An educated public that knows to call a lawyer after an asbestos-related diagnosis is partly why lawsuits are increasing not only in Madison County, but nationwide, according to a local plaintiff's attorney.
New asbestos lawsuits account for half of the cases filed in the Third Judicial Circuit's L Division so far this year. As of Aug. 27, 756 L Division cases, ones which seek damages in excess of $50,000, have been filed in Madison County and 383 or 50.7 percent of those are asbestos claims.
A prominent Madison County asbestos plaintiffs' attorney who spoke to the Record on condition of anonymity, said cases are up because of public education through lawyer advertising over the past decade.
"Ten years ago, people with mesothelioma did not know they needed to call a lawyer," said the attorney who is a regular at the Madison County Courthouse on asbestos docket days. "Now, with the general public educated, late night television commercials and magazine ads, mesothelioma victims always call an attorney."
"Jump forward to 2008, and I would bet nearly 100 percent of mesothelioma suffers file an action now."
Prior to 2007, there had not been an increase in asbestos filings in Madison County since 2003.
In 2007, there were 455 asbestos suits filed in Madison County, which is 130 cases more than in 2006, a year in which 325 cases were filed-- that was the lowest number of asbestos filings since 1998, when 176 cases were filed. In 2005, there were 389 asbestos cases.
Asbestos filings in Madison County:
Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, the county's presiding asbestos judge, said he had a meeting with both sides of the asbestos bar and they told him asbestos cases are up nationwide.
"Part of the reason is doctors are now saying different types of cancers are caused by asbestos," Stack said.
Stack said he has been told that doctors are saying cancer of the esophagus and lungs are also caused by asbestos fibers.
Attorney Ted Gianaris of SimmonsCooper, Madison County's largest asbestos filer, said the Internet also plays a large part in the increase.
"We offer Web advertising as a public service so people know their rights when it comes to asbestos-related illnesses," Gianaris said.
"Also, people will continue to get asbestos-related illnesses for the next 15-20 years," Gianaris noted. "Some years will just have more diagnoses than others."
Randy Gori of the newly formed Gori, Julian & Associates firm in Edwardsville speculated that the increase in filings could be due to technological advances in the medical field.
"The ability to diagnose mesothelioma has become better in the past few years," Gori said. "Plus, doctors are better educated on mesothelioma and test for it more often than they did five years ago."
Robert Shultz, a defense attorney for Heyl Royster in Edwardsville, said he was not sure why cases are increasing, but admitted Madison County is a court where litigants can a trial date quickly.
Another defense attorney, who asked not to be identified, said his client does not mind that asbestos cases are filed in Madison County.
"If a plaintiff has been diagnosed with mesothelioma we are going to face litigation in some forum one way or another," he said. "We would rather come to Madison County where a specialized docket is already in place, than travel to a forum when they see one asbestos case every three years."
He also commented that Madison County was actually a convenient place to bring witnesses for depositions or even trial.
"Edwardsville is less than 30 minutes from the airport," he said. "Some places you fly in, rent a car and then have to drive up to 80 miles to get to the courthouse and that is simply not convenient. Plus, at least here, we can handle 10 cases in one courtroom, with one judge, rather than spending thousands of dollars on traveling to handle the same cases."
Currently, Stack is not concerned with the increase in asbestos filings.
Stack, who also is Madison County's chief civil judge, said he would be concerned if the asbestos numbers continually trend higher as they did in 2002 when there were 809 cases and in 2003 when there was an all-time high of 953.
In addition to cases being filed by people claiming their cancers were caused by asbestos, secondary exposure cases are also increasing in Madison County, figures show.
For instance, more and more plaintiffs are alleging they were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers while laundering the clothing of individuals exposed first-hand.
At least 73 or 19.06 percent of all asbestos cases filed this year have alleged their exposure came from asbestos from the clothing of a family member
And lately a large number of asbestos cases are being filed from plaintiffs who live outside of Illinois.
Out of the 383 cases filed so far this year, roughly 92 percent of the plaintiffs live in other states. The Illinois residents that do file in Madison County are not always locals.
According to Stack, not much can be done to curtail out-of-towners from filing their cases here.
"Nothing is being done to curb the filings as there is nothing that can be done," Stack said in an e-mail interview earlier this year.
"I mean, the Circuit Clerk's office can't refuse them and the court can't simply sua sponte dismiss them."
But, Stack has made it clear that if cases do not belong, and a movant can prove another forum is convenient, he will transfer a case.
On Aug. 7, Stack granted a forum non conveniens motion and transferred an asbestos case to Cook County.