Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Some more news coverage of the GM Bellwethers and the allegations made against the lead lawyer.
An interview with Robert Hilliard can be found here: Amanda Bronstad, Plaintiffs Lawyer Hilliard Saw No Red Flags in Case, National Law Journal, Feb. 1, 2016.
Amanda Bronstad, Lawyer Claims GM Bellwether Counsel Cut Sweetheart Deal with Automaker, National Law Journal, Jan. 28, 2016.
Sara Ranzaddo & Mike Spector, GM, Plaintiffs Lawyers Dispute Misconduct Allegations in Ignition Switch Cases, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2016.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Lance Cooper, a lawyer with ignition switch cases against GM, has made a motion to remove the MDL plaintiffs counsel in the ignition switch litigation. You can find some coverage by Sara Randazzo & Mike Spector at the Wall Street Journal. (I haven't seen the motion).
The first lawsuit to proceed to trial - of a total of six, three picked by plaintiffs, three by defendants - has ended with a dismissal with prejudice under a cloud of allegations of fraud. What does this say about bellwethers?
I think it says nothing about the underlying cases, or not very much. (It does tell you something about lawyer error, but that's a topic for another day). However, the recent events at trial do show that the way bellwether trials are structured is deeply flawed. If the cases tried are going to be meaningful, they should be randomly selected and the number of trials should be related to the variation in the underlying group of cases. If there is a high variation, you will need more trials to tell you much about the underlying run of cases. A number that is convenient (six, for example) is just that, convenient, but convenience should not be confused with meaningful. Now a lot is riding on this case because one would imagine, since plaintiffs picked it and they only get three, its a really good case for plaintiffs. So a skewed sample can tell you something - but what it ends up telling you is more about the lawyers than the underlying run of cases.
To understand this, imagine you have a jar full of marbles. If you know all the marbles are the same color, you can just pick one marble out of the jar to find out what the color of all the marbles is. But if the marbles are of various colors picking one marble is not enough. If you have a sense of the distribution of colors in the jar - say you know that there are some black and some red marbles - you can calculate how many marbles to pick out so that you will have a pretty good estimate of the proportion of red to black. The same with cases. If your cases are homogeneous, you can just try a few to get a sense of their value. The more heterogeneity, the greater the number of cases that need to be tried. This was the basis for Francis McGovern's idea of maturation of mass torts - you try lots of cases, and over time a value emerges. It was also the basis for the structure of bellwether trials in the 9/11 First Responders' Litigation.
Of course, its easy for me to say this. I am not running an MDL and I don't have to pay for all those trials, which are expensive. But that said, if you want to get a sample that could mean something, the sample size needs to be related to the variance of the underlying class and the method of selection needs to be random. That's basic statistical methods. I think that MDL judges need to partner with statisticians and have a serious conversation about what bellwether trials are trying to achieve and how best to do this. Judges have a lot of discretion and they can use it wisely to lead to fair and equitable results for everyone. There are ways to do better, we just need to find them.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The first GM Ignition Switch Bellwether trial is going forward now. Below are some links to media coverage:
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Now that we know where the VW MDL will go (Northern District of California - cue if you're going to San Francisco...) and that Judge Charles Breyer will be in charge, VW has announced that Ken Feinberg will run their claims administration program. You can find Danielle Ivory's New York Times article about the announcement here.
As this Wall Street Journal article by Sara Randazzo points out, the highest concentration of affected cars (but not the highest concentration of cases) is in California. But there were lots of reasons (which she lists) to pick other locations.
There are a number of ways that Feinberg can help resolve this litigation, but one very important question is how his work will interrelate with that of the many powerful plaintiffs firms now involved. There are lots of ways to calculate the damages here that would seem fair, such as for example predicting based on past driving habits a given driver's likely use of the car and paying for the difference in gas mileage (since the cars complying with emissions standards will have lower gas mileage than promised), or calculating the value of the car on the secondary market and paying the difference of what it would have been worth had the representation been accurate (the "Edmonds/Kelly Bluebook approach"). It will be interesting to see what Feinberg does.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
The New York Times has an article by Barry Meier called Lawyers Jostle for Lead Position in Volkswagen Suits.
Quoted in the article are our own Beth Burch (who has recently written a great article on repeat players in MDL litigation) and Howard Erichson (who has written significant articles about the ethics of settlements in mass tort including Vioxx).
