is not the function of the courts to make money," Stack wrote in October 2004. "This is not a 'business.' It is the function of the courts to administer justice."

Berndt's attorney, Neil Maune of St. Louis, told Stack that a transfer or re-filing would further delay her case by at least 18 months. The case was scheduled for trial here in February 2006.

“The plaintiff and her attorney knew, however, back in October 2004, cases with similar facts were dismissed or were transferred to another jurisdiction,” Stack wrote.

“Plaintiff chose to risk keeping this case here rather that to voluntarily remove it."

Stack also noted that other plaintiffs in the same predicament exercised “good judgment” and refiled their claims in the proper forum.

“The fact that this plaintiff chose to risk it in hopes of settling prior to trial does not change any of the other factors and cannot be asserted against the defendants,” Stack wrote.

“Although the surviving spouse is an octogenarian, whom certainly deserves this court’s consideration, there is no other evidence of extreme hardship in the record.”

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