Asbestos attorneys with the Simmons Firm and HeplerBroom discussed what they called “myths” and “facts” of the history of the Madison County asbestos docket.
In a discussion titled “The History of Madison County Asbestos Litigation,” Michael Angelides of Simmons Hanly Conroy in Alton and Anne Schmidt of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville discussed the issue at HarrisMartin’s Midwest Asbestos Litigation Conference on Sept. 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis.
Both Angelides and Schmidt provided data collected by their firms. The numbers are based off of information provided by the courthouse and collected by the firms and do not represent complete asbestos case filings in Madison County.
Angelides kicked off the discussion by saying that there is more to the data than just numbers.
“When we talk about statistics and filing numbers, we don’t really talk about what’s behind the numbers – a person,” he said.
He said that filing numbers are higher when compared to historical numbers in Madison County and they reached a record-breaking number of cases filed in 2013.
However, he said they’ve plateaued over the last three years:
- 2011 – 946 cases filed
- 2012 – 1540
- 2013 – 1666
- 2014 – 1291
- 2015 – 1192
- 2016 – 1266
- 2017 – 1359 filed so far
Schmidt countered that case filings have increased overall in Madison County with roughly 411 filed in 2000 and 1276 filed in 2016:
- 2000 – 411 cases filed
- 2001 – 889
- 2002 – 809
- 2003 – 953
- 2004 – 477
- 2005 – 389
- 2006 – 325
- 2007 – 455
- 2008 – 639
- 2009 – 814
- 2010 – 752
- 2011 – 953
- 2012 – 1563
- 2013 – 1674
- 2014 – 1312
- 2015 – 1221
- 2016 – 1276
“What we also have to remember is that the companies they are suing are also made up of people,” Schmidt added.
Angelides also broke filing numbers down by the type of asbestos disease.
He first focused on mesothelioma cases, saying that roughly 50 percent of all mesothelioma cases in the country are filed in Madison County:
- 2011 – 582 cases filed
- 2012 – 828
- 2013 – 899
- 2014 – 985
- 2015 – 1050
- 2016 – 1075
- 2017 – 1060 filed so far
He called the 2017 number “on pace” with previous years. However, with three months left of the year and steady case filings until the very end, it appears that while the numbers aren’t climbing as quickly as previous years, they are still climbing.
The lung cancer filings in Madison County follow a different trend:
- 2011 – 343 cases filed
- 2012 – 690
- 2013 – 748
- 2014 – 295
- 2015 – 135
- 2016 – 177
- 2017 – 288 filed so far
Angelides contributed the spike in case filings in 2012 and 2013 to the increase in lung cancer case filings by the then Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik firm.
The firm represented roughly 32 percent of the new case filings in 2013 by filing 525 cases. Of those cases, more than 90 percent were lung cancer claims.
The three biggest asbestos case filers in Madison County are the Simmons Firm, Gori Julian and Maune Raichle, which control around 40 percent of the mesothelioma filings nationwide, Angelides said.
Looking at filing numbers from 2011 to present, Simmons files roughly 300 cases each year, with 282 filed so far this year. Gori also files roughly 300 cases, with 327 filed so far this year. Maune files roughly 200 cases, with 202 cases filed so far this year.
“Congrats to Randy. Good job,” Angelides said of Gori’s case filings.
Angelides also discussed what he said were the “myths” of Madison County’s asbestos docket.
He said the idea that there are too many cases filed and too many trial settings in Madison County is a myth. He said the reality is that case filings and trial settings have decreased “significantly” since 2002.
Angelides said the data shows that there were over 1,500 trial settings in 2002, with 850 trials set for the Simmons firm alone.
The asbestos docket now sees a 780 trial setting cap, which is nearly 50 percent less trials per year.
Questioning how many is too many, Schmidt countered that the number of cases filed in Madison County have increased overall and trial settings have slightly increased.
While the new Standing Case Management Order for the asbestos docket limits 780 trial settings per year, these are first-time trial settings and do not include continued trial settings and hundreds of Napoli lung cancer cases.
Further, she added that the number of plaintiff firms filing asbestos cases in Madison County has risen from five firms in 2002 to 12 firms in 2017.
Angelides also said there is a myth that plaintiffs want to make defendants pay unreasonable sums to resolve out-of-state cases. He said the reality is that “plaintiffs are people who are dying – they want fair compensation, paid quickly.”
He explained that the last collectible verdict in Madison County was the 2003 verdict against U.S. Steel and in favor of claimant Roby Whittington of Indiana for $250 million. The case later settled for an undisclosed amount following the verdict in lieu of an appeal.
Angelides explained that it was discovered that U.S. Steel only gave respirators to white employees. The plaintiff in that case was African American. The jury responded with a landmark verdict.
All verdicts since then have either been defense verdicts or were not collectible plaintiff verdicts because of set-offs.
Schmidt joked that when her clients are trying to decide whether to go to trial or settle, she tells them the verdict range is $0 and $250million.
Angelides also said there is a myth that defendants never want to resolve a case for fair money fast. Instead, he said the reality is that defendants “have been doing just that for 20+ years in Madison County. Defendants want the predictability that Madison County has historically delivered.”
He added that the docket was created by the defendants, not the plaintiffs, “to achieve their primary goals – predictability and cost savings.
Angelides praised Madison County’s asbestos docket for its predictability. He said its recent history of defense verdicts promises defendants no run-away verdicts.
He also said the large docket offers lower defense costs. He explained that the asbestos cases are going to be filed somewhere regardless of forum, venue or personal jurisdiction.
Schmidt agreed that some defendants sued in Madison County choose to resolve their cases there as other jurisdictions are more expensive and pose a greater risk. She added that “if a defendant is sued in nearly every case filed, it may be more cost-effective to litigate those cases in one jurisdiction.”
Angelides added that the Simmons firm is beginning to file more cases in other jurisdictions with between 65 and 90 active mesothelioma cases in California per year; 63 active pending mesothelioma cases in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; and “many more” pending in various other states. He said all of these cases filed in other jurisdictions were traditionally filed in Madison County.
He said the new jurisdictions are not better options for the defendants.
“Our firm just got a $4-plus million verdict in New York versus no verdict in Madison County in the past 14 years” Angelides said.
However, Schmidt said the perception that defendants created the docket is based on erroneous assumptions that “the docket belongs to the parties and not the Court” and “corporate defendants which seek the enforcement of rules and demand the development of procedures which allow them the opportunity to defend themselves in hundreds of serious and complex asbestos cases set for trial each year somehow constitutes a docket which those defendants have created.”
Schmidt explained that some defendants are sued in nearly every asbestos case filed, which could be based solely on the plaintiff’s occupation. Often times, there is no evidence that the plaintiff ever worked with the defendant’s products.
She added that the Standing Case Management Order, which was first utilized in 1995 wasn’t, and has never been, an agreed order. The court takes into consideration the opinions of the parties when making changes, but it is written to manage “a very large docket of very complex cases and to try to assure equitable treatment for all parties.”