Of the 181 asbestos cases scheduled for trial Dec. 1 in a single Madison County courtroom, just one of the plaintiffs is from Madison County.
Plaintiff Evelyn Howland of Godfrey, who suffers from mesothelioma, filed her claim in 2011. She represents about one half of one percent of the total number of cases set for trial next week. Howland is represented by the Simmons Hanly Conroy firm in Alton.
It took Howland roughly three years to get her case to trial while hundreds of out-of-state claimants secured a trial position sooner.
The asbestos court prioritizes claimants' position on the calendar based largely upon their life expectancy.
Asbestos defense attorney Kent Plotner of the Heyl Royster law firm in Edwardsville explained that a large number of cases set for trial at the end of the year is not unusual.
Throughout the year, numerous asbestos cases with prior trial settings are continued to a later date for several reasons, such as issues with depositions or scheduling. As a result, the number of cases set for trial builds up over time resulting in a heavy December trial docket.
Plotner added that it appears that a little more than 20 of the 181 cases are "first out" settings - meaning it is the first time they're getting a trial slot. The remaining cases have been continued from previous dockets, he said.
Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs, who presides over the Madison County asbestos docket, will be responsible for managing the large number of cases on Monday.
While Plotner said the large number of cases is an added burden on parties trying to prepare for trial, he explained that attorneys have already prepared for many of the continued cases – making it easier to handle the larger number of cases set for trial the Monday after a holiday weekend.
Regardless, Plotner said the county has some work to do in reducing the number of cases set for trial.
“We want to limit the number of cases set for any given trial docket," he said. "But we are already looking at 2016."
Last month, defense attorney Brian Huelsmann of HeplerBroom said that as of Oct. 15, 820 first time trial settings and 254 cases continued from the 2014 trial docket have been set for 2015. That makes a total of 1,074 cases already set for trial in 2015. At that time, there were already 256 first time trial settings for 2016.
This is all in a jurisdiction where there are 30 trial weeks and 20 judges, only one of which presides over the asbestos docket.
As for the 181 cases set for trial next week, 15 plaintiffs are Illinoisans who do not reside in Madison County.
Plaintiff Frank Casale of Puerto Rico, who suffers from mesothelioma, would have to travel the farthest to attend trial. He is represented by the Simmons firm.
The vast majority of the claimants in the cases on next week's trial docket allege mesothelioma, with five claiming lung cancer and two citing an “asbestos related disease.”
At least 164 of the 181 claimants are represented by the Simmons firm.
Gori Julian & Associates, P.C., represents at least three claimants on the docket.
Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP, has at least three cases.
At least two cases are Manue Raichle Hartley French & Mudd, LLC, cases.
The O’Brien law firm represents at least one claimant.
Complete information on eight of the 181 cases was not immediately available. However, none of the claimants in those cases are Madison County residents.