W.Va. firm blames almost 300 companies in each asbestos lawsuit

Jessica Karmasek Jun. 29, 2016, 9:36am


CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The average number of companies targeted by some of the biggest asbestos firms in their lawsuits is in the triple-figures, according to recent statistics, leading some, especially those in claims management, to question the strategy of plaintiffs’ lawyers.

According to data compiled by KCIC and Bates White and presented at a recent asbestos litigation conference, the average number of defendants in lawsuits filed by a single West Virginia firm topped 280.

KCIC is a consulting firm providing corporate risk management services to policyholders and their legal counsel. Bates White is an economic consulting firm offering analysis and expert testimony services to law firms, Fortune 500 companies and government agencies. Both are based in Washington, D.C.

According to the consulting firms’ data, The Segal Law Firm, located in Charleston, W.Va., averaged the most defendants in its asbestos filings. Scott Segal is the husband of state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis.

The law firm averaged 283 defendants, with a maximum of 361 and a minimum of 220.

The plaintiffs firm with the next highest named defendants is Deaton Law Firm in North Charleston, S.C.. Deaton averaged about 100 less named defendants than Segal, with 185. Its maximum was 339 and minimum was 115.

Segal, whose practice, according to his firm’s website, focuses on representing “catastrophically injured people or the estates of those killed due to the negligence of others,” did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Another West Virginia firm, James F. Humphreys & Associates, names an average of 149 defendants, with a max of 180.

Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the major players in the nation's busiest asbestos jurisdiction (Madison County, Ill.), names an average of 58 per lawsuit with a maximum of 204.

Other firms featured in the data include:

-California's Brayton Purcell, which names 81 defendants per lawsuit with a max of 207;

-Gori, Julian & Associates, an Edwardsville, Ill., firm that names  118 defendants on average with a max of 252;

-Houston's Bailey Perrin Bailey, which names 57 defendants on average with a max of 170;

-Goldberg, Persky & White, a Johnstown, Pa., firm that names 137 defendants on average and once sued 337 in a single lawsuit;

-Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer - a Mid-Atlantic firm that practices in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania - names 101 defendants with a max of 192;

-Waters, Kraus & Paul, a Dallas firm that names 59 on average with a max of 187;

-DuBose Law Firm of Dallas names 152 with a max of 248;

-The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, which files the majority of asbestos cases in Maryland, names 66 defendants on average with a max of 179;

-SWMK Law of St. Louis names 112 defendants on average with a max of 263; and

-Chicago's Cooney & Conway names 68 defendants on average with a max of 172.

About the data

Elizabeth Hanke, vice president of KCIC, said the figures were gathered through KCIC’s claims administration services.

“We have a proprietary online claims management system (Ligado) we use to serve our clients claim management needs,” she recently told Legal Newsline. 

“The first step in the process is KCIC accepts service of those complaints on behalf of our clients. Each day we enter the complaints served into a database. Fields we enter include filing date, all defendants named (as they are named on the complaint), disease, claim alleged, plaintiff firms, jurisdiction and whatever claimant personal information is included in the complaint -- typically name, address, birthday, etc.

“This information remains in the complaint database, then the data is pushed out to a client specific database, which notifies each client’s counsel of the new complaint. From that point on, the client and their counsel continue to use the client-specific database to manage the claim.”

Hanke said the data in KCIC’s complaint database is all publicly available data.

“Because of the number of clients we have, our complaint database has a very large percent of all asbestos complaints filed in the U.S.,” she noted.

“While we know we do not have all complaints, based on a few comparisons to known datasets, we estimate we have between 90 and 95 percent of all asbestos filings in the U.S.”

Hanke said KCIC’s dataset grows each day as it continues to process complaints and as it gets new clients.

“It’s a live dataset, so to speak,” she said, adding that it compiled the statistics at its clients’ request.

“As asbestos defendants, they were interested in looking at the filings data sliced a variety of ways,” she explained. “As a practical matter, they typically focus on just the complaints where they are named, but reviewing a bigger data set of where the filings are, who is making them, how many defendants are named, etc., gives them additional insight into the problem they are facing.”

Plaintiffs' strategy

Nina Caroselli, executive vice president and chief operating officer of New Hampshire-based RiverStone Resource, said the system of naming so many defendants is downright puzzling.

“That’s really a question for the plaintiffs firms,” she recently told Legal Newsline, of the approach. “But I don’t understand the strategy myself.”

Especially given that some defendants have a dismissal rate as high as 90 percent, she noted.

Caroselli’s RiverStone group manages claims and liabilities for insurance companies. She presented the KCIC and Bates White figures at a Perrin conference on asbestos litigation in May.

“From my perspective, asbestos litigation is extremely inefficient,” said Caroselli, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in the insurance industry and private litigation practice.

Not to mention costly.

“There are costs associated with litigation for both sides,” she said. “From a defense perspective, there’s a cost to retain counsel, respond to discovery, sometimes participate in depositions, file motions to dismiss, etc. All of it has a cost.”

Then factor in nearly 300 defendants named in a single lawsuit.

“You’re not just talking about the attorneys’ time, but the filing fees in various courts, the money paid to experts, court reporters,” Caroselli explained. “All of these costs are incurred in order to get a defendant dismissed from these cases.”

And in the end, naming so many defendants may not be worth it for plaintiffs, she said.

“I think it can extend the time it takes the matter to get resolved,” Caroselli said.

It also, depending on the jurisdiction, can expose plaintiffs to a lengthier deposition.

“When you have that many (defendants) named in litigation and all of them want to be at the plaintiff’s deposition to hear what the plaintiff remembers regarding the product, etc., it can take a lot of time,” she explained.

Caroselli said her group has a number of policyholders that are defendants in asbestos litigation. But many experience dismissal rates of 50 to 90 percent, often being dismissed from cases in which they never should have been named in the first place.

“It really shows how inefficient asbestos litigation is,” she said. 

“I’m very interested, and so is my company, in engaging in a conversation with all those involved to see if there’s a different way to manage these claims.”

Caroselli said she has reached out to all sides and is “hopeful” they will find some common ground.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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