Over the last three decades, plaintiffs have filed large numbers of asbestos claims in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, located in Chicago. Because of the circuit court’s and local plaintiffs’ tendency to push a large number of cases through the system via settlement, Cook County has largely remained below the radar compared to other hotbeds of asbestos litigation (e.g., Madison County, Illinois; New York, New York; Beaumont, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). However, the climate in Cook County appears to be steadily worsening.
Absent improvement with respect to filings, trial settings, and exorbitant settlement demands, Cook County threatens to join those notorious asbestos jurisdictions, where plaintiff-friendly courts have overridden defendants’ due process rights, compromised their ability to defend cases on the merits, and fueled bankruptcies of multiple waves of companies entangled in asbestos litigation. To complicate matters, this potentially dire situation confronts a judge who has just been assigned to manage the asbestos docket.
This paper describes the development of the asbestos docket in Cook County and the evolution of current issues that threaten the administration of justice in asbestos cases. The paper also describes some options for defendants confronting these issues. However, absent reform in the administration of the docket, Cook County appears destined to continue on a path toward notoriety.