In spite of asbestos growth, judge maintains docket is 'very efficient'

Ann Knef Aug. 27, 2009, 9:44am


An increasing asbestos docket has some legal observers concerned, but Madison County's asbestos judge maintains that Edwardsville's courthouse provides a "very efficient system" and one that is favored by both plaintiff and defense attorneys from all over.

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who has managed the asbestos docket since 2004, announced recently that he would not seek retention next year.

He said that in the coming months he hopes to be relieved of his heavy civil law docket, except for asbestos-- a docket on the rise for the third year in a row.

As of mid-August, 464 new asbestos cases were filed in Madison County. If the current pace continues, this year's total will surpass last year's total of 639 cases. In 2007, there were 455 asbestos cases filed in Madison County.

Stack said that while some defendant companies are expressing concern over a growing docket, the cases being brought -- often by plaintiffs outside of Illinois -- are by plaintiffs suffering from cancers or mesothelioma.

"You can't scam mesothelioma," he said.

Non-malignant cases are set aside in the court's deferred docket.

Some nationwide defendants, he said, prefer to know what they're going to have to pay out in settlements in a given year.

"In some ways it doesn't matter where the (court) is," he said.

Stack, who said he has presided over three asbestos trials in nearly five years, doesn't think Madison County is a "threat" for large jury awards.

Of those three trials, one ended in a plaintiff's verdict. And in that case the jury award did not exceed what the plaintiff had acquired in previous settlements, he said.

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) recently praised Madison County's court system for its transparency and public access, but the legal reform group's vice president, Al Adomite, pointed to asbestos venue concerns.

Adomite said that an asbestos case is 135 times more likely to be filed in Madison County than in the more heavily populated Cook County.

And after reviewing 469 cases from Madison County, Adomite said he found 90 percent to be related to asbestos that he believed lacked a connection to Madison County. Seventy percent of those filings, he said, seemed to lack an Illinois connection.

Stack said that when he took over the docket, he rewrote a standing order signaling he would transfer cases that didn't belong in Madison County.

Defendants, he said, have to present forum non conveniens motions in order for him to act.

"I tell them, you file, I'll hear," he said.

He said the reason so many defendants get named on Madison County asbestos suits is so the "dying people" can figure out who to target.

"Generally, (plaintiffs) stipulate out most of the defendants," he said. "The only ones left are the ones with some ID, ones that connect the company's premises or product."

"No one settles unless there is a good case," he said. "The companies that are target defendants usually know."

In previous interviews, Stack has said that Madison County asbestos lawyers don't "mess with" claimants acquired through mass screenings.

"There are really too many who are sick to waste time with those that aren't," Stack said.

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