January 25, 2008
Vioxx - The End of Lawyer's Ethics?
Adam Liptak of the NY Times published a piece on January 22 basically arguing that the duty of loyalty is dead and the Vioxx settlement dealt the final blow. You can find the piece here. He quotes Richard Nagareda arguing that “Speaking of individualized notions of lawyer loyalty is sort of like the mindset of the French military in 1940. The French generals hunkered down in a series of reinforced bunkers along the German border called the Maginot Line, meanwhile, the new world of warfare literally blitzed right past them." The analogy is a particularly good use of the war metaphor in litigation.
Liptak's view is that any change to the duty should come from the legislature or state bar, not individual lawyers and legal developments on the ground. (This type of thing is what the ALI is trying to do with the Project on Aggregate Litigation.) But people that do not like what the existence of inventory cases does to the lawyer-client relationship shouldn't like it any better when the outcome is legislated. See Howie Erichson's post on the aggregate settlement rule here, Nancy Moore's article here for some criticisms.
What appears as a new development is old wine in new bottles. See, for example, Judge Weinstein's classic (and excellent) article Ethical Dilemmas in Mass Tort Litigation, 88 Nw. U. L. Rev. 469 (1994) (which Howard Erichson blogged about here). Samuel Issacharoff and John Fabian Witt have shown this pretty convincingly in The Inevitability of Aggregate Settlement which was published by the Vanderbilt Law Review and can be found on SSRN. That the problem is old doesn't mean that it isn't real, but it does show that its not a problem that can be resolved by process (it doesn't matter if the rule comes from the ALI, the bar, Congress, or the norms of the profession as they develop over time) but a structural problem of the mismatch between mass industrial harms and the tort system.
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The VIOXX Plaintiff Education Group (VPEG) has many examples of an embatteled, and failed - attorney/client realtionshiop and failed legal representation. It is a violation of CIVIL RIGHTS.
A step backwasrd is needed before this madness continues; and the Merck Settlement should either be scuttled, or put on hold until the trampled rights of its victims (now 2x over)are understood.
But, instead the train keeps rolling on....it is rather repulsive
Posted by: Dennis Harrison, M.B.A. B.G.S | Feb 28, 2008 3:08:37 PM