Bethany Krajelis Jan. 3, 2013, 10:45am
The number of asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County hit an all-time high in 2012.
Figures from Madison County Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida show that 1,563 asbestos lawsuits were filed last year, an increase of more than 600 cases from 2011 when 953 suits were filed.
With the exception of a slight dip in 2010, asbestos filings have been on a steady increase in Madison County since 2006.
Records show that 325 asbestos suits were filed in 2006, a decrease from previous years in which filings ranged from 88 in 2001 to 953 in 2003. The number jumped to 455 in 2007, 639 in 2008, 814 in 2009 and 752 in 2010.
This upward trend was mentioned in the American Tort Reform Association’s 2012 annual report, which put Madison County No. 3 on the group's list of so-called judicial hellholes.
The report noted that Madison County had “maintained its dominance over the rest of the nation when it comes to new asbestos claims” with about 800 cases filed as of Sept. 30 and was likely to break records in 2012.
Not only did 2012 bring a record-breaking number of asbestos suits to Madison County, but it also brought a major change to the docket.
In late March, Associate Judge Clarence Harrison entered an order terminating the court’s practice of setting asbestos trial weeks in advance.
Although it’s still too soon to see all of the effects of Harrison’s decision, some attorneys expected the change would make the process of scheduling dockets more consistent while others questioned whether it would open the door to an increase in filings.
Asbestos cases aside, Madison County also saw increases when it came to the number of foreclosure and medical malpractice suits filed in 2012.
Figures from Von Nida show that foreclosure filings increased from 1,112 in 2011 to 1,442 last year and med mal cases jumped from 19 in 2011 to 26 in 2012.
The one type of case Madison County saw less of last year was class actions. Figures show that four class actions were filed in 2012, compared to 11 in 2011.
Von Nida, who was elected circuit clerk in November, said 2012 also highlighted the office’s successful electronic filing pilot program, one of a handful in Illinois.
He said more than 280,000 documents –or 1.9 million pages -- were electronically filed last year and expects those numbers will increase this year as e-filing goes statewide.
The Illinois Supreme Court adopted a set of new e-business rules that took effect Tuesday. They allow circuit courts throughout the state to seek approval for e-filing programs, as well as to make the electronic record the official court record.
Von Nida said his office was completing the application process this week and feels lucky to be part of all of the e-business changes set to unfold over the next few years.