July 21, 2006
Judicial "Hellhole" Gets New Chief Judge
Citing declining public confidence in the way lawsuits are handled in Illinois' Madison County Circuit Court, Chief Judge Ann Callis has removed Judge Nicholas Byron from his postition as chief judge of the civil division. Madison County has developed a reputation among defendants as one of the country's worst "judicial hellholes." Judge Dan Stack, who how presides over the county's asbestos docket, has been named to replace Byron. At its peak under Judge Byron's administration, asbestos litigation in Madison County grew into a multibillion-dollar industry for plaintiff's attorneys. According to a 2004 newspaper investigation, the SimmonsCooper firm of East Alton alone had collected at least $1.2 billion in settlements in the previous four years. See Paul Hampel's story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
July 19, 2006
Defense Prevails in Bellwether Welding Rod Case
In the first bellwether trial in the federal welding rod multidistrict litigation, the jury found that makers and distributors were not liable for a welder's neurological problems (Solis v. Lincoln Elec. Co., N.D. Ohio (MDL 1535), No. 04-17363, 6/2706). The plaintiffs in these cases claim that exposure to manganese-containing welding rod fumes cause symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. Approximately 10,000 claims, more than half pending in the federal MDL, were filed against the welding rod industry after a 2003 verdict for an Illinois welder for $1 million. That verdict was upheld on appeal (Elam v. Lincoln Electric Co. (ill. App. Ct., 5th Dist., No. 5-04-0120, 12/20/05).
July 18, 2006
Second-Hand Smoke Exposure Suit Brought in New Jersey
A long-time employee has sued the casino where he was employed for 25 years alleging that his lung cancer was caused by inhaling second-hand smoke at his workplace. The plaintiff claims never to have been a smoker. Gambling casinos are exempt from the ban on smoking in indoor public places created by New Jersey's Smoke-Free Fair Act which became effective earlier this year. However, that act does not immunize casinos from tort liability for personal injuries resulting from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
The suit was filed shortly after release of the U.S. Surgeon General's recent report that persons exposed to second-hand smoke have a 20-to-30 percent greater chance of developing heart disease or lung cancer, a finding the report claims is "indisputable." Similar suits have been brought in the past without notable success. However, the Surgeon General's new report may change the evidentiary weight on causation in favor of plaintiffs and more such suits can be expected across the country. See Lisa Brennan's story in the New Jersey Law Journal.
July 14, 2006
Merck Wins Vioxx Round 7
A New Jersey jury returned a verdict for Merck in another case alleging that Vioxx contributed to the plaintiff's heart attack. The trial was the first in which a jury was presented with the question of whether Merck failed to adequately warn consumers of Vioxx risks. Elaine Doherty claimed that her use of Vioxx over 2 1/2 years was a major cause of a mild heart attack that she suffered in January 2004 and that Merck had failed in its duty to warn her. Merck countered that Doherty's own cardiac risk factors - including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol - caused her heart attack. The jury concluded that, while Doherty herself had not been warned, Merck had adequately warned her doctor. The jury also found that Merck had not violated New Jersey's consumer fraud law and had not concealed information about the drug's cardiovascular risks.
This was the fourth case to be tried to a verdict in New Jersey and the third in which Merck has prevailed. See Linda Johnson's story for the Associated Press.
July 13, 2006
Asbestor - Guest Blogger on TortsProf Site
Andrea Peacock, author of Libby, Montana: Asbestos and the Deadly Silence of an American Corporation, will be a guest this week on Professor Bill Childs' TortsProf Blog. Ms. Peacock is a long-time investigative journalist. Asbestos, perhaps the ultimate defective product, long ago bankrupted the companies directly associated with its production and many businesses that incorporated asbestos into their products. Most asbestos-related claims now lie against defendants who had little or nothing to do with the production or distribution of asbestos containing products. The long saga of Congressional proposals for an alternative to the tort system that may compensate those truly injured by asbestos exposure and eliminate the extraordinary costs of litigating such claims to conclusion is not yet at an end. Details here: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof/2006/07/next_week_guest.html
July 7, 2006
$145 Billion Tobacco Verdict Tossed
The Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate a $145 billion punitive damages award overturned three years ago by the state's appeals court. Finding the punitive damages award "excessive as a matter of law," the court also stripped the case of its class action status. However, the ruling did let stand some of the findings that formed the basis for liability and upheld compensatory damages awards to two individuals totalling nearly $7 million. Former class members may still bring their individual claims against the tobacco companies. See the Dow Jones story by William Spain and the story by Carl Jones and Rebecca Riddick in Daily Business Review.