Wednesday, June 9, 2010
This week the U.S. Senate has been holding hearings to consider legislation that would lift or alter the liability cap for oil spills. Under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (33 U.S.C. s. 2704), BP's liability is limited to $75 million in economic damages. Various proposals have suggested raising the cap to $10 billion or eliminating it completely.
Representatives of the oil industry are lobbying against the change, arguing that that any change to the law would expose the federal government to breach of contract liability with the oil industry.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
A few months ago, the lawyers representing the first responders, recovery workers, and contractors at Ground Zero came to a draft settlement with lawyers for NYC, the captive insurer, and other defendants. After the parties presented the proposed settlement to the court, Judge Hellerstein more or less rejected the deal, prompting criticism from some lawyers and scholars as to his authority to "reject" a settlement for a case that is not a class action.
Now the lawyers for the plaintiffs have offered to reduce their attorneys fees --an earlier sticking point for Judge Hellerstein -- so that more money would go directly to the plaintiffs. The original settlement provided for 30% or more of the settlement to go to the attorneys in fees. The new proposal would cap fees at 20%.
The Associate Press reports more here.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The National Law Journal reports that two federal judges have come to opposite rulings about whether to stay litigation until decisions about consolidation are made and more potential lawsuits are filed.
As I have written previously, I believe that courts should proceed with caution when casting too wide a consolidation net in the aftermath of a major catastrophe. The problems of whether it is fairer or more efficient for cases to move forward on their own or to be consolidated with other cases is a serious question for which I do not believe there are clear or easy answers.
Two federal courts have responded to BP's motions to stay law suits regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico pending a determination of a multidistrict litigation panel on whether to combine the 130+ cases. One granted the stay and one denied it. A federal court in Mobile, Alabama denied BP's request to delay filing an answer, while another federal court in New Orleans, Louisiana granted BP's motion to stay proceedings. Judge Martin Feldman based his decision to stay the New Orleans proceedings on the "grave potential of conflicting discovery orders," which poses "a hardship for defendants [and] mocks an efficient and orderly judicial system."
The National Law Journal has more about the conflicting decisions on BP's motions to stay proceedings here.
Monday, May 3, 2010
The New York Times has a piece today profiling Judge Hellerstein. It discusses his background, impressions of his motivations for how he has shaped the 9/11 litigation, and opinions as to the propriety of rejecting the MDL settlement on fairness grounds.
From the article:
The struggle over control of the settlement has underscored two different, but not necessarily contradictory views of the judge: the compassionate jurist driven by a sense of social responsibility and with a wealth of experience with victims’ suffering, and the aggressive judge unwilling to cede ground on cases he has shepherded for years.
Judge Hellerstein lost several former clients in the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11. But legal experts suggest that he has a bigger motivation for championing the ground zero victims: he may see his handling of the 9/11 cases as his legacy.
But lawyers who have sparred with Judge Hellerstein suggest that his moral compass and commitment to doing what he thinks is right have sometimes led him to overreach.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
The BNA reports that Judge Selna of the C.D. California has set an initial conference for May 13 for the cases currently consolidated as In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation. The court also made an interim assignment of lead counsel., choosing Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Seattle; Elizabeth J. Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco; and Marc M. Seltzer of Susman Godfey in Los Angeles for the plaintiffs. Alston & Byrd of Atlanta represent Toyota.
Monday, April 12, 2010
The JPML has ordered a consolidation of more than 200 lawsuits against Toyota before Judge James Selma in the Central District of California. This order combines the personal injury lawsuits with class actions alleging economic damages.
The order is available here.
As I have argued previously in the context of the 9/11 cases and Hurricane Katrina litigation, consolidating these lawsuits around such a loosely defined event, here, the acceleration problems, might not necessarily be the most efficient or just way of handling such mass tort litigation.
Monday, March 22, 2010
The New York Law Journal reports here. Judge Hellerstein indicated that the settlement formula was too complicated for each individual plaintiff and that the attorneys' fees (33% of each award) were too high.
This will be an interesting story to watch, as he seems to essentially be conducting a class action-style fairness hearing on a group of cases consolidated as an MDL.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Richard Nagareda (Vanderbilt University School of Law) has posted 1938 All Over Again? Pre-Trial as Trial in Complex Litigation to SSRN.
This Essay for the Sixteenth Annual Clifford Symposium analyzes the transformation of the pre-trial process for complex civil litigation. Settlement, rather than trial, has emerged as the dominant endgame. As a result, in functional terms, the pre-trial phase effectively operates as the trial. Over the past quarter-century, doctrinal developments have shifted steadily backward within the pre-trial phase the major checkpoints for judicial scrutiny of claims. The key developments consist of the Supreme Court’s summary judgment “trilogy” (1986), the rise of Daubert scrutiny for the admissibility of expert testimony (1993), the elaboration of a distinctive law of class action certification (circa 2006) and, most recently, the invigoration of pleading standards in the Court’s Twombly and Iqbal decisions (2007 and 2009).
