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September 20, 2004

St. Louis Post-Dispatch on asbestos

On Saturday the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a major investigation by reporter Paul Hampel of Madison County, Ill.'s asbestos-suit business (the county is in the Illinois portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area). The main article is accompanied by a profile of successful plaintiff's counsel Randy Bono, of the SimmonsCooper firm and an account of Bono's $250 million win against U.S. Steel (on which, see also Ted's earlier post). An overview of the paper's reporting on asbestos is here.

Some highlights from Saturday's coverage:

* Settlement, rather than trial, is the norm. "In the last decade, 5,150 asbestos suits have been filed in Madison County circuit court. Only five have made it to trial."

* Details on the revolving door by which lawyers move from plaintiff's firms to judgeships and other key government posts such as state's attorney and state senator, and then often back again.

* "Even conservative estimates" peg the payouts so far in Madison County asbestos litigation "in the multibillion-dollar range", and new claims plausibly expected to yield another billion in payouts are being added each year. According to a partner at SimmonsCooper, about 1500 new mesothelioma cases are filed each year nationally; Madison County had 457 of them, or 30 percent if the number is accurate. (Cases are taken there to be filed from around the country.)

* According to Morris B. Chapman, "the dean of Madison County trial lawyers", the county's history of political radicalism helps explain the anti-business leanings of its juries. Wobblies are mentioned.

* Filing fees are a cash cow for the county government: "Fees generated last year by all civil cases filed in Madison County were $4,187,848. By comparison, court fees last year for civil cases filed in St. Louis County, which has a population of 1.01 million, were $3,197,695."

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Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.