While the number of new asbestos cases in hotspot jurisdictions across the country is declining overall - and in all types of diseases - the docket in St. Clair County is surging almost exclusively with lung cancer cases.
According to analysis of 2017 filings conducted by Washington-based consulting group KCIC, the St. Clair County docket tripled from 69 in 2016 to 207 last year, marking a 200 percent increase in filings.
And of those new cases, 199 of them were filed on behalf of plaintiffs alleging lung cancer. Most of them were brought by the Gori & Julian firm based in Edwardsville.
Gori & Julian not only filed most of St. Clair County's lung cancer cases, it was the firm that filed the most asbestos lawsuits of any firm last year and in any category - 13 percent of all cases; 15 percent of all mesothelioma cases and 23 percent of all lung cancer cases, according to the report.
KCIC processes approximately 90 percent of total complaints in the U.S., providing it with "a significant amount of data and a fairly holistic snapshot of the asbestos litigation industry today," the report states.
The report notes that a lag time exists between when a case is filed and when it is received by KCIC, and that the data used for this analysis was received through Jan. 31. It states that when its 2018 report is published, the numbers for 2017 will increase "somewhat."
It further states that in the past two years it received additional information after publishing, indicating that the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos in Baltimore exceeded the number of cases filed by Gori & Julian.
"It is possible that will be the case again this year," the report states. "We will continue to monitor these filings."
|Top 10 Firms||2015||2016||2017||%Change '16-'17|
|Gori & Julian||478||544||588||8.1%|
|Weitz & Luxenberg||439||436||449||3.0%|
|Goldberg Persky & White||225||201||147||-26.9%|
|Michael B. Serling||40||45||73||62.2%|
For the first time, Gori & Julian in 2017 exceeded the Simmons firm of Alton as the top filer of mesothelioma claims 329 to 324. Though in 2016, Gori & Julian for the first time exceeded the Simmons firm in overall asbestos claims, 544 to 505.
Gori & Julian's growth has been accelerating in recent years with expansion into other jurisdictions - St. Louis, Louisiana, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and Washington.
Another first goes to St. Clair County with its rapid growth last year earning the court a spot on KCIC's "top 10" jurisdictions It ranked fifth behind Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore City, Md., and the perennial top jurisdiction of Madison County.
While Madison County saw a 13.4 percent drop in filings - from 1,303 in 2016 to 1,128 in 2017 - it by far remains the preferred jurisdiction with more than twice the number of filings than its closest competing jurisdiction in Baltimore.
|Top 10 2017||2015||2016||2017||%Change '16-'17|
|Baltimore City, Md.||694||548||495||-9.7%|
|New York City||401||369||346||-6.2%|
|St. Clair County||109||69||207||200%|
|Wayne County, Mich.||312||190||185||-2.6%|
|New Castle, Del.||132||144||130||-9.7%|
|Subtotal Top 10||3,589||3,426||3,228||-5.8%|
|Grand Total of All||5,336||4,812||4,450||-7.5%|
In terms of overall numbers decreasing, the report shows a decline of approximately 17 percent from 2015, when 5,336 cases were filed nationally, to 4,450 in 2017. A decline of 10 percent is reported between 2016, when 4,812 cases were filed, and 2017.
- Mesothelioma claims decreased by 5.2 percent - 2,311 to 2,190;
- Lung cancer claims decreased by 9.8 percent - 1,220 to 2,190;
- Other cancer claims decreased by 11,8 percent - 153 to 135;
- Non-malignant claims decreased by 9.2 percent - 754 to 685.
Mark Behrens, a Washington attorney involved in asbestos litigation reform efforts, said that decreases in filings "do not necessarily reflect the whole picture with regard to the cost of the litigation if plaintiff firms demand higher values for the cases they file or if defense costs rise."
"That data is not available," he said. "Even with a slight decrease in filings the asbestos litigation is still extremely costly for employers and needs to be reformed."
Behrens also said the data could reflect the "beginning of a long, slow decline in filings that may go on for several decades."
"The decline also may reflect that the dominant plaintiff law firms are diversifying into other litigation such as opioids or that some of the less reliable or weaker claims are being pursued in the trust system. Tort reforms such as asbestos trust transparency laws and court rulings excluding some plaintiff experts also could be a factor."
KCIC's report also discusses effects of personal jurisdiction rulings, saying that recent high court decisions favoring defendant companies in limiting where they can be sued could change the litigation landscape. The Bristol-Myers Squibb decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, for instance, has had profound impact in jurisdictional rulings across the country.
And in September, the Illinois Supreme Court reinforced the BMS decision in Aspen American Insurance Co. v. Interstate Warehousing, Inc. The decision held that for an Illinois court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a case, a defendant corporation must be incorporated in Illinois, have its principal place of business in Illinois or the “defendant’s contacts with Illinois are so substantial as to render this an exceptional case."
The report says it "may be too early to know" what impact Aspen American will have on Illinois with its three asbestos hubs - Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties - which hosted 34 percent of all asbestos claims filed in the country and where most were brought by plaintiffs from other states. At least for Madison County's asbestos caseload, previous analysis has indicated that more than 90 percent of all plaintiffs are from out of state.
"As the Illinois opinion is still recent, the effects of the ruling are not yet apparent, but the decrease of filings in 2017 could be a sign that plaintiff firms are moving their cases to states with a more favorable (or non-existent) personal jurisdiction legal environment," it states.
Bankruptcy trust transparency (BTT)
With 13 states having passed legislation that adds transparency to the asbestos trust submission process - to help ensure claimants don't "double-dip" from both the courts and trusts - the report looked at whether legislation has made a difference in filing patterns.
Its analysis focused on Ohio because it was one of the first states to pass BTT legislation in 2013, and because it was also the first state with a significant number of asbestos cases to do so.
The report found a significant decrease in filings of 45 percent between 2013 and 2014. By comparison, overall filings in the U.S. decreased less significantly at 19 percent during that period.
It also found that mesothelioma claims in Ohio dropped during the same period, by 36 percent, while the decrease of mesothelioma claims in the U.S. was only 2 percent.
"The disproportionate decrease in Ohio may not be completely due to BTT legislation; there could be other factors impacting that state’s filing rates," the report states. "However, from these findings, we can start to make some inferences about the effect that BTT legislation may have."
The report also found that since BTT legislation was passed in Ohio, there was a "clear increase" in the percentage of Ohio residents filings in state courts - rather than out of state claimants.
John Pastuovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, suggests the Illinois General Assembly adopt similar BTT legislation.
"The Illinois legislature should look to Ohio as an example of a state that has passed necessary asbestos trust transparency legislation," he said.
"This type of legislation is critical in Madison County where one-third of all new asbestos cases were filed last year and St Clair County, which saw their asbestos docket grow. If changes are not made, plaintiffs' lawyers in Madison as well as St. Clair counties, will continue to exploit the disconnect that exists between the asbestos trust and personal injury lawsuit system."