Asbestos cases accumulating in St. Clair County's little used docket

Amelia Flood Mar. 18, 2010, 11:39am



St. Clair County's nearly dormant asbestos docket is seeing new life.

Recent asbestos lawsuit filings by several well-known asbestos attorneys -- and some new partnerships -- have sparked a revival of the little-known and infrequently used asbestos docket.

At least five new asbestos cases have been filed in St. Clair County this year.

Swansea attorney Judy Cates has teamed with the Chicago law firm of Cooney and Conway, having filed four mesothelioma-related asbestos suits on the same day this year, alleging claims against familiar asbestos defendants such AW Chesterton, Bondex and John Crane, Inc.

Cates, who has litigated a number of high profile class actions, had not filed any asbestos cases in at least six years.

Other attorneys have made recent asbestos claims in St. Clair County, including Randy Gori of Edwardsville. Gori, whose firm has brought hundreds of asbestos cases into Madison County's packed asbestos court, has filed at least one asbestos case in St. Clair County this year.

In Gori's newest St. Clair County case, clients Aubrey and Olive Roach claim Aubrey Roach developed cancer from working with asbestos products during his time as an army mechanic in the 1940s.

While Madison County's asbestos filings reach into the hundreds each year, St. Clair County stands in contrast.

From 2004 to 2007 there were just 61 asbestos cases filed in St. Clair County, compared to more than 1,200 in Madison County during the same period of time.

Of the years analyzed in St. Clair County, 2006 had the most filings at 25. There were 22 cases filed in 2005.

None were filed in 2008 and a single one was filed in 2007, according to records from the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk's Office.

St. Clair County clerk Amy Boeving said the asbestos docket is light and hardly used.

Boeving sets hearings once a month and seldom has more than one or two attorneys come through, she said.

"The last few years it's really died down," Boeving said.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien handled all of the asbestos cases from 2005 to 2009. The 2010 filings have so far been assigned to St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young.

St. Louis attorney Daniel Francis, who has filed more asbestos cases in St. Clair County than any other attorney, is responsible for four of the 25 asbestos St. Clair County filed in 2006.

Of those cases, 23 named a single defendant, Illinois Central Railroad Company.

Gori has filed the second most number of St. Clair County asbestos cases.

None of the St. Clair County asbestos cases have resulted in verdicts or trials.

That differs from Madison County where juries have decided a number of cases, some having topped $200 million in jury awards.

But the most recent case to go to trial in Madison County was decided in favor of defendant Ford Motor Co.

The trial, which lasted for eight days earlier this month, was the first 2010 asbestos trial for Madison County and the first ever for Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder who presided.

Crowder is slated to become Madison County's next asbestos judge when Circuit Judge Daniel Stack retires in December. She has already begun taking over her new duties.

The Ford trial ended in a defeat for plaintiff Larry and Meta Williams of Chicago. The couple sued Ford and a number of other companies claiming that asbestos dust contained in brake products caused 58 year-old Larry Williams to develop mesothelioma.

The jury took an hour and a half to find in Ford's favor.

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