Judicial Hellhole No More, Part II

Madison County, Illinois, has long been regarded as a “judicial hellhole” by corporate America because judges in this jurisdiction have been more inclined to hold them accountable for crimes and negligence.

As the law stands today, anyone from any state can sue any defendant in any other state as long as either party has any connection whatsoever–however tenuous–to the state in which the plaintiff wishes to file a complaint. Since asbestos defendants are often large, multi-state (and increasingly, multi-national) corporations, it has been fairly easy for a plaintiff in say, California, to sue his/her employer in an Illinois or West Virginia court.

The reason of course is that some jurisdictions–such as the aforementioned–have been more sympathetic to asbestos plaintiffs. Judge Callis, who is Madison County’s chief justice, has been out to change that.

Judge Callis said: “Our aim for starting the reforms and new rules were and are twofold: 1) setting the highest standard possible to better serve the people of Madison County; and 2) restoring the public’s confidence in our judiciary. The goal, frankly, was simple: to fulfill our duty as public servants.”

The stated goal of “tort reform” has been to put an end to the abuses of the system where some less ethical individuals file suits on behalf of plaintiffs who, although having been exposed to asbestos (which in reality, is virtually everyone), do not actually suffer from asbestos disease.

In Madison County, the reform has taken the shape of a “plural registry.” Those who have actually been diagnosed with asbestos disease can place their names on this registry as soon as such as diagnosis has been made–even if they have not yet retained legal counsel or filed a complaint.

According to the former president of the local Trial Lawyers’ Association, “That’s where most filings are… we’re really only going to let the most seriously hurt on the active docket.” This plural registry model is gradually being adopted in other jurisdictions as well.