Venue Debate Stalls Asbestos Claims in Florida
Thanks to a circuit judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., all asbestos lawsuits have come to a screeching halt. According to the Palm Beach Post, Judge Timothy McCarthy said he would not hear another case until the question of where the lawsuits should be filed is answered. After a “rancorous” two and 1/2 hour hearing on whether to dismiss of transfer 72 asbestos-related claims filed by a Miami law firm on behalf of citizens in Alabama and other parts of Florida.
Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are sought after filing locations because each has a separate asbestos division and case management system that forces 99 percent of claims into settlements, the article says.
"Lawyers say they file asbestos suits in South Florida because other jurisdictions can’t handle such massive and complex litigation,” the article says. “They argue that Florida law allows them to file in any county as long as even one defendant company does business there, and that a lawsuit can’t be filed in or moved to another county or state if just one defendant doesn’t agree to it.”
But McCarthy asked, “What do I tell the taxpayers of Palm Beach County? Why should they be burdened?”
He gave lawyers 20 days to submit solution proposals and set a hearing on whether to disband the asbestos division and spread its 1,500 cases among other judges. According to the Palm Beach Post, Miami-Dade County has 1,750 asbestos suits pending, and Broward County may have between 4,000 and 8,000.
A lawyer for the Miami firm suggested that the court system could actually make money from the legislation because the majority are settled outside of court without trial, he says. But McCarthy argued the $206 filing fee doesn’t add up to much in a two- to three-week trial.
It cost $3,000 a day to provide a courtroom, staff and jurors in a recent Alabama man’s asbestos lawsuit, he says. The claim was rejected by the jury.
Defense lawyers suggested that a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. company was being used as a "sham defendant" to get past the venue hurdles and keep asbestos litigation in South Florida. Bigham Insulation and Supply, which also does business in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, is named in 3,000 current lawsuits, according to its attorney, John Liebman of Orlando.
In court filings, the company says it objects to being sued in Alabama or another state because it doesn’t do business anywhere else, the article says.
“It is all Bigham can do to keep up with the cases filed against it here in Florida,” Liebman wrote in his objection to transferring the 72 cases. “Bigham does not and will not agree to be sued anywhere outside the state of Florida.”