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Rising Asbestos Hotspot?

McLean County (Bloomington) in Illinois is not a first-timer on these pages. Located in central part of the state, it has developed a reputation for lopsided rulings that favor plaintiffs in asbestos cases, as detailed in past Judicial Hellholes reports. The county gained the attention of plaintiffs’ lawyers after it hosted a $90 million asbestos verdict against four businesses back in 2011.

McLean County verdicts ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars are often reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The appellate court has tossed out multiple McLean asbestos verdicts that sensationally assert conspiracies with no evidentiary support. In July 2015, an appellate court reversed a $1.4 million award, finding that McLean County Judge Rebecca Foley improperly barred the jury from learning that the plaintiff had also worked for another employer, other than defendant, Illinois Central Railroad, at a job in which he was exposed to asbestos.

More recently, in June 2016, the Fourth District threw out a $245,000 McLean County verdict, finding that the plaintiff in that trial, also presided over by Judge Foley, showed no evidence that he suffered from symptoms of an asbestos-related disease. In fact, the plaintiff’s treating physician testified that 82-year-old Joseph Sondag had never complained of shortness of breath or chest pain and could climb two flights of stairs at a running pace without issue.

Observers say that McLean County is slowly gaining popularity as an asbestos docket in Illinois, though its caseload pales in comparison to Madison County and it has not yet inched into the top 15 asbestos magnet jurisdictions. The local law firm behind the no-injury Sondag case, the $90 million verdict, and other asbestos litigation in the county is Wylder Corwin Kelley. With help from Judge Foley and others, the firm seems to have developed a dubious niche practice: filing asbestos lawsuits on behalf of people who have not developed asbestos-related cancer.

Will the Fourth District’s ruling in Mr. Sondag’s case, actually requiring plaintiffs to show evidence of an injury, serve to dim McLean County’s in the eye of the plaintiffs’ bar? Or will judges there and their friends at Wylder Corwin Kelley develop another means by which to shakedown deep-pocket defendants? Stay tuned.

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