TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, April 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Max Kennerly: "The Danger of Assuming Judicial Omniscience in Tort Law"

When Chris invited me to write a guest post for TortsProf, I already knew what I was going to write about: how the courthouse doors were being increasingly closed on tort plaintiffs by way of procedural changes, to the point that, in many contexts, civil procedure law was more determinative of the outcome of tort disputes than substantive law. Between the time I came up with my article, however, and the time it was due, civil procedure Professor Arthur Miller published his new article, “Simplified Pleading, Meaningful Days in Court, and Trials on the Merits: Reflections on the Deformation of Federal Procedure.”

Talk about being preempted.  

Professor Miller’s article is, unsurprisingly, thorough and erudite, covering the last thirty years of changes — the majority of them made out of whole judicial cloth — in the law applicable to procedural issues like summary judgment, class action certification, arbitration, pleading, jurisdiction, and discovery, all of which greatly benefitted defendants in tort lawsuits, particularly well-financed corporate defendants. I do not mean to repeat Professor Miller's arguments, nor to rehash the many arguments made by consumer and civil justice advocates against these recent developments (I’ve made many similar criticisms before), but to address them from the perspective of, shall we say, epistemology. 

Society develops its laws by making choices about public policy, both choices about who should prevail in a given hypothetical where the facts are known, and choices about whom we favor when the true facts are unsettled, unknown, or unknowable. For example, in criminal prosecutions, we in theory demand considerable certainty — “beyond a reasonable doubt” — before permitting a conviction, in part because we claim to adhere to Blackstone’s formulation that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Blackstone’s formulation is itself an expression of the belief that, where there is a reasonable possibility that an element of the crime is not truly
known, we will favor the defendant. 

For decades, tort law has been discussed as the rules we follow to decide when one party must pay for the injuries suffered by another. With the growing influence of civil procedure and evidentiary rules in tort litigation, and the growing cost of litigation (which affects plaintiffs just as much, if not more, than defendants) the real question in tort law that determines cases today is decreasingly a question of when one party will be liable to another and increasingly a question of when we allow an injured party to access the judicial system at all. The above procedural changes noted by Professor Miller are not mere alterations to the process by which a party brings their civil dispute to the court and presented to a jury; they are routinely outcome determinative.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and of Evidence do not contemplate any circumstance in which a plaintiff with a potentially meritorious claim with unsettled facts is dismissed before trial, and yet tort litigation –— including nationwide multidistrict litigation involving thousands of claimants, billions of dollars in damages, and significant factual disputes — is routinely dismissed in advance of trial on the basis of factual determinations made by judges about what is known, unknown, or unknowable.

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April 26, 2013 in Guest Blogger | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tomorrow's Guest Blogger: Max Kennerly


Max Kennerly has successfully represented a wide variety of injured clients, from the parents of an 18-year-old who needlessly died during liposuction (a case that required a five week trial in 2008, resulting in a $20.5 million jury verdict, including the largest punitive damages ever awarded in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case), to a baby boy injured at birth by a hospital that refused to perform a c-section for hours and so developed cerebral palsy, to the estate of a 19-year-old woman killed by a fatigued truck driver who was encouraged by his employer to fabricate his log book so he could spend more hours on the road. Max has also successfully represented a number of individuals and businesses with financial damages, including a homeowner whose mortgage company failed to properly search the title of her home and a small electronics business defrauded by a wealthy former contractor. As of 2012, in addition to his personal injury and medical malpractice work, he represents dozens of clients with product liability lawsuits arising from the Actos, Pradaxa, and implanted mesh erosions litigations.

The law isn’t just a job for Max, it’s a profession, and he devotes substantial time and energy to pro bono efforts and to educating lawyers and non-lawyers about the law. Max has several times appeared on the Philadelphia Court’s Pro Bono Honor Roll for his volunteer service. One of his passions is writing, and so he spends a lot of time informing the public about the law on his Litigation & Trial blog and through contributions to non-legal publications such as Emergency Physicians Monthly, where he debated a physician about malpractice issues, and NYC Aviation, where he discussed the Reno Air Races disaster. He has been referenced as a legal analyst in publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic and Business Insider. Most recently, he was quoted by the Philadelphia Daily News / WHYY’s ”It’s Our Money” project discussing Occupy Philadelphia, cited by Vanity Fair discussing the Facebook ownership lawsuit from The Social Network, and quoted by Reuters news discussing the Penn State child abuse scandal.

Within the law, Max was selected by his peers to be included in Super Lawyers magazine as a Pennsylvania Rising Star. He has also taught Continuing Legal Education seminars for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute,  has contributed to legal publications such as The Jury Expert, and has been quoted by publications like Inhouse Counsel and the American Association for Justice’s Trial magazine.

