Asbestos: It's irresistible!

The Madison County Record Aug. 30, 2008, 7:10am

The Madison County's trial bar's favorite mineral is back.

Asbestos lawsuits are surging again in the Third Circuit, according to a Record story by reporter Steve Gonzalez.

More than half of the 756 civil lawsuits filed in Madison County this year are asbestos claims, according to a Record analysis. That's 383 asbestos cases through Aug. 27.

In 2007, 455 asbestos claims were filed. The high water mark came in 2003, when asbestos trial Judge Nick Byron docketed 953 cases.

Byron, you may remember, once wanted Madison County to be asbestos court to the world. More than anything else, it was that ambition that earned the Third Circuit its national reputation as a "judicial hellhole." Former federal judge and U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, a Democrat, dubbed our asbestos docket scandalous enough to merit a federal probe.

Byron and his magnet approach eventually moved on, passing his duties to the less hospitable Judge Dan Stack. The asbestos trial tide hasn't been as heavy until now. So what's changed?

Plaintiff's lawyers chalk up the surge to their TV and internet marketing efforts. Who hasn't seen one of those melodramatic daytime television commercials? And some defense lawyers argue that their clients don't mind being sued in Madison County. Supposedly, they prefer our "specialized" asbestos docket.

Of course, neither side of the courtroom combatants mentions what really drives these cases- money, money for lawyers on both sides. When there's lots of it and it starts to go away, it's easy to want it back.

How easy?

Consider that in a interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, asbestos lawsuit king Randy Bono once bragged he had settled 600 asbestos cases from 2000-03 for "between $2 million and $3 million each." Defense attorneys told the newspaper Bono was being conservative; the settlements averaged more like $4 million a piece.

For those of you without a calculator: that's $1.2 to $2.4 billion in settlements over three years. Assuming Bono and company kept a third or more, it's also easy to understand why he's retired and living in Florida.

For hard-working Madison County citizens, the key takeaway in this asbestos surge is 92% of the asbestos plaintiffs live in other states. Once again, our tax dollars and our courts are being used to handle this tidal wave of lawsuits.

Whether the litigants want to be in our courthouse or not, we don't need them here. These cases clog our dockets, cost us tax dollars, and worst of all, tarnish the area's reputation.

Judge Stack says the county clerk cannot deny the filings. Perhaps.

But let's pull the welcome mat.

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