Thursday, July 8, 2010
On July 1, the House passed HR 5503, the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act (SPILL Act), which was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers. If passed by the Senate, the bill would allow for non-economic damages for maritime victims' families. Here's an excerpt from the press release:
"I want to say how offensive it is when the law recognizes only pecuniary loss in cases like these eleven deaths," said Keith Jones, father of spill victim Gordon Jones. "Please believe me; no amount of money can ever compensate us for Gordon’s death. We know that. But this is the only means available to begin to make things right."
The SPILL Act addresses out-of-date legislation from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s: Death on High Seas Act (1920), Jones Act (1920), and the Limitation on Liability Act (1851).
- It amends the Death on the High Seas Act and Jones Act to permit non-pecuniary damages.
- It repeals the outdated Limitation on Liability Act.
- It prevents parties responsible for oil spills from using the bankruptcy courts as a subterfuge to leave victims without adequate legal recourse.
- It provides that these changes will apply to all cases on and after April 20th, consistent with previous liability law changes enacted by Congress.
Here's a link to the Bill's text. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has opposed the bill, and claimed that it "threatens to negate one of the core purposes of CAFA by creating a loophole that would encourage enterprising attorneys to avoid federal jurisdiction by finding attorneys general to join their class action lawsuits." Meanwhile, the Senate is considering the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, which would remove the $75 million cap on economic liability.
Monday, July 5, 2010
CNN reports that BP has so far spent more than $3 billion in connection with the Gulf of Mexico spill, including $147 million to pay 47,000 claims so far of the 95,000 total submitted. CNN also noted speculation that the more than 50% drop in BP's share price has even made it ripe for a takeover.
Margaret Williams (Federal Judicial Center) and Tracey George (Vanderbilt) have posted their paper, "Deciding Who Decides: Consolidating Multidistrict Litigation" on SSRN. Their empirical investigation of MDL fills a tremendous gap in the literature and is a welcome contribution. Here's the abstract:
The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation may transfer factually related actions filed in different federal districts to a single judge for consolidated pretrial litigation. This transferee judge has significant discretion over the management of the litigation, and nearly all cases are resolved without returning to the original district court. Thus, as a practical matter, the Panel controls where these disputes will be litigated. And, the Panel has substantial discretion in making that decision. In its forty years of existence, the Panel has transferred roughly 325,000 lawsuits including high-profile securities and derivative lawsuits (the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff), consumer claims (Countrywide Mortgage’s lending practices), and mass torts ranging from the Vioxx litigation to the Union Carbine disaster in Bhopal to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. BP already has moved to consolidate and transfer more than 100 Gulf of Mexico oil spill suits filed against it in the various districts along the Gulf coast to the Southern District of Texas for pre-trial litigation, and potentially related suits filed in the future are likely to be transferred as well.
The current study provides the first empirical investigation of the Panel’s decision to transfer and consolidate pending federal civil lawsuits, examining the rationale for transfer and for the selection of a specific district court and judge to handle the consolidated litigation. The results provided here represent a draft paper based on a sample from an ongoing data project which ultimately will include all Panel orders.