Brent Coon's silicosis suits shipped to Cook County

By Steve Korris | Jan 3, 2008

Brent Coon

Robert Ramsey

In the biggest export ever of Madison County lawsuits, Circuit Judge Daniel Stack packaged 33 silicosis claims and shipped them to Cook County.

Stack gathered the cases from all circuit judges for a single decision and in November granted defense motions for transfer to a more convenient forum.

Robert Ramsey of St. Louis County filed the suits in 2005, in association with personal injury attorney Brent Coon of Beaumont, Texas.

Thirty plaintiffs claimed they suffered from inhaling sand while building diesel locomotives at General Motors Electro-Motive Division, or "EMD," near Chicago.

The other three plaintiffs worked nearby.

It took two years to reach a decision that Ramsey and Coon apparently expected.

At a hearing in October, Ramsey weakly opposed the mass transfer and waxed mysterious about why he and Coon chose to sue in Madison County.

"Once this is all over with and decided," Ramsey told Stack, "I will be glad to explain to this court and everybody else the peculiar circumstances that led to me doing what I did in this case."

Stack said, "It's not required as far as I'm concerned."

All 33 plaintiffs filed asbestosis suits in Madison County at the same time they filed silicosis suits.

No doctor has ever diagnosed both asbestosis and silicosis in the same patient.

The 33 asbestosis suits remain open before Stack, though for the moment most of them collect cobwebs on his deferred docket.

Each of Coon's silicosis suits named 50 defendants, and at Stack's hearing six defense attorneys appeared formally while others observed informally.

Russell Scott of Belleville, representing Norton Company, said all parties agreed to consolidate the 33 silicosis suits solely for the purpose of determining the forum.

He told Stack, "You drew the short straw."

Stack replied, "I'm lucky that way."

Scott said it would be necessary to explore the employer's knowledge of regulations and practices and the employer's compliance.

He said site inspections would be necessary.

He said depositions of managers, safety directors, coworkers, union representatives and regulators would be necessary.

"Not a single witness relating to the issues of liability in this case has been identified in Madison County," Scott said.

"No plaintiff resides here," he said. "No plaintiff has ever been employed here."

He said these were not desperately ill plaintiffs who needed immediate access to trial.

Scott said Ramsey argued that Madison County had a compelling interest because the EMD factory may have built a locomotive that traveled on rails in Madison County.

"They haven't supplied any evidence to support the fact that EMD actually did make a locomotive that traveled the rails of Madison County and certainly, railroad locomotives have nothing to do with this case," Scott said.

Ramsey responded, "I have to say that Mr. Scott accurately depicted our positions."

"I just can't make a serious argument other than what we have put in our brief, your honor, so that's pretty much all I need to say," Ramsey said.

Stack asked Ramsey if he agreed that site inspections would be necessary.

"I'm not sure that I do," Ramsey replied, "because it is my understanding that this plant has been closed down."

Stack said, "You agree that all of the witnesses, the coworkers -"

Ramsey said, "Sure, the witnesses and coworkers were there," and he offered to explain the "peculiar circumstances" later.

Stack declared that private interest factors and public interest factors indicated that the cases should be transferred.

He asked Ramsey, "I assume you want Cook County?"

Ramsey said yes.

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