I spoke on a panel to start off Perrin Conferences’ Cutting-Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 14. Besides myself, the panel — titled “The Top Emerging Trends in 2016 Asbestos Litigation” — included both plaintiff and defense attorneys, as well as insurers. Our goal was to begin the two-day conference by highlighting what we’re seeing across the asbestos litigation landscape today.
My part of the presentation was to share amended findings from KCIC’s “Asbestos Litigation: 2015 Year in Review” report, which we released last month. The report focused on how many defendants are being named on asbestos lawsuits, who is filing them, and where are they being filed.
It’s important to note that the report reflected our data through Feb. 1, 2016. However, for the conference, I presented data updated through Feb. 29, 2016. As a result of the lag between filing and defendants actually receiving service, we received about 500 complaints in the month of February that were filed with the court in December 2015. The influx of complaints was mainly due to non-malignant cases filed in Middlesex, Mass., by The Ferraro Law Firm and in Baltimore City, Md., by The Law Office of Peter Angelos. Those updated numbers reveal the following:
In 2015, the median number of defendant companies named on asbestos complaints was 54, which is up by 8% from 2014 filings. The panel really grabbed onto this statistic and discussed why so many companies are named when the vast majority of them end up getting dismissed. The insurer argued that the plaintiff’s attorneys have a duty to perform some due diligence before filing, making sure they name the companies that should legitimately be named. The insurer added that it is unnecessary to force so many companies to spend time and money filing answers to lawsuits that just get dismissed. On the other hand, the plaintiff counsel on the panel said that, indeed, it is necessary to name all the defendants that could have a stake in the case. The attorney argued that when a case is filed, it’s impossible to know that the majority of the defendants are going to be dismissed; they want to make sure their bases are covered if/when a defendant is identified in a deposition.
We also discussed the fact that Madison County, Ill., continues to be the nation’s mesothelioma filing capital. In fact, Madison County saw 48 percent of all mesothelioma lawsuits in 2015. The defense attorneys on the panel argued that 99 percent of those cases do not belong in Madison County — that the plaintiff was never exposed there, nor did the defendant do significant business there (see my recent blog post about personal jurisdiction). The plaintiff counsel countered that the cases are filed properly. The panel also discussed the recent trend in verdicts — the number of cases going to trial decreased in 2015, and the panel was unsure if the 2015 trial figures are an anomaly or a trend. As we continue through 2016, we will get a better sense of whether or not we are actually seeing a trend.
The panel also discussed the decline in asbestos-related mesothelioma cases. The data does not show a decline in overall mesothelioma filings, but the panel argued that non-asbestos mesothelioma is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how the science continues to develop to determine which mesothelioma is caused by asbestos and which may not be. Current thinking is that there are two types of mesothelioma — stomach and lung — and one is asbestos-related and one is not. It will be interesting to see what changes and what stays the same in asbestos litigation throughout 2016, and then what “emerging trends” we’ll be talking about at next year’s conference.