Number of Class Action Asbestos Suits Rises

In the Madison County, Illinois courts, individual and class action asbestos suits are common, and according to an article in the Belleville News-Democrat, the number of suits rose again this year.

Individual suits increased by about 33 percent over the number of such suits filed in 2006. Last year, 325 were filed; this year the number was 444. The number of class actions filed in 2007 stood at seven last week, which was up significantly from the three filed in 2006.

However, experts say that the number of asbestos suits nationwide continue to decrease even though this year saw a slight upward trend.

“The numbers don’t always tell the whole story,” said Ed Murnane, president of the pro-business Illinois Civil Justice League. “The fact is that any attorney can file a suit, but it is the court that decides what it is going to do with that suit.”

The article points out that in 2005, President George W. Bush visited Madison County to promote a new law that restricts where plaintiff lawyers can file class action suits. Such suits lump together a group of people with similar claims and can easily lead to multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements.

Murnane said the biggest change happening in Madison County is the fact that the court is trying to eliminate litigation that doesn’t belong in that county. This Illinois county has long been a dumping ground for asbestos suits.

Last week, Madison and St. Clair Counties, both in Illinois, fell off the list of “judicial hellholes”, according to the American Tort Reform Association. Its annual list contains “court venues deemed hostile to corporate defendants and overly sympathetic to plaintiff attorneys.”

Last year, the group ranked Madison and St. Clair counties Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, as “hellholes.” The year before, it ranked them Nos. 4 and 5; and in 2004, Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, according to the article.

Experts credit the removal of the counties from the list of “hellholes” to the recent formation of a “plural registry”, which demands that individuals place their name on said list as soon as they gain first knowledge of an asbestos-related illness, as required by statute.

“That’s where most filings are,” said attorney Kevin Conway, former president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. “We’re really only going to let the most seriously hurt on the active docket.”

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