Litigating in the Field of Dreams: Asbestos Cases in Madison County, Illinois

October 27, 2010

The Madison County asbestos litigation story involves the creation of a national clearinghouse for asbestos malignancy claims by first suspending normal rules about which courts should hear these cases, and second, by adopting procedures to facilitate the “processing” of large numbers of those claims. These factors combine to facilitate the process of extracting maximum value from the defendants. The resulting economics, in turn, drive a litigation perpetual motion machine where, so long as the rules are relaxed, more and more cases will be drawn to the jurisdiction. Whether Madison County asbestos litigation will continue along its current course is an unwritten chapter; but, as it stands now, the story is a cautionary tale about the power of procedural “innovations,” the ability of a judge or judges in one location to impact the entire national system of litigation, the extreme mobility of asbestos claims and the tyranny of economic incentives.