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Asbestos-related litigation declined, but still attractive to attorneys

WASHINGTON (SE Texas Record) – The amount of asbestos litigation in the U.S. continues to decrease, if slightly, according to a mid-year 2016 report recently issued by a Washington-based consulting firm.

"To date, 2016 appears to be tracking closely with 2015 in terms of total claims filed," Jonathan Terrell, President and Founder of KCIC, consulting firm providing corporate risk management services to policyholders and their legal counsel, said during a SE Texas Record email interview. "Compared to this point last year, 2016 filings are down only slightly."

Terrell cited the results of the recently released KCIC report, "Asbestos Litigation: 2016 Mid-Year Review". "We decided to do a mid-year check-up, reviewing and analyzing the first six months of data for 2016, as received through July 31 relative to the first six months of 2015," Terrell said. "A compare and contrast from year to year, if you will."

In addition to the slight decline in asbestos-related litigation, the report shows a comparative decrease in all disease-related claims filed except for that of asbestos-caused mesothelioma, which is up 10.7 percent compared to the same period last year. "Madison County, Ill., continues to be the epicenter for asbestos filings, making up 29 percent of total filings and 48 percent of total mesothelioma filings for 2016 thus far," Terrell said. "Like last year, we are seeing the same few plaintiffs’ counsel filing the most lawsuits."

The paucity of plaintiff's attorneys mentioned in the midyear report is similar to what was found in the previously released KCIC report, "Asbestos Litigation: 2015 Mid-Year Review". Asbestos-related litigation long has attracted bottom-feeders in the legal community who often place open-ended advertisements to recruit prospective asbestos litigators, industry observers say.

One West Virginia firm blames almost 300 companies in its asbestos-related litigation while one firm in Madison County, Ill., files the most such cases in that county and nationwide.

Even in Texas, where laws tend to be stacked against plaintiffs, asbestos-related cases are not unheard of, though the state itself does not figure large in the most recent report. One case filed in July names 49 corporate defendants while another case filed the same month names dozens more.

The low number of plaintiffs’ attorneys in all these cases continues in the midyear report, Terrell said. "The report provides a fairly holistic state of the industry snapshot, and when we look at the numbers from last year to this year we're seeing some trends," he said. "As noted, we’re still seeing the same main plaintiff counsel players filing the vast majority of lawsuits in the same places. The top 15 plaintiff counsel firms filed 70 percent of all filings in 2016 to date."

The report also noted trends in the top 15 jurisdiction, which are in order Madison County, Ill.; New York; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Wayne, Mich.; New Castle, Del.; Cook County, Ill.; Los Angeles; Kanawha County, W.Va. Allegheny, Pa.; Middlesex, N.J.; St. Claire, Ill.; Orleans Parish, La. and Alameda, Calif.

"The top 15 jurisdictions account for 81 percent of the asbestos filings thus far," Terrell said. "We expect this concentration to continue, though we do continue to look for and monitor other jurisdictions that experience upticks in filings as well."

KCIC plans to publish a more comprehensive full-year 2016 analysis early next year.