Asbestos Cases Down In First Half Of 2014; Simmons Firm Filed Most And Mostly Meso

From the Madison County Record

A national asbestos docket that doubled in four years and tripled in the last seven may be contracting a bit. At mid-year, a total of 656 asbestos cases have been filed in Madison County.

If the pace of cases filed through June 30 continues through the year, the nation’s busiest asbestos docket will be down by approximately 20 percent over last year’s record-setting figure of 1,678.

In a review of the new cases, the vast majority of new claimants – 90 percent or 590 total – come from states other than Illinois, which is consistent with Madison County’s well-established pattern. Of the 66 Illinois claimants, three reside within Madison County.

Also of note, the incidence of lung cancer claims – which has been the driver of the docket’s significant increase in recent years – has decreased. So far this year, lung cancer cases represent just 30 percent of the total, or 194 new cases.

Until last year, the vast majority of asbestos claims brought in Madison County were on behalf of victims of mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos-related disease. But last year the number of lung cancer cases spiked, making up approximately 45 percent of the caseload.

The increase in lung cancer cases came after an advance trial setting system that provided advantage to the three largest asbestos firms – Simmons, Gori and Julian and Goldenberg – was eliminated. That change provided opportunity for other firms, local and national.

The New York-based Napoli firm, which in recent years established an office in Madison County, dominated the 2013 docket, representing 32 percent, or approximately 525 plaintiffs. More than 90 percent of those cases were on behalf of lung cancer claimants.

At mid-year, the Napoli firm has filed 124 of the 656 cases, or 19 percent of the total.


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Opinions


It’s Time To Change Judicial Selection Process

From ICJL President Ed Murnane

It is becoming a familiar story – even a boring, tiresome story.

Every year in December, the American Tort Reform Association issues a report calling attention to the worst judicial jurisdictions in the U.S. – jurisdictions which ATRA determines are “judicial hellholes.”

As a former member of the ATRA board of directors – chairman of the board, even – I know the review that leads to the ranking is thorough and fair and honest.

The “judicial hellhole” description may seem strong, even harsh, but it is accurate. The description is assigned to those legal jurisdictions in the United States in which fairness and common sense do not prevail. These are jurisdictions in which balance – and supposedly justice – are determined by judges (and maybe, but rarely, by juries) after listening to the pleadings of both sides.

Illinois is a perennial home of one, usually two, and sometimes even three “hellholes.” Madison and St. Clair counties have winning streaks going; they are almost always in the top ten, as they were this year (ranked sixth, jointly). Cook County, that legal cesspool at the opposite end of I-55, is on the “watch” list this year, which means it is not a full-blown hellhole but close enough among the thousands of legal jurisdictions in the United States to make the ATRA news release.

The quality of courts – and the fairness of courts – is primarily determined by the quality and the fairness of the judges. If the judge is “bought” or “crooked,” chances are the judgments in his or her courtroom will be suspect. If a good, honest and clean judge is practicing in a “suspect” jurisdiction, his or her performance can be viewed as tainted too, regardless of whether the judge was a choir boy or flower girl in earlier years.

The quality and integrity and fairness and honesty – and probably many other descriptive words – of judges is largely determined by who the judge is, and how he or she is selected and placed in that seat of supposed wisdom and fairness.

Read the entire commentary…

News Update


Too Poor To Sue? Here’s Help, But Maybe Not For Long

From Crain’s Chicago Business

Oasis Legal Finance LLC makes money legally, though less than honorably, at least according to corporate insurers. The Northbrook company provides what is known as lawsuit funding and says it accounts for as many as four of 10 loans made to personal injury plaintiffs.

Despite rates that would be usury in other instances, however, business doesn’t look as promising as it has been. This month a new Tennessee law forced Oasis out of the state, just one of many considering restricting if not halting a practice that insurers say spurs more lawsuits, larger settlements and ultimately higher premiums for policyholders.

“The insurance consumers, at the end of the day, are bankrolling this industry,” says Joe Thesing, vice president of state affairs in Indianapolis at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

Although the Tennessee act allows annual interest charges of 46 percent, Oasis says other provisions, including a prohibition against assigning contracts, will kill funding from banks and junior capital providers. “It’s like taking the coffee beans away from Starbucks,” Oasis CEO Ralph Shayne says.

Since 2013, bills have been introduced in Illinois, Indiana and 15 other states to ban or restrain lawsuit lending, or to enable it, according to trade groups representing one side or another. None besides Tennessee’s passed.

Read more in our daily News Update…