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Harvard Business Review has a an article, What VW Didn't Understand About Trust, by Andrew Wilson. As perhaps occurred in the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Litigation, VW may be motivated to settle somewhat swiftly any civil litigation or regulatory or criminal inquiries and fines, as part of a larger strategy to regain the public's trust and preserve its brand.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Joe Nocera has a short opinion piece on Ken Feinberg and his work in progress - the GM claims fund. You can find the piece here. The question for Feinberg is always - is this replicable? The answer depends on the company's tolerance for risk and desire for atonement.
The New York Times' Danielle Ivory also covered the new fund here, explaining how the fund works.
I also recommend the Valukas report on GM. My favorite part is his description of the "GM nod." Everyone at a meeting nods their head to a plan, nobody actually does anything to move it forward.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Plaintiffs' attorneys huddled in Chicago on Wednesday to strategize about where to ask the MDL Panel to send the GM ignition switch cases. As usual, there are several things that will influence plaintffs' attorneys' pick.
According to this morning's article in the WSJ, Elizabeth Cabraser called the litigation "a perfect storm for a class action." Maybe. But that will largely depend on which circuit and which judge hears the case, how GM's bankruptcy affects the pending claims, and whether attorneys forgo personal injury claims (they will likely be excluded in the class definition) to pursue product liability and economic injuries.
Choice of procedural law, like how to apply Rule 23, can vary. Under Chan v. Korean Airlines, Ltd. (D.C. Cir. 1989), the Van Dusen doctrine, which holds that transferee courts must apply the choice of law interpretation of the transferor circuit, may not apply to 1407 transfers. Rather, when it comes to procedural and other federal law matters, Korean Airlines suggests that transferee courts are obligated to follow their own interpretation of the relevant law. Several circuits follow this rationale including the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh. Other circuits, including most notably, the Seventh, have held that a transferee court should use transferor court's interpretation of federal law.
According to Bloomberg, several plaintiffs' attorneys are pushing for a California venue before Judge James Selna, who is currently handling the Toyota acceleration MDL. This strategy makes sense on several fronts. The Ninth Circuit, which originally upheld (in part) the certification in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has shown a willingness to resolve aggregate cases through class actions. And given that courts in the Ninth Circuit apply their own procedural law where circuit splits are concerned, this could further help plaintiffs. Finally, Judge Selna, who certified an economic loss settlement class action in the Toyota litigation, is a logical choice.
But other plaintiffs' attorneys (and of couse GM) have other ideas about where the MDL should land. Bloomberg reports:
Other plaintiffs want the cases to be heard in Chicago, Miami or Corpus Christi,Texas, where they have sued. GM wants the cases consolidated in the federal court in Manhattan, about a mile from where a prior incarnation of the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Company lawyers say proximity to the bankruptcy court trumps Selna’s experience.
While the Panel considers the forum requests by the parties, it is in no way limited to those venues. There are several factors that it typically cites in favor of forum selection such as the location of discovery materials, convenience of the witnesses, location of grand jury proceedings, possibility of coordination with related state-court proceedings, where the majority of cases are located, knowledge of the transferee judge, and the willingness and motivation of a particular judge to handle an MDL docket. Of these factors, the transferee judge is by far the most important. The Panel tends to look for judges who have handled MDLs successfully in the past. And, for better or worse, "successful" means quick settlement (see here, p. 11-12 for more).
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigaiton is comprised of seven judges from around the country. Judge David Proctor is the Panel's newest edition and was added just this year to replace Judge Paul Barbadoro.
For more on the process that will--and should--unfold once a transferee judge is appointed and how those judges should go about appointing lead lawyers, see here.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Hilary Stout of the New York Times reports in a piece today called "Lawyers Prepare for GM Suits with Novel Strategies." The issue may be not just products liability, but fraud in the working out of the GM Bankruptcy.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
According to the New York Times, the jury had also determined that Toyota had acted with "reckless disregard" and was about to begin deliberations on punitive damages when the settlement was announced. The New York Times article also appropriately emphasizes that the case is noteworthy because plaintiffs' tried their claims of electronic throttle control problems.