During the same period, an equally dramatic transformation has taken place with respect to litigation scholarship. Insights from economics, cognitive psychology, and finance – among other non-law disciplines – have broadened the vocabulary now available for analysis. Two big-picture points emerge from this literature: first, costs (especially, the ability to impose costs on one’s opponent) matter greatly to the choice whether to continue litigation or to settle; and, second, risk (or, more specifically, variance) matters in the pricing of civil claims via settlement, above and beyond calculations of expected value.
The emergence of judicial checkpoints in the pretrial phase has elicited considerable debate – most strikingly, today, over the Court’s pleading decisions. At one level, those decisions are rightly seen as pushing against the ethos of the 1938 reforms that put into place our modern notice-pleading regime. Yet, in a deeper historical sense, we actually find ourselves today in much the same position as the 1938 reformers. Today, as then, there is a lingering – but, often, undertheorized – sense that procedure itself is having an undue and even deleterious effect on the pricing of claims via settlement. It is just that the procedure now suspected to be distortive consists of the 1938 reforms. This Essay explains, in particular, how the Court’s attention to pleading standards in recent years marks a shift of emphasis from the regulation of variance in the litigation process to a concern over cost imposition.
The various pretrial checkpoints today exhibit a similar structural feature. They seek to manage variance or cost imposition by way of third-party judicial regulation – specifically, court rulings that signal “stop” or “go” on the road to trial. Evaluation of procedural doctrine as an enterprise of regulation opens up inquiry to the existence of other potential regulatory modes. This Essay concludes with examination of alternatives in the nature of first-party regulation (e.g., cost shifting) and regulation in the form of judicial action that would not be dispositive vis-à-vis trial but, rather, would seek to inform directly the pricing of claims in the settlement endgame.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Almost as predictable as the fact that Toyota is facing a multitude of lawsuits is the fact that lawyers will begin an intense campaign to determine where and how the lawsuits will be consolidated, and which lawyers will win the prize of leading the charge.
The National Law Journal reports here that around 150 met in Chicago to discuss strategies for going forward, and to jockey for who will take the lead in the litigation. Thus far, the fault lines have developed around arguments concerning venue, with some lawyers supporting the Central District of California where Toyota has its headquarters and where a District Judge is already hearing twelve cases against Toyota, whereas others favor the Western District of Kentucky (site of a large manufacturing plant) or the Eastern District of Louisiana (MDL district extraordinaire).
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Law.com reports here about a qui tam suit concerning the quality of PVC pipes. The plaintiffs allege that J-M Manufacturing deliberately mislead regulators and consumers with products that did not meet manufacturing standards. The recently unsealed complaint illustrates the interesting path of some qui tam suits: (1) a government fails or declines to exercise authority; (2) private litigants file a qui tam suit; (3) governments seek to intervene in the lawsuit.
Monday, February 8, 2010
The National Law Journal reports on the several class actions that have been brought against Toyota in the wake of the gas pedal problems and recalls. The lawsuits are consumer class actions that seek damages for economic losses stemming from reduced value of cars subject to this problem.
It looks like the lawsuits are being filed state by state with the expectation that they will then be consolidated as an MDL. The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuits appear to be persons whose cars actually experienced the gas pedal issues. Although these plaintiffs have not alleged personal injury, there will be some serious typicality issues given the very broad class definition that the attorneys are seeking.
While the plaintiffs face some challenges in terms of class certification and causation, there is no question that multiple billion dollar lawsuits will pose a major litigation challenge to Toyota going forward.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The New York Times reports that the lawsuits brought by the rescue and clean up workers might be near settlement, with 12 bellwether trials nearing their start in May in the Southern District of New York .
These are largely plaintiffs whose claims arose after the Victim Compensation Fund had closed, so liability and compensation has been a delicate political and judicial matter.
Monday, December 14, 2009
The New York Times article, Menopause, as Brought to You By Big Pharma features a history of regulatory and litigation issues surrounding the prescription of hormone replacement therapy drugs. The litigation centers on the Prempro cases against Wyeth (now part of Pfizer).
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Last week saw the beginning of the delivery of vaccines for the H1N1 or "swine flu" virus. Perhaps the only thing more predictable than the worry that we will not have enough of the vaccine are the lawsuits that have already been filed.
In New York state court, a group of health care workers has filed a lawsuit alleging that mandatory vaccination of all health care workers violates their civil rights. The judge granted a temporary restraining order and has scheduled a further hearing for next week.
Another lawsuit filed in the D.C. Circuit challenges the licensing of the vaccines, alleging that the vaccines are untested and unsafe.
These cases, along with any lawsuits alleging actual injury from receiving the injections, are sure to raise issues of interest to civil procedure and federal courts scholars, from possible consolidation of a mass tort, to potential application of the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Act (42 U.S.C. 300aa 1-34), and preemption issues.
Stay tuned for further developments in this field.