As we reported previously, a bill passed by the Georgia State Legislature (HB 416) bars asbestos victims from suing corporations unless they already have symptoms of an asbestos disease. Cook County, Illinois, is following suit. Judge William Maddux is now sidelining all asbestos cases in which the plaintiff has no actual symptoms. In addition, he is denying continuances more frequently, allowing counsel no more than a year in which to prepare their cases. Part of the problem is the sheer number of asbestos suits being filed. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for example, there were 37,000 cases pending at the end of 2006.
Cook County, considered by some to be a “judicial hellhole”, had only between 710 and 800. Judge Maddux says that by weeding out the “junk lawsuits”–i.e., those in which plaintiffs show no symptoms–cases in which the plaintiff is actually suffering from a disease can be handled more efficiently and in a timelier manner.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,’” says Judge Maddux, who oversees all of the county’s asbestos lawsuits. “Let’s get justice.” Other courts across the nation are starting to follow the precedent set in Georgia and Cook County, Illinois. The controversy and objection here has to do with the nature of asbestos diseases, which typically have a very long latency period. Asbestosis may not manifest itself for 10 to 20 years; symptoms of mesothelioma may not show up for 40 years or more.