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March 12th, 2012

Madison County’s Controversial Asbestos Litigation System Strikes Again

Madison County’s controversial asbestos litigation system is once again under fire and causing a stir.  Recently, presiding Judge Clarence Harrison of Madison County, Illinois, denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens regarding a Texas resident who is alleging asbestos exposure in West Virginia and has no connection to Illinois.

In the case of Woody v. Air & Liquid Systems Corporation, the Plaintiff and Decedent resided in Texas and the asbestos exposure occurred in West Virginia and Korea.  The Defendants’ residences are scattered and the Defendants’ attorneys, both parties’ experts, and Plaintiff’s medical personnel involved in the cases all reside in West Virginia. 

Judge Harrison’s questionable analysis focuses on three specific factors that are rather interesting.  First, he gives great weight to the existence of Illinois defendants in the case; however, this is something that will be present in every case.  Second, Judge Harrison believed there was a lack of specification of what testimony out-of-state defendants would offer in the case.  This places unfair expectations on a defendant, because how detailed can the defendant get without having the opportunity to depose the co-workers?  Finally, Judge Harrison highlighted the efficiency of Madison County in handling asbestos cases, despite the fact that trials often get re-set 3-4 times and that there are a number of cases on the docket from 2008 and 2009.

The decision to deny the motion to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is especially interesting in light of Chief Judge Ann Callis’ defensive response to questions regarding the record asbestos filings in 2011.  There were over 600 asbestos cases filed in Madison County in 2011.  Callis was quoted as saying that provisions stating that venue issues have been ignored in Madison County are factually unsound, and that cases are consistently dismissed if they do not belong.  The case of Woody v. Air & Liquid Systems draws into question the validity of that statement.  Even more recently, Chief Judge Ann Callis filed an order to remove Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder of Madison County from overseeing the circuit court’s asbestos docket.  This news came only a few days after Callis discovered that attorneys of three plaintiffs’ firms donated $30,000 to Judge Crowder’s campaign fund only a few days after being chosen to receive a majority of the 2013 asbestos trial slots.

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