Sunday, October 28, 2007
In a piece that explores the alternatives to class certification in mass products cases (where such certifications are almost never appropriate), Byron Steir (Southwestern) suggests in a recent SSRN posting of a 2005 Utah Law Review article the rise of informal and formal litigation networks as a potential means for resolution:
In the last few decades, mass tort litigation has wrestled with widespread, multijurisdictional problems that have greatly stressed the caseloads of courts. Certifying for trial multiple-incident, product-liability class actions for personal injuries has promised the resolution of expansive problems. But as appellate courts have increasingly held, these actions are not appropriate for class treatment because they involve numerous individualized issues that require unmanageable individualized adjudication. Without a perceived workable alternative, many trial courts have continued to try radical class action trial plans that violate state substantive law and federal constitutional law, but which bring tremendous pressure to settle upon defendants who fear they may not be able to obtain appellate review. Attempting to defuse this crisis, Congress recently passed the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, greatly expanding federal jurisdiction for class actions. Once class actions are removed to federal court, however, the Act still provides no alternative for federal courts to the Hobson's choice framed by plaintiffs' counsel: certify a class, or be inundated with thousands of unmanageable, wasteful, and repetitive individual cases.
But that is a false dichotomy. This article argues that the alternative to mass tort class actions is not such isolated repetitive litigation, but instead an expansive set of litigation networks of counsel, judges, and clients, using recent advances in information technology, that provide much of the efficiency promised by class actions without violating state substantive or federal constitutional law. As an example, the article discusses the functioning of litigation networks in the ongoing litigation concerning phenylpropanolamine (PPA), an ingredient in cough and cold remedies and appetite suppressants that has been alleged to cause stroke. By sharing information, pooling resources, developing specialized expertise, and coordinating strategy, these networks not only reduce the costs and improve the representation of individual litigation, but also develop accurate claim values for settlement of numerous cases and allow for improved case management over time through pragmatic experimentation. The article concludes that mass tort litigation networks provide a fruitful alternative to impermissible product-liability class actions for personal injuries, and that judges should deny requests to certify such class actions and instead encourage and assist in the creation and functioning of litigation networks.