Though the New York Times article notes the ages of the plaintiff driver was 82 (the Los Angeles Times says she was 76), the New York Times article does not note that there have been in the past been particular concerns of pedal misapplication by older drivers, and the article does not reference a government report that found no problems in Toyota's electronic throttle control system. According to CNNMoney, Toyota apparently argued that the plaintiff in Oklahoma case hit the gas, rather than the brake. In response, plaintiffs pointed to long skid marks on the road, suggesting the driver was hitting the brake. One wonders if the event data recorder in this car might have shed more light on the issue. Toyota would certainly want to avoid having juries deciding unintended acceleration cases based on the believability of the testimony of a driver who claims to have hit the brake, rather than the accelerator. If Toyota is unable to exclude plaintiffs' proferred expert testimony of electronic throttle control defect on the grounds that such testimony is not scientifically reliable, then Toyota should also be concerned that the jury may be unable to grasp the arcane details of software code design. I'm reminded of the line by Robert Duvall's character in the film, A Civil Action, depicting the Woburn water contamination case; waiting for a jury decision, his character opines, "[I]t's not going to have anything to do with dates or groundwater measurements or any of that crap, which nobody can understand anyway. It's going to come down to people like it always does."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Last week, District Judge James Selna refused to dismiss the economic injury claims by Toyota owners who alleged that the unintended acceleration problems caused a decrease in their cars' value. The multi-district litigation includes more than 200 economic injury class actions and around 100 personal injury and wrongful death claims. Judge Selna will consider Toyota's motion to dismiss the cases alleging wrongful injury and death on December 9. Here's a link to the National Law Journal story.
Monday, November 22, 2010
The family who lost a son and granddaughter in the accident has come together with the man driving the Toyota to file a suit against Toyota for unintended acceleration. Jan Crawford of CBS has the story.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Toyota has settled, for an undisclosed amount, an unintended-acceleration lawsuit involving the deaths of four persons. The accelerator appeared to have been caught in the floormat. The article notes that Toyota faces about 200 unintended-acceleration lawsuits.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Recent crises stemming from BP's oil spill and Toyota's acceleration problems have brought a swarm of media coverage, congressional hearings, regulatory agency activity, corporate news conferences, and lawsuits. Indeed, theories of liability may stem not only from the initial traumatic incident or incidents, but from the corporation's putative mishandling of the crisis once it unfolds. On the corporate side, what's called for is thoughtful and coherent crisis management that moves the corporation through the crisis in a way that resonates with corporate core values, thereby maintaining the value of the ongoing enterprise, and that is mindful of impending theories of liability.
Despite the great need for such a coherent approach to mass tort crisis management, what's remarkable is the apparent paucity of attention given the subject by legal scholars. That may be because crisis management involves public relations and communications, as well as management and leadership; hence crisis management has been the focus of public relations consultants and some professors in communications schools and business schools. But at the heart of corporate crises are frequently the law and liability, so law professors should not be absent. Lawyers and law firms already occasionally promote their ability to handle an emerging corporate crisis by quickly assembling a team of lawyers from a broad array of areas -- see, e.g., Skadden's Crisis Management; and lawyer practitioners have delivered various continuing education talks and papers on crisis management, as well as an interesting short symposium paper by Harvey L. Pitt and Karl A. Groskaufmanis, When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies: A Crisis Management Primer, 15 Cardozo L. Rev. 951 (1994). But while practitioners bring on-the-ground expertise, they may lack the theoretical depth and interdisciplinary zeal of law professors, and practitioners present a conflict-of-interest risk in preferring, for example, fee-heavy litigation over other methods of mass tort crisis management and resolution. A full academic account of mass tort crisis management would entail an awareness and integration of various legal areas -- tort, procedure, litigation, ethics, regulatory action, congressional investigations and activity (including possible compensation funds), and pertinent constitutional issues -- with public relations and management. I look forward to turning my attention increasingly to that task.
Where do you look for corporate crisis management expertise in mass torts? Books, articles, law firms, or consultants? Does your law firm market itself as offering corporate crisis management; if so, what's your approach? If you work at a consulting group that does crisis management, do you have in-house lawyers that assist you or do you work with the corporation's outside counsel? Feel free to post a resource or comment.
May 17, 2010 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Environmental Torts, Ethics, Lawyers, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Regulation, Vehicles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
The article referenced by Beth Burch below reads like a who's who of mass tort and class action litigation. But really the reason for this post was the nerdy title.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Here is an interesting article about the JPMDL oral arguments in the Toyota lawsuits: Lawyers Play Speed-Date in Toyota Tussle.
The issue the article discusses (rather disdainfully) is who will be the lead lawyers in the Plaintiffs' Management Committee because those lawyers will lead the litigation, garner the most fees, etc.
More needs to be written about procedures to allocate power among plaintiffs attorneys as well as fees, a process that could use more process.
Note too the names raised in the article: Mark Lanier (Houston based) who tried the Vioxx cases, Mark P. Robinson Jr (who according to the article was involved in the Ford Pinto litigation in the 70's), and Mark Geragos (who is best known for representing Michael Jackson).
h/t Todd Gilbert