August 13, 2015

Asbestos Cases Have Overstayed Their Welcome in Madison County

Benjamin Franklin once said that guests and fish begin to smell after three days. Well the Madison County Courts must be gracious hosts, as on the asbestos docket for trial earlier this week were 272 cases filed by plaintiffs from out-of-town. And these types of cases aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In a review of the 279 asbestos cases set for trial on Tuesday, only seven were found to be brought by claimants actually from Madison County. The other 97.5% of plaintiffs have only ever seen a Madison County court docket, where some have taken up residence since 2011.

It should be noted that each and every one of these suits were settled.

These lawsuits were filed in Madison County because of the plaintiff-friendly asbestos judges. It is no anomaly for the court docket to be full of out-of-town guests. In fact, more than 99% percent of new asbestos cases this year were filed by individuals who do not live in Madison County.

It’s a process known as forum shopping, where lawyers file suit in a court where the verdict is most likely to go in their favor. Asbestos attorneys know they will get a welcome reception in Madison County and thus find some way to tie their client’s case to the jurisdiction.

Madison County welcomes an average of 1,500 new asbestos cases annually, but few ever go before a jury. Less than a dozen Madison County asbestos cases made it to trial in the past decade.

Something smells foul.

The 279 cases on the docket are not meant to make it to trial proceedings, as evidenced by the sheer number of cases set to be heard by this court’s one asbestos judge. It would come as a shock to asbestos lawyers if any of these cases ever end up being decided on the courtroom floor.

Getting a court date is simply a tactic — a strategy of brinkmanship. Plaintiffs’ attorneys push for trial dates in order to force defendants to agree to huge settlements.

For defendants with several asbestos cases against them, a trial date is a bit like Russian roulette. They must be prepared to litigate every case, as they will not know until a week before which one the plaintiffs’ lawyers have chosen to proceed with.

Prepping for multiple cases at one time is no small expense. This is a huge motivator for settling, not to mention the uncertainty of a trial and the risk of an outsized judgment. If a settlement is not reached before the trial date, attorneys simply ask for a continuance and settle in for the long haul.

Asbestos lawsuits have been calling Madison County home for too long, but history shows us that the asbestos judges are unlikely to dismiss cases based on loose or questionable ties to the county. So the mass amount of cases get to stay, and judges will continue to set trial dates that plaintiffs’ lawyers have no intention of keeping.

Is that fish I smell, or the rotten out-of-state asbestos cases?

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