Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs recently updated the court's Standing Case Management Order which could have the effect of fewer cases being filed in the nation's busiest asbestos court.
Beginning in 2017, the court will set no more than 780 cases for trial each year; plaintiffs will be required to show proof of asbestos-related illness before requesting a trial setting; lung cancer cases will be subjected to greater scrutiny and cases that aren't ready for trial as their trial date approaches will be placed in a "special closed" docket.
Stobbs filed the 84-page updated standing order on Aug. 19.
Originally created on Nov. 17, 1995, the order was last updated on Jan. 26, 2011 when Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder presided over asbestos.
“Since that time, various new circumstances have made it difficult for the Court and parties to operate with maximum efficiency and fairness, thus necessitating changes in the Standing Case Management Order,” the updated order states.
Stobbs indicated that exceptions to the number of trial settings will be at the court’s discretion “in order to fairly and efficiently manage” the docket.
The updated order requires that plaintiff’s firms, must provide the court with a list of priority cases and must file pre-trial reports to show that the case is trial-ready.
“Cases that allege the disease of mesothelioma, having living plaintiffs with a shortened life expectancy attributable to asbestos exposure as shown by a qualified physician report or are over the age of 70 years shall generally receive priority,” the order states.
Cases involving these circumstances may also qualify for expedited trial settings. When seeking expedited trial settings, Stobbs indicated that no trial may be scheduled sooner than 180 days after the date upon which the motion to expedite is granted.
Parties may still object to cases deemed trial-ready or those considered a priority case on a particular trial docket.
The updated standing order also reflects that beginning with the 2016 trial docket, no more than 19 cases may be identified as priority cases for a jury trial docket notwithstanding the number of plaintiff’s firms assigned to trial that week or the number of cases considered to be trial ready.
Stobbs wrote that upon filing a new case, plaintiffs will have 30 days after all parties have been served to submit a request for a trial setting.
“In order to accommodate the needs of counsel, parties, and the administration of justice, the Court will determine the number of jury weeks to be used for asbestos jury trials and the number of Plaintiff’s firms assigned to any given trial week but in no event will more than two firms be assigned to any trial docket,” he wrote.
Stobbs further wrote that plaintiffs must provide answers to standardized written interrogatories and request to produce and all necessary medical information before a trial setting may be established.
Plaintiffs must provide two sets of the following authorizations: HIPAA-complaint authorizations for all medical records, radiology and pathology; authorizations for union, employment, workers’ compensation, social security and military records; or authorizations for state and federal income tax returns.
Plaintiffs are also required to provide a “copy of a treating doctor’s diagnosing report or expert opinion upon which the Plaintiff now relies for prosecution of the alleged asbestos related malignancy claim.”
If the complaint alleges a non-mesothelioma asbestos related disease, the diagnosis report or expert opinion must indicate that asbestos exposure was a “substantial” cause of the alleged disease, that the opinion and diagnosis are based on medically accepted principles and practices, that the conclusions are made based on statements by reputable medical organizations and the date of diagnosis.
Stobbs also wrote that Central Records Depositories, such as Pohlman USA, will be known as Document and Materials Depositories, or DMD.
The DMD collects and maintains documents, pathology slides and blocks, radiology and other materials relating to asbestos cases.
He wrote that the court will not select which DMD the parties must use, leaving it up to the parties to decide. But the court discourages the use of more than one DMD on any case in an effort to practice efficient administration of the cases.
Prior to the DMD update, defendants established and maintained one Central Records Depository to be utilized by all parties.
Stobbs further established a “Special Closed Docket.”
“Any case which is concluded except for finalization of settlements or for purposes of bankruptcy trust claims may be ‘special closed,’” the order states.
Plaintiffs may request a case be special closed at any appropriate time.
Defendants which are not dismissed when a case is special closed may have a dismissal without prejudice entered no sooner than six months after the case is deemed special closed.
Further, cases will be dismissed when a trial setting has been provided but the pre-trial report is not timely filed, when a case alleges asbestos exposure but fails to meet medical criteria and when a case on the “cleanup” docket is not set for trial, dismissed or considered special close by Jan. 31 of the following year.
Stobbs said during a motion hearing on Aug. 26 that all new provisions in the updated standing order will go into effect at the beginning of 2017 except the filing requirements for medical information, which begins immediately.
Madison County maintains the largest asbestos docket in the country, reaching a record high of 1,678 asbestos cases filed in 2013. Since then, case filings have dwindled slightly. A total of 1,224 asbestos cases were filed in 2015.
The docket took off in the mid-1980s with mass asbestos filings against local industries as a result of union-provided cancer screenings suggesting possible asbestos-related diseases.
Stobbs took over the asbestos docket in October 2013.