R.I.P., Lipke

by The Madison County Record |
Apr. 26, 2009, 1:48am

Three cheers for the Illinois Supreme Court, which struck down an unjust precedent earlier this month that some believe was the cause of the explosion of asbestos lawsuits in the state.

The "Lipke Rule" had been in effect for the past two decades. Named for successful Cook County asbestos plaintiff Donald Lipke, it effectively disallowed asbestos defendants from introducing any evidence that a sick plaintiff was exposed to other potentially harmful products.

Only Illinois had such a rule, making our state courts among the friendliest locales in the U.S. for shopping asbestos lawsuits.

"We did not carve out an exception for asbestos cases which relieved those plaintiffs from meeting the same burden as all other tort plaintiffs," wrote Justice Charles Freeman, a Chicago Democrat, clarifying Lipke while overturning a $2.4 million verdict against an Indiana boiler maker deprived of its best arguments in court.

The judge in that case, Vermilion County's Craig DeArmond, isn't shedding any tears over the reversal. He wasn't a fan of Lipke, either.

"The Lipke rule as it is now applied, presumes guilt," explained Vermilion County Circuit Judge Craig DeArmond. It created "an undefendable posture for defendants in asbestos litigation."

Lipke was a plaintiff staple here in Madison County.

In 2003, plaintiff Luke Lindau won a reported $4 million settlement from Union Carbide. The company wanted to go to trial, but demurred because of Lipke.

Defense lawyers said the company wouldn't be able to present its best evidence that it wasn't to blame for Lindau's sickness. The evidence included his exposures to other products made by other companies during his 13-year work history and that the plaintiff smoked Kent cigarettes, which periodically used filters containing asbestos.

"(Lipke's) prejudicial effect is so draconian that it deprives Union Carbide of its constitutional rights to a fair trial," Edwardsville attorney Bob Schultz, representing the company, said back then. "It is an anachronism contrary to both sound law and sound science."

It caused 22 years of damage to our business climate That's over. Common sense is better late than never.

Good riddance, Lipke. The asbestos lawyers will miss ye.

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