Madison County's asbestos surge defies national trend

Steve Gonzalez May 8, 2008, 8:00am




The number of asbestos cases being filed across the country may be declining, as reported in a study by Manhattan Institute this week, but an asbestos surge in Madison County defies the trend.

New asbestos lawsuits account for half of the cases filed in the Law (L) Division of the Third Judicial Circuit so far this year. L Division cases are ones that seek damages in excess of $50,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

As of May 2, 381 L Division cases have been filed and 197, or 51.7 percent of the total are asbestos claims.

Based in East Alton, the SimmonsCooper law firm files the majority of Madison County asbestos cases.

Attorney Randy Gori of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli Rowland Short & Gori in Edwardsville is the second most productive filer of asbestos cases. The O'Brien Law Firm, Brent Coon Law Firm and Mike Bilbrey also occasionally file asbestos cases here.

Prior to last year, there had not been an increase in asbestos filings since 2003.

In 2007, there were 455 asbestos suits filed in Madison County, which is 130 cases more than in 2006, a year in which 325 cases were filed-- that was the lowest number of asbestos filings since 1998, when 176 cases were filed. In 2005, there were 389 asbestos cases.

Asbestos filings in Madison County:
1995: 273
1996: 65
1997: 556
1998: 176
1999: 425
2000: 411
2001: 889
2002: 809
2003: 953
2004: 473

Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, the county's presiding asbestos judge, said he has no idea why asbestos cases are increasing this year. And, he is not concerned with the upsurge just yet.

Stack, who also is Madison County's chief civil judge, said he would be concerned if the asbestos numbers continually trend higher as they did in 2002 when there were 809 cases and in 2003 when the all-time high of 953 was reached.

"No judge wants his docket to increase," Stack said in an April interview. "As long as the (asbestos) cases are appropriate and belong here, the increase does not bother me."

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis also did not express alarm at the apparent increase in asbestos filings.

She commended Stack for his handling of the county's huge asbestos docket which he took over in 2004, vowing to kick out cases that didn't belong in Madison County.

"I have the utmost confidence in Judge Stack," Callis said.

Stack speculated that the increase may be due to secondary exposure claims. For instance, more and more plaintiffs are alleging they were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers while laundering the clothing of individuals exposed first-hand.

At least 44 or 22.2 percent of all asbestos cases filed this year have alleged their exposure came from asbestos from a spouse or parent's clothing.

And, lately a large number of asbestos cases are being filed from plaintiffs who live outside of Illinois.

Out of the 197 cases filed so far this year, roughly 86 percent of the plaintiffs live in other states. The Illinois residents that do file in Madison County are not always locals.

According to Stack, not much can be done to curtail out-of-towners from filing their cases here.

"Nothing is being done to curb the filings as there is nothing that can be done," Stack said in an e-mail interview.

"I mean, the Circuit Clerk's office can't refuse them and the court can't simply sua sponte dismiss them."

Changes at SimmonsCooper

According to the SimmonsCooper website, Jeff Cooper is no longer a partner at the firm he helped build.

Cooper is now listed in the "of counsel" section of the staff at the firm.

His biography states that he is the former managing partner at firm.

Calls and emails to Cooper have not been returned as of press time.

Cooper is currently lobbying to get a Major League Soccer franchise to Collinsville.

John Simmons started the firm, then knows as The Simmons Firm, in 1999 with eight employees focusing on asbestos litigation.

The firm now has 60 attorneys and more than 350 employees. It has expanded into many others fields of law including benzene, securities litigation, business and personal litigation and intellectual property.

In addition to its East Alton office, SimmonsCooper also has shops in Chicago and El Segundo, Calif.

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