One week before a rare Madison County asbestos trial began in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs’ courtroom, he was joined by asbestos attorneys to provide an update on Madison County’s asbestos docket at the HarrisMartin Midwest Asbestos Litigation Conference.
Speaking last at the Sept. 6 conference in St. Louis, Stobbs was joined by Christopher Layloff of Gori Julian & Associates and Eric Hall of HeplerBroom.
The group spent most of their time discussing the asbestos standing order, which had been updated by Stobbs on Aug. 19, 2016 in an effort to solve several issues with the docket and help cases progress through the system more smoothly.
“In a docket like Madison County, there’s bound to be speedbumps along the way,” Layloff said.
Layloff said the different trial dates on the docket are organized based on the plaintiffs’ diagnoses.
He explained that after a rise in lung cancer filings in 2013, plaintiffs were trying to get the lung cancer cases set for trial with pushback from defendants.
Madison County saw a rise in lung cancer asbestos filings during its record-breaking year, when a total of 1,678 cases were filed. Lung cancer case filings increased after former asbestos judge Clarence Harrison eliminated the advanced trial setting system that provided advantage to the three largest local asbestos firms – Simmons, Gori Julian, and Goldenberg.
The change provided opportunities for other local and national firms, such as the New York-based Napoli firm which opened an office in Madison County in 2012.
Stobss’ updated standing order requires non-mesothelioma cases to include the diagnosis report or expert opinion, which must indicate that asbestos exposure was a “substantial” cause of the alleged disease and the date of diagnosis. The reports must also indicate that the opinion and diagnosis are based on medically accepted principles and practices and that the conclusions are made based on statements by reputable medical organizations.
Layloff said during the HarrisMartin conference that the issue of setting lung cancer cases for trial caused “tremendous clogging.”
Layloff said that it was frustrating for plaintiffs’ firms because they wanted to move asbestos cases through the docket, but the court’s handling of the docket and case filings reverted things back to where they were.
He added that “ultimately it was the right move” because plaintiffs alleging mesothelioma injuries “get their day in court.”
In fact, an Edwardsville man’s mesothelioma case just got its day in court. Plaintiff Harold Schaberg's trial began Sept. 13.
Closing arguments in the case were heard Sept. 25. Jurors were still deliberating a verdict as of noon Sept. 26.
Schaberg, who is deceased, worked as an insulator for various Madison County companies for more than 30 years and filed his complaint on March 24, 2016. Schaberg died in April 2016.
During the Madison County roundtable at the HarrisMartin conference, Layloff also said the process to move cases along in Madison County is “good and efficient.”
In order to keep the docket organized and running smoothly, Stobbs has dedicated Wednesdays for mandatory settlement conferences for the cases set for trial the following week, with a motion docket taking place on Fridays.
“That’s been really effective,” Stobbs said. “Everyone has been wonderful in terms of allowing us to do that.”
Layloff and Hall said the new docket schedule saves money for all parties involved. By engaging in settlement talks several days before a trial is set to begin, parties may resolve their cases before spending money on trial preparation and getting their expert witnesses ready.
By discussing settlement on Wednesdays, parties also have several days to address any issues that may come up, Hall said.
Stobbs said the remaining days of the week are available for special sessions when arguments require more attention than the typical Friday motion docket.
He added that there are numerous mediation options as well.
“We’re constantly engaged in helping parties resolve their differences,” Stobbs said.