Asbestos plaintiffs attorneys working in Southern Illinois recently said Madison County Circuit Judge Stephen Stobbs’ new approach to trial slots in the asbestos docket is creating a “backlog” of cases that will eventually need to be resolved.
As part of Thursday’s HarrisMartin Midwest Asbestos Conference held in St. Louis, Stobbs was joined by asbestos attorneys George Kiser and Sara Salger to discuss motion practices in the local docket, including a brief discussion on the trial slot situation.
Since taking over the nation’s largest asbestos docket last October, Stobbs has presided over two rare asbestos trials, each ending with a defense verdict.
“When I took this docket,” Stobbs said, “they assured me that most of these cases are settled and you wouldn’t have to have a lot of trials, and it was about an hour after that that a case went to a two-week trial.”
Stobbs said that during the course of the two trials, parties have argued every issue associated with asbestos litigation.
Salger, a plaintiff attorney with Gori Julian & Associates, said that while Madison County is known as the epicenter of asbestos litigation for its record-breaking filing numbers, there has actually been a decrease in filings so far this year.
In fact, as of June 30, Madison County has seen 656 new cases filed in its asbestos docket, a drop from last year’s record of 793 mid-year filings.
If the pace of cases filed so far this year, the nation’s busiest asbestos docket will be down by approximately 20 percent over last year’s record-setting figure of 1,678.
In addition to lower new case filings, Salger explained that Stobbs has implemented a new method for assigning trial slots in an effort to bring the docket to a more manageable position.
As part of his trial slot method, Stobbs requires plaintiffs attorneys to remove a case from the trial docket in order to add another case.
Additionally, no more than 19 cases may be set for trial at a time, which is significantly lower than in previous years when more than 50 cases would be set for trial per week.
Kiser, a defense attorney with HeplerBroom, explained that cases typically getting added to the trial docket include claimants who are 70 years old or older and living mesothelioma claimants, because their life expectancies are shorter.
However, Selger added that removing cases from the trial docket has created a “backlog” as cases are getting pushed back. At some point, the cases have to be set and tried to get them resolved.
Because most of the asbestos cases in Madison County are filed by out-of-state residents, the group also addressed the application of foreign law in Madison County.
Numbers show that 90 percent, or 590, of the new case filings so far this year come from states other than Illinois, which is consistent with Madison County’s well-established pattern.
Of the 10 percent, or 66, cases filed by Illinois residents, only three were actual Madison County residents.
Kiser said that the general question of applicability of foreign law is whether there is a conflict of laws.
If there is a conflict, then the choice of law is determined by the state of Illinois, which uses the “significant relationship” test.
According to the “significant relationship” test, the law of the state where the injury occurred should be applied to the case unless Illinois has a significant relationship to the case.
Salger stressed the importance of the foreign law question in motions for summary judgment, because it is crucial to know how a state has previously decided on certain issues.
“So, it’s important to know whether you will win under that state’s law or not,” she said.