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Illinois Supreme Court to decide asbestos forum case

The Illinois Supreme Court recently announced its September docket, which includes an asbestos case that has been closely watched and hotly debated since it was filed in the state three years ago. The high court's decision will set a precedent that will be followed in the state for years to come, dictating whether plaintiffs from other states can file asbestos lawsuits in Illinois when the asbestos exposure at issue took place in another jurisdiction.

The case was filed in 2009 by a man who developed respiratory problems as a result of being exposed to asbestos fibers during the time he spent working for Illinois Central Railroad Co. The man, who is from Mississippi, previously filed suit against the railroad along with more than 80 other plaintiffs, but that case was dismissed, prompting his decision to file against the company in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Illinois Central filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Mississippi, not Illinois, was the proper venue in which to decide the case because the plaintiff did not live in Illinois nor did his injury occur there. In response, the plaintiff argued that the defendant's Illinois-based attorney had gathered a "voluminous amount of evidence" over the course of representing the company against similar suits.

The judge agreed, ruling that St. Clair County was the proper forum because "almost 80 years of relevant evidence" was located "just five miles from the St. Clair County Courthouse."

An appellate court upheld the judge's decision, finding that the asbestos lawsuit did not concern a matter that was so "inherently local" that there was no other option than to decide it in either state.

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, with its decision potentially changing the future of asbestos litigation in Illinois. We will continue to update our blog as the case develops.

Source: Madison Record, "Supreme Court sets docket for September term; Arguments over St. Clair forum case slate," Bethany Krajelis, Sept. 5, 2012

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