Asbestos plaintiff attorney Paul Napoli anticipates that a new trend in asbestos litigation could bring an end to Madison County’s era as industry epicenter.
Napoli said that several asbestos plaintiff’s firms are beginning to file more of their cases in other jurisdictions – some in federal court and some in other states altogether. In a phone interview Monday, he said the Napoli Shkolnik firm has begun to do this and that other firms are following suit.
He said it benefits the plaintiffs to file in more courts, forcing defendants to “re-fight battles in different jurisdictions.”
“I think it’s to the plaintiff’s advantage to file in as many jurisdictions as possible and to spread the defendants out,” he said.
Madison County has begun seeing a gradual decline in asbestos case filings in recent years after it saw a record-breaking docket in 2013 with 1,678 asbestos cases filed.
Last year, 1,224 asbestos cases were filed, which was just over what was projected but less than in 2014, which saw 1,300 cases.
Of the 2015 cases, the Napoli firm filed 18, most of which were lung cancer cases.
Although case filings went down slightly last year, Napoli said he still expected to see a smaller overall number for the docket.
“It seems about the same, and I’m surprised it would be the same,” he said.
He said he expects Madison County to really begin seeing an impact within the next 18 months.
“You might not see a change in 2016, but certainly in 2017,” he said.
Napoli added that nationally, the number of asbestos claims are going up, which could explain why the local case filings were somewhat close to the case filings from last year instead of much lower as firms begin pulling some of their caseloads out of Madison County.
Napoli also explained that when plaintiffs continue to file mass numbers of cases in a single jurisdiction, judges begin to think a certain way and rule in set ways. So taking cases to new courts with new judges who may not be set yet, can be beneficial to plaintiffs. He also said it opens the door for new opportunities to make new arguments and obtain new information they weren’t previously able to get.
In Madison County, there have been nine defense verdicts in recent years with two asbestos cases settling early in the litigation process so far this year.
While asbestos case filings in Madison County might be shrinking, a growing factor on the docket each year involves plaintiffs’ residency.
Of the 1,224 cases filed last year, roughly 6 percent, or 75 cases, were filed on behalf of Illinois residents, a decrease from years before where roughly 10 percent of the cases were brought by Illinois residents.
Only six of the plaintiffs, or less than half of 1 percent, were filed on behalf of Madison County residents. However, 20 of the cases filed for Illinois residents do not include the county in which they reside.
Also notable were the nine plaintiffs from outside the U.S., including Canada, Puerto Rico, Germany and the Philippines.
Napoli anticipates that in the future, only Illinois plaintiffs will be filing their cases in Madison County, a move he said is being led by national defense counsel.
“They are looking for the total destruction of processing of cases in Edwardsville,” he said.
Napoli added that he thinks this new trend is not necessarily a good thing for the local jurisdiction.
“I think that will have a serious detriment on the economy. Who needs 100 firms for 75 cases?” he said.
As a result, Napoli said defendants will shake up their litigation leaderships as they look for lead attorneys closer to these new jurisdictions.
As plaintiffs begin to shy away from current asbestos hubs, new hubs in other jurisdictions will be created, Napoli said. He anticipates these new hubs may be developed based on the defendants.
Napoli explained that plaintiffs will begin filing cases “in the backyard” of various defendants’ local jurisdictions based on the defendants’ headquarters.
He added that hub jurisdictions benefit both sides of asbestos litigation as they reduce transaction costs, saying plaintiffs are better at keeping transaction costs down than the defendants.