With more than 90 percent of asbestos litigation filed on behalf of claimants from outside Illinois, defendants say forum non conveniens is the way to unclog the Madison County court system.
"This is a very significant issue we have all tried to address at various times and in various ways," said asbestos defense attorney Lisa LaConte of Heyl Royster in Edwardsville.
She said that defendants have taken a multi-faceted approach to curbing the growing docket that has also included seeking revision to the court's standing order and trial docket orders.
"Overall, the notion that any case can be filed here, and that we set such a huge number of cases for trial" is unacceptable, LaConte said.
"I think that forum isn't the singular issue in defeating the idea that Madison County is a magnet jurisdiction, but it certainly is a very important one."
Asbestos defense attorney Brian Huelsmann of HeplerBroom echoed LaConte, saying the future of the Madison County asbestos docket relies heavily on how the court handles forum hearings.
Defendants were given an idea of how forum arguments would be decided when Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs on May 23 denied several defendants’ motions to dismiss in four separate asbestos lawsuits alleging lung cancer.
Stobbs concluded that the defendants failed to sufficiently argue that Illinois is inconvenient for all parties involved.
The defendants, which include 12 companies, took the county’s congested asbestos docket into consideration when arguing the appropriateness of this jurisdiction.
The defendants also noted the county’s growing concern of forum shopping, especially with the recent influx of lung cancer cases.
They claim the Napoli, Bern, Ripka & Shkolnik firm, which represents these plaintiffs, is a key player in forum shopping.
The defendants contend that if all lung cancer patients were to file asbestos lawsuits locally, the mass filings would threaten to “overwhelm the docket, swamp the court and crowd out court resources that would otherwise be available to actual Madison County residents.”
Shortly after Stobbs denied defense motions to dismiss based on forum non conveniens, the defendants appealed to the Fifth District Appellate Court where a ruling is pending.