Randy Gori and Barry Julian, a newly appointed associate judge in Madison County
While the rate of asbestos filings is generally declining in courts across the country, a new litigation trend developing in Madison County and elsewhere is the inclusion of non-occupational talc exposure claims within traditional occupational asbestos lawsuits.
According to "Asbestos Litigation: 2018 Year in Review" produced by Washington-based research firm KCIC, between 2017 and 2018 there was a 68 percent increase in such cases - from 250 in 2017 to more than 400 in 2018. And further, the report says, there's an increase in the number of previously filed asbestos suits getting amended to add allegations of talc exposure.
"Unlike the 'cosmetic talc only' complaints, the vast majority of these 'asbestos and talc' complaints were filed by the typical asbestos plaintiff firms in the same jurisdictions, such as the Gori Julian firm in Madison County, Ill.," the report states.
A sample of asbestos suits filed in January in Madison County confirms the observation as more than 70 percent of cases filed by Edwardsville-based Gori Julian included claims that talcum powder or talc products were contaminated with asbestos, with defendants including Imerys Talc, Vermont Talc and notably, Johnson & Johnson.
"Plaintiff's exposure to the talcum power and/or talc products attributable to the various defendants occurred at different times as to each and not necessarily through plaintiff's entire life as to any particular defendant," the boiler plate lawsuits say.
Noting that talc litigation is a "hot topic" due to several huge plaintiffs' verdicts and publicity surrounding them, the report points out that causation is still being researched and adjudicated as the number of talc-related filings is on the rise.
"Because talc use in this country has been so widespread, the potentially exposed population is enormous," it states.
While KCIC's annual report did not include cosmetic talc exposure-only cases in its analysis, it cautions that they are "particularly high risk to talc defendants" because the typically female plaintiffs alleging mesothelioma or ovarian cancer tend to be younger than traditional work-related cases and there are fewer co-defendants to apportion liability.
Overall asbestos filings in the U.S. in 2018 were down by 11 percent compared to 2017 - with the greatest decline being in non-malignant (40 percent fewer) and other cancer (31 percent fewer) filings. Mesothelioma cases decreased 6.2 percent, from 2,225 in 2017 to 2,087 in 2018.
KCIC estimates that it has reviewed more than 90 percent of all asbestos lawsuits filed nationwide.
As it has been for more than 15 years, Madison County remains the top jurisdiction in the nation with filings totaling 1,091 in 2018, compared to 1,129 in 2017, a drop of 3.4 percent. Madison County held 27 percent of all 2018 filings, "an increase in the concentration compared to last year that stands in contrast to the overall decrease in concentration of the top 15 jurisdictions," the report states.
St. Clair County is considered the fourth largest asbestos docket, up from fifth place last year due to 30 percent more filings - a total of 268 - which were mostly lung cancer cases brought by Gori Julian.
St. Louis City Circuit Court is ranked sixth with 181 filings, down 3.7 percent from 2017; Cook County Circuit Court is ranked seventh with 169 filings, up 3 percent from 2017.
Trends in plaintiff firms tracked similarly to the type of disease and jurisdictional trends, the report states.
In Baltimore City, Md., the number of cases dropped by 45 percent from 2017 - though the court remained ranked as third top jurisdiction with 272 filings in 2018 compared to 496 in 2017. The drop in Baltimore City is explained by 38 percent fewer filings there from the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos.
Gori Julian maintained its place as the top asbestos filer in the nation - making up 14 percent of all filings, with Weitz & Luxenberg of New York in second at 11 percent of total.