The Brent Coon & Associates firm was poised recently to put a mixed asbestos-silica suit before a jury in California’s Alameda County, a kind of claim that’s often derided by the defense but has rarely been tested at trial. And then the trial was over before it had begun.

In January, plaintiff attorneys selected 10 cases to be prepared for trial ahead of others on the county’s silica docket. A cancer diagnosis had moved Eugene McClarty’s case to the front of that line. But, says his lawyer, the Coon firm’s Louis Beary, McClarty’s history as a smoker was a factor that weighed heavily toward settling; he said he was worried the jury would blame his client’s cancer on the smoking.