Legislation & Litigation

Hurricane Sandy Affects Court Schedules in Northeast, Mid-Atlantic

Written By:
Nov. 02, 2012
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Written By: Karen Marshall,
November 2, 2012

I hope all our readers are safe and sound following Hurricane Sandy’s pass through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. I made travel plans a while back that could have left me stranded in one of the areas hit hardest by the storm. Fortunately, I heard the weather reports early enough to change my plans.

A number of courts in the region also had to make made adjustments ahead of the storm. Although most courts, both state and federal, can handle many parts of the case process electronically, they’re certainly not immune to the impact of a storm like Sandy.

Storms Impact Litigation Schedules

In fact, state courts in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania had to close because of the storm. This means that any hearings, trials or settlement conferences planned for those dates had to be postponed. Although it was necessary in this case, getting off schedule in one case can have a ripple effect, delaying other cases.

Fortunately, most courts were able to re-open by mid-week, so judges will likely be able to get their caseloads back on track without too many delays. Judges know that the unexpected can happen and usually build room into their schedules for necessary adjustments.

But they can be expected to stick to closely to their new schedules, just like Judge Hey in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Managing the Storm Delay in Asbestos MDL No. 875

If you’re familiar with our site’s legal section, you may recognize the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as the home for federal asbestos multidistrict litigation (MDL No. 875).

In the early 1990s, a judicial panel decided that the large number of asbestos lawsuits would be best managed by transferring all asbestos cases filed in federal courts across the country to a single federal court. It chose the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where a single judge would be in charge of managing the cases efficiently.

Nearly 200,000 asbestos lawsuits have been filed in or transferred to MDL 875 over the past twenty years. Last January, the judicial panel decided that the federal asbestos docket was under control and it’s no longer necessary to keep transferring the cases to MDL 875. Other courts now help manage the estimated 400 federal asbestos cases filed annually.

MDL No. 875 was left with about 17,000 cases in January which it hoped to decide, settle or remand to state court by the end of the year. As of September, about 7,200 of these actions remained in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Although the court has made progress, that’s still a lot of claims to manage and the year is almost over. In fact, settlement conferences affecting over a thousand cases were planned this week, but had to be cancelled due the weather.

Last week Judge Hey responded to weather alerts by postponing this week’s settlements conferences. He wasted no time rescheduling them for Nov. 13-14.

So MDL 875 appears to be back on schedule for now. But we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see if it can reach its year-end goal. If you have a pending asbestos case in any state or federal court, your attorney can advise whether the storm has affected your case schedule.

Our hearts go out to all who have been affected by the storm.

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