High-Profile lawsuits dip in Madison County

Belleville News-Democrat
Monday, January 2, 2006

The number of class actions and asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County has declined for the second year in a row.

The number of class actions filed in 2005 stood at 46 last week, down from 82 in 2004. The number of asbestos lawsuits stood at 376, down from 477 in 2004.

President George W. Bush visited Madison County in early 2005 to tout a new law that restricted where plaintiff lawyers can file class actions, which lump together a group of people with similar claims and commonly result in multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements.

Under the law Bush signed in February, class-action lawsuits seeking $5 million or more would be heard in county-level courts, called state courts in Illinois, only if the primary defendant and more than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state.

"Certainly, the class-action reform legislation which Bush signed may have had some impact," said Ed Murnane, president of the pro-business Illinois Civil Justice League.

Before the legislation, Madison County commonly saw class actions that were filed on behalf of plaintiffs from multiple states, typically against large corporations. Madison County had 77 class actions in 2002 and then, in 2003, had its highest yearly total: 106.

Amber Hard, a staff director for a consumer group, the New York-based Center for Justice and Democracy, said efforts by Murnane's group and others to restrict class actions are actually attempts "by business interests to help negligent companies get off the hook for the harm they cause."

Hard added that such restrictions "allow defendants to use conflicts over venue to prolong the trial and drive up costs for the victim, effectively pricing many victims out of the ability to take a case to court to obtain justice." 

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D

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