Although fewer asbestos claims were filed in Madison County last year compared to the previous year, the number of asbestos cases filed on behalf of plaintiffs out of the county, state and even country is still high, according to Madison County court records.
In 2015, 1,224 asbestos claims were filed in Madison County, down from 1,300 in 2014.
Of the 1,224 cases filed, approximately 6 percent (75 cases) were filed on behalf of Illinois residents, notably less than the 10 percent filed by Illinois residents in 2014.
Just six of the 1,224 cases (less than 1 percent) were filed on behalf of Madison County residents, although it’s important to note that 20 of the cases filed by Illinois residents do not specify which county the plaintiff resides in.
“The fact (is) that in 2013, 98 percent of asbestos suits that were filed in Illinois were filed by people who don’t even live in Madison County and things really haven’t gotten any better last year,” John Pastuovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League told Illinois Business Daily. “Only six of the 1,224 total asbestos cases, which equals about one half of one percent, were filed in Madison County. It is clear that the system is corrupt and real reforms including venue reform are (surely) needed.”
Pastuovic said civil justice reform is just one of many “deep rooted and documented problems” the state needs to address to turn Illinois around.
Last year, the Illinois Civil Justice League compiled a report titled “Litigation Imbalance,” and found that a great amount of wealth was being gained at the expense of Madison County.
“By a conservative estimate, each of these cases are worth about $2 million,” Pastuovic said. “So we believe the Madison County asbestos rocket docket could be worth more than $1.7 billion every year and produces nearly $600 million annually in contingency fees for plaintiff attorneys.”
The result, Pastuovic said, is evident in failing business in the county and state, drained financially by a tort system that is supporting people beyond county and state borders.
“I would like to see the end of a corrupt system and I would like to see real civil justice reform in Illinois starting with venue reform down in Madison County,” Pastuovic said. “I think cases that are heard in Madison County should have some relationship to Madison County. People shouldn’t be bringing their cases from different cities, states and even countries to Madison County. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) also weighed in, publishing a blog post last week about the high number of out-of-state, out-of-county asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County.
“The high rate of out-of-state plaintiffs is a key factor in Madison County’s national reputation as one of the friendliest legal jurisdictions for plaintiffs’ lawyers,” according to a blog post on ILR's Web site. “Asbestos cases are their specialty. One former Madison County judge estimated that 25 percent of the entire country’s asbestos litigation is filed in the small Metro East county.”
ILR's post acknowledged that although some of the claims are valid, many raise eyebrows.
“Claims should have some connection to the location of the lawsuit in order to be fair to both the plaintiff and the defense," noted the post. "When 99.5 percent of all asbestos suits in Madison County are filed by people who don’t even live there, justice is called into question. Why should the citizens of the county have their tax dollars go to support a court system that seems to serve everyone else first?”
Pastuovic said some specific legal reforms are needed to address the problem.