More than 300 asbestos cases are set for trial next Monday in a Madison County courtroom that seats about 100 spectators.
The extraordinary number of cases are set to be presided over by the court's only asbestos judge - Stephen Stobbs, an associate judge. Typically, however, cases do not proceed to trial in the nation's busiest asbestos court - they settle.
Among the thousands of asbestos cases filed here in the past few years, just a handful of cases have proceeded to trial. And, the last eight consecutive asbestos trials have resulted in defense verdicts.
Most of the cases set for trial on Aug. 10 - 278 of 316 - were filed in 2013 and 2014. Of the remaining cases, 28 were filed in 2012; eight were filed in 2011 and one was filed this year.
In a review of 279 of the docket's cases filed in 2013, 2014 and the one case in 2015, a total of 24 claimants are Illinois residents, or 8.5 percent in all; and, seven of the 279 plaintiffs are Madison County residents, or 2.5 percent of the total.
By comparison, claimants from Ohio (20) and Texas (17) have more trial settings than persons from Madison County, as well as combined more than Illinoisans. In fact, plaintiffs with trial settings come from all across the country. One is from Puerto Rico.
The vast majority of cases (271) are brought on behalf of claimants suffering from mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos.
Of the 279 cases reviewed on next week's trial docket, the Simmons firm of Alton represents most at 178; the Maune firm of St. Louis represents 59; the Shrader firm in Glen Carbon represents 28; Napoli of Glen Carbon represents five; Gori and Julian in Edwardsville represents four; the Goldenberg firm of Edwardsville represents two; and O'Brien of St. Louis, Lanier of Houston and Flint of Edwardsville represent one each.
Asbestos litigation observer Mark Behrens of Shook, Hardy and Bacon in Washington criticized the "extraordinarily" large number of cases set for trial in Madison County next week, saying it "demonstrates that the court is more interested in efficiency than fairness."
"The Illinois Constitution’s right to a jury trial becomes a legal nullity when so many cases are set for trial in the same week," he said.
The last time an asbestos plaintiff won a verdict in Madison County was 2005. Here is a look at asbestos verdicts over the past decade:
2005: Willard King v Bondex - plaintiff verdict in the amount of $500,000;
2005: Jane Gudmundson v General Electric - defense verdict;
2006: Anita O'Connell v Georgia Pacific and Bondex - defense verdict;
2007: John Larson v National Lead - defense verdict;
2008: Harry Glass v National Lead - defense verdict;
2009: Terry Stephens v Home Builders Supply - defense verdict;
2010: Larry Williams v Ford Motor Company - defense verdict;
2013: James Reef v Georgia Pacific - defense verdict; and
2014: Tom King v Crane Co. - defense verdict.