By: Ryan Brackin
A report recently released by consulting firm KCIC1 signals a decline in asbestos-related lawsuits filed since 2015. The report, which offers a comprehensive summary of 2017 trends and observations, found there were 4,450 asbestos lawsuits filed nationwide in 2017. That figure represents a 17% decrease from 2015 (5,336 filings), and an 8% decrease from 2016 (4,812 filings).2 The decline was noted across each disease type between 2016 and 2017, including a 5% decrease in mesothelioma filings, nearly a 10% decrease in lung cancer filings, and nearly a 12% decrease in all other cancer types.
For the second year in a row, there were over 10,000 distinct defendant entities named on complaints filed in 2017. On average, mesothelioma lawsuits filed nationwide named 62 distinct entities per complaint, including predecessor and successor entities, with at least one of the top ten most-named defendants named on 98% of all lawsuits. Consistent with filing data in 2015 and 2016, the top ten plaintiffs’ firms by number of complaints filed accounted for approximately 62% of all asbestos lawsuits in 2017, while the top five plaintiffs’ firms filed nearly half of all asbestos lawsuits nationwide.
The vast majority of asbestos cases continue to be concentrated in a limited number of jurisdictions, although recent rulings by the Supreme Court and at the state level on personal jurisdiction appear poised to shape where future cases may be filed.3 In 2017, the top five jurisdictions by complaints filed accounted for more than 50% of all lawsuits and the top ten jurisdictions made up over 70% of all lawsuits. Madison County, Illinois, continues to lead the way with approximately one quarter of the nation’s asbestos lawsuits. Although filings in Madison County were down by 13.4% between 2016 and 2017, its 1,128 filings more than doubled the next closest jurisdiction (Baltimore, MD: 495 filings), and accounted for than the next three jurisdictions combined (Baltimore, MD; New York, NY: 346 filings; and Philadelphia, PA: 263 filings).
The report also considered the early effects of recent personal jurisdiction rulings, such as the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb, on the number of filings by non-resident plaintiffs in top jurisdictions. The data presented has not yet shown an apparent impact or decrease in non-resident filings in most jurisdictions, though the report highlights the recency of the decisions as cause for speculation on potential impacts the rulings will have going forward. At least one jurisdiction – St. Louis, Missouri – experienced a significant decrease with asbestos filings dropping 40% from 2016 to 2017, including a marked decrease in filings over the course of 2017 following a June mistrial in a talcum powder suit based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb.
While it remains to be seen if the decrease in St. Louis will serve as a bellwether for filings elsewhere in 2018 and beyond, New York and Delaware in particular could see an increase in filings based upon the number of companies headquartered and incorporated in those states, a possibility the report likewise acknowledged. Delaware, for example, had the highest percentage of complaints filed by non-resident plaintiffs in 2017 (95%).
The report further notes the developing trend of high volume plaintiffs’ firms that have historically filed in Madison County expanding into new states where plaintiffs are more likely to be residents. By way of example, the report indicates that Gori Julian has expanded into seven additional states outside of Missouri and Illinois since 2015, Maune Raichle Hartley French & Mudd has expanded into six new states since 2015, and Simmons Hanly Conroy has expanded into four new states since 2015.
If you have any questions regarding this content or other asbestos litigation trends, please contact the author or one of the other attorneys in HKM’s Toxic Tort Litigation Group at (651) 227-9411.
1 KCIC, Asbestos Litigation: 2017 Year in Review.
2 It should be noted, however, that KCIC acknowledges additional 2017 filings may yet be received. For instance, the 2017 report indicates KCIC received approximately 175 additional filings after publication of its 2016 report. See KCIC, Asbestos Litigation: 2016 Year in Review. Assuming a similar increase in filings received after publication date, the decrease from 2016 to 2017 would be nearly 4%, and around 13% since 2015.
3 See e.g., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017); BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S. Ct. 1549 (2017); Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014); Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014). For further discussion on recent Supreme Court decisions on personal jurisdiction, see Pham, Lehoan T., The Supreme Court Continues to Shrink States’ Personal Jurisdiction Authority over Non-Resident Defendants, available at https://www.hkmlawgroup.com/the-supreme-court-continues-to-shrink-states-personal-jurisdiction-authority-over-non-resident-defendants/
4 Blaes v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1422-CC09326-01, (MO. 22nd Cir June 19, 2017). The mistrial in Missouri was declared one day after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb.