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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Trial Put Off in the Buckles Asbestos Malpractice Case

The Madison County Record reports the trial date has been continued in the long-running Buckles asbestos malpractice case pending in Madison County. The case was filed in 2006, and already made one trip up to the Fifth District appellate court. See Buckles v. Hopkins Goldenberg, P.C., 967 N.E.2d 458 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 2012), appeal denied, 2012 Ill. LEXIS 1137 (Ill., Sept. 26, 2012).

The appellate opinion is one of the infrequent public mentions of the realities of "administrative deals" under which plaintiff’s firms settle claims with potential defendants, often without filing suit. The opinion also highlighted the reality that Pitt-Corning had paid $750,000. to settle the case. The opinion explained the claims as follows:

"In count I, the complaint alleged that the plaintiff hired the Hopkins firm to represent her and the estate of Charles Buckles to recover damages from the asbestos exposure caused by the various entities. The complaint alleged that the Hopkins firm breached its duty to the plaintiff in several different respects. First, the complaint alleged that the Hopkins firm had several secret agreements with potential defendants, including W.R. Grace and Owens Corning, to classify and settle claims against its various clients for predetermined figures. The complaint alleged that these predetermined figures (settlements) bore no relationship to the loss the plaintiff suffered and that the Hopkins firm did not disclose these arrangements to the plaintiff.

Second, the complaint alleged that the Hopkins firm hired an employee with a felonious criminal history and no license to practice law to value cases and provide legal advice to the plaintiff with regard to settlements. Third, the complaint alleged that the Hopkins firm failed to file suit within the statute of limitations against one potential defendant, W.R. Grace. In addition, the complaint alleged that the Hopkins firm failed to collect settlements from the various entities in a timely manner before said entities filed bankruptcy, made improper and excessive cost deductions from the settlement proceeds, unilaterally allocated the proceeds of group settlements to the plaintiff without her knowledge or consent, and failed to disclose to the plain-tiff the terms of its fee-splitting arrangements with a na-tional asbestos firm, Ness Motley, LLC. According to count I, these breaches of the standard of care by the Hopkins firm caused the plaintiff to recover less than the full amount of her damages.

Count II of the complaint was directed against William Miller and was dismissed prior to the orders at issue in this appeal. Count III of the complaint alleged by way of background that Simmons, who had been employed by the Hopkins firm from 1997 and who had performed some work on the plaintiff’s case while there, left the Hopkins firm in July of 1999. On July 26, 1999, the plaintiff discharged the Hopkins Firm and hired Simmons to represent her on the claims against any remaining potential defendants. The Hopkins firm and Simmons agreed to split the plaintiff’s claims, with the Hopkins firm pursuing collection of settlements already reached and Simmons pursuing any remaining potential defendants. Count III alleged that Simmons was negligent in the manner in which he pursued the remaining claims, contributing also to the plaintiff’s deficient recovery.

On October 10, 2007, Simmons filed a motion for a summary judgment on the basis that the deadline for the disclosure of experts had passed and that the plaintiff had put forth no expert to testify that he breached the standard of care in pursuing the plaintiff’s remaining claims after 1999. On January 30, 2009, the circuit court granted Simmons’ motion for a summary judgment.

On July 22, 2009, the Hopkins firm filed a motion for a partial summary judgment on the issue of the adequacy of its settlement of the plaintiff’s underly-ing claim against Pittsburgh Corning for $750,000. On January 22, 2010, the circuit court granted the Hopkins firm’s motion for a partial summary judgment as to this issue, holding that the plaintiff’s counsel had made binding judicial admissions as to the adequacy of this settlement amount.


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