ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) – Two asbestos attorneys discussed at a conference on Thursday how St. Louis has grown in recent years as a more attractive asbestos jurisdiction.
During the HarrisMartin Midwest Asbestos Conference in St. Louis, asbestos attorneys Lindsay Dibler and Melissa Crowe Schopfer discussed how the city is growing as an asbestos personal injury jurisdiction.
The cases have nearly quadrupled in the last four years, with just 67 new asbestos cases filed in 2010 and 256 filed so far this year, said Dibler, a defense attorney with the Kurowski Shultz law firm, and Schopfer, a plaintiffs attorney with the Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm.
In fact, there have been three asbestos cases that have gone to verdict already this year. Juries entered multimillion-dollar verdicts in favor of the claimants in two of the cases and a defense verdict in the last case.
In the first case, Allan Whipple v. John Crane, Inc., the case was tried under Texas law and the jury awarded the claimant $7.25 million. However, John Crane was dismissed on Jan. 8 after only six percent of fault was attributed to the defendant.
In the second case, Lawrence Foreman v. Sid Harvey Industries, Inc./Nibco, Inc., the jury awarded the plaintiff a total of $6 million on Feb. 10. Sid Harvey was tried under Maryland law and was found liable for $4 million. Nibco was tried under Missouri law and was found liable for $2 million.
In the third case, Louis Dean Nichols v. Dow Chemical Co./BASF Corp., the case was tried under Texas law, and the jury ruled in favor of the defendants on March 11.
Dibler and Schopfer said that as the St. Louis asbestos docket sees higher verdicts, foreign law can play a key role in these cases.
Because foreign law can make or break a case, Schopfer said it's worth asking for a specific state’s law to apply.
“If you don’t ask for it, the judge won’t allow it,” she said.
However, Schopfer stressed that when requesting choice of law, a plaintiffs attorney must address why it will make a difference when a different law is applied.
Dibler added that waivers are also considered in choice of law decisions, as co-defendants may choose to opt out of applying a specific state’s law.
“You can’t force another defendant to be tried under another state’s law if they don’t want to be tried under another state’s law,” Dibler said. “They can waive that.”
Additionally, Dibler explained that St. Louis is seeing more filing recently because “it seems to give an out-of-state plaintiff sort of a better choice of venue than a Missouri resident.”
This is because Missouri residents have the venue determined based on their initial asbestos exposure. However, if the first exposure occurs outside of the state, a claimant may choose any county in Missouri that applies to the defendant.
“A plaintiff is considered first injured where the trauma or exposure occurred rather than where symptoms are first manifested,” Dibler and Schopfer wrote in their presentation.
Dibler also said the state’s statute of limitations law is a contributing factor in making St. Louis a favorable docket.
According to Missouri law, product liability actions have a statute of limitations of five years and wrongful death actions have a statute of limitations of three years.
On the other hand, in Illinois for example, the statute of limitations for asbestos cases in general is two years from when the claimant knew or should have known of the asbestos-related disease.
Because most claimants aren’t local, Dibler reminded plaintiffs attorneys that if they are going to claim statute of limitations as an issue, they must make sure to indicate that it applies.
The two concluded by comparing St. Louis’ growing asbestos docket to its popular neighboring asbestos docket in Madison County, Ill. They agreed the St. Louis City court is stricter.
In fact, the city typically follows protocol and schedules by the book in regards to motion practice, deposition procedures and scheduling orders, among others.
St Louis also has a different approach to assigning judges for trial than the Madison County jurisdiction.
In Madison County’s clogged asbestos docket, Circuit Judge Stephen Stobbs presides over all asbestos cases from start to finish. St. Louis, on the other hand, doesn’t assign a judge until just before trial. In the meantime, motion judges take care of pre-trial litigation, which helps make the docket more attractive, they said.
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