Why have some of the trial bar’s heaviest hitters in asbestos litigation infested Delaware – firms like including Simmons Cooper, Baron and Budd, and the Lanier law firm?
Why did the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) place Delaware – which has always had a business-friendly reputation – on its “watch list” in the 2005 and 2006 editions of its “Judicial Hellholes” report?
One thing’s for sure – the trial bar’s legal talent isn’t circling Delaware because they love the state’s beautiful beaches.
The problem arises from a series of Delaware Supreme Court decisions that gave trial lawyers the green light to file hundreds of toxic tort cases. Out-of-state law firms are now busy turning Delaware into Ground Zero of the asbestos-litigation morass, but the overwhelming majority of plaintiffs have no connection to Delaware whatsoever. Approximately 80% of the plaintiffs in asbestos cases have never set foot in Delaware.
The numbers are startling. According to ATRA, in the year following May 2004 only 61 asbestos claims were filed in Delaware. But over the next 16 months, 272 asbestos cases were filed – a 345% increase. That number has now increased to 525 asbestos cases filed since May 1, 2005.
Due to this flood of lawsuits, the Delaware Superior Court has scheduled trials in as many as 85 cases to begin on a single day. The Court has also ordered defendants to try multiple cases in multiple courtrooms at the same time.
There are other warning signs. Delaware allows joint and several liability and has no limits on punitive damages. And newly-elected Attorney General Beau Biden is a former plaintiff’s asbestos lawyer.
Other states – such as Texas and Mississippi – have countered the flood of out-of-state lawsuits by enacting venue reforms – a measure that could help prevent the trial bar from turning Delaware into a “judicial hellhole.”