Max also wrote one legal book with Jim Beasley, Jr., a guide for civil lawyers in Pennsylvania, that was published earlier this year, and is working on another one (also with Jim) for civil lawyers nationwide, due in another two years.

Max graduated from Yale University with Honors in History and from the Beasley School of Law at Temple University as a Law Faculty Scholar and a member of the Rubin Public Interest Society. At Yale he wrote an award-winning paper on the history of the Federal Reserve. At Temple Law he was a Teaching Assistant in Constitutional Law for Dean Robert Reinstein and a clerk in the Federal Court Clerkship Clinical program.

April 25, 2013 in Guest Blogger | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL Torts: Zipursky on Moore on Intent

At JOTWELL, Ben Zipursky (Fordham) reviews Nancy Moore's Intent and Consent in the Tort of Battery: Confusion and Controversy, 61 Am. U. L. Rev. 1585 (2012).


April 25, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CFP: AALS Sections on Torts and Insurance

The 2014 AALS Annual Meeting will feature a combined Torts and Compensation Systems and Insurance Sections presentation "On the Unavoidable Intersection of Torts and Insurance."  Speakers include Tom Baker (Penn),Nora Freeman Engstrom (Stanford), and Kent Syverud (Wash. Univ. in St. Louis).  If you would like to join this panel, there is a call for papers.  The information is available over at the Faculty Lounge.


April 25, 2013 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mullenix on Class Actions at the Supreme Court

Linda Mullenix (Texas) has posted to SSRN The Practice:  Class Action Cacophony at the Supreme CourtThe abstract provides:

Commentary and analysis of the Supreme Court’s February and March 2013, decisions in three major class action appeals: Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plan and Trust Funds (February 27, 2103); Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles (March 19, 2013), and Comcast Corp. v. Behrends (March 27, 2013). The article surveys the Court’s liberal and conservative divide on class certification issues, giving some support to both the plaintiff and defense sides of the class action docket. In Amgen, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, a divided Court again saved the fraud on the market presumption for certification of securities class actions. On the other hand, in Comcast, in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia, an equally divided Court found fatal to class certification the failure of proof of classwide damages for a Rule 23(b)(3) damage action. The Comcast decision, coupled with a concurrence by Justice Alito, suggests that there may be at least four votes for the Court to consider the original fraud on the market presumption announced in the landmark case, Basic v. Levinson.

Although embodying different outcomes, the Amgen and Comcast decisions both embrace the same litany of core class certification principles. However, the Court in neither case has clarified or illuminated further the debate over the extent to which trial courts may properly assess the underlying merits of class claims as part of the certification process. Instead, the Court in both cases deflected the merits conversation into the Rule 23 predominance requirement.

Finally, in Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, a unanimous Court agreed that a class representative could not stipulate to less than the $5 million damage threshold in order to evade removal under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. A class representative could bind himself, but had no power or authority to bind absent class members.


April 24, 2013 in MDLs and Class Actions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Perspectives on Mass Tort Litigation at Widener

Last Tuesday, April 16, 2013, Widener University School of Law, the Widener Law Journal, and the Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc. sponsored a day-long symposium, Perspectives on Mass Torts Litigation.

The line-up was spectacular!  The first panel on Mass Tort Theory included Professor Michael Green (Wake Forest School of Law); Professor Deborah Hensler (Stanford Law School); Professor Linda Mullenix (University of Texas School of Law); and Professor Aaron Twerski (Brooklyn Law School).  The panel was moderated by TortsProf's own Chris Robinette (Widener).

The second panel addresssed Emerging Issues in Mass Tort Practice.  This panel included the Hon. Thurbert Baker (McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP; Atlanta, GA); John Beisner (Skadden Arps; Washington, DC); Tobias Millrood (Pogust Braslow & Millrood; Philadelphia, PA); and Victor Schwartz (Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Washington, DC). 

One of the symposium's highlights was the luncheon address by the Hon. Eduardo Robreno (E.D. Pa.) on Federal Asbestos Litigation: Black Hole or New Paradigm?   This fascintating talk provided a look at the current state of asbestos litigation and a glimpse of the future as well. 

The third panel was on Keystone State Civil Justice Issues.  The organizers used a neat format - essentialy a point-counterpoint by a plaintiff's lawyer and a defense lawyer.   The fourth panel took us inside Asbestos-Related Bankruptcy Issues, and featured Professor S. Todd Brown (SUNY Buffalo Law School), and two practicing lawyers.  

Bryon Stier (Southwestern) and I rounded out the day with a panel on Mass Tort Ethics.  

My thanks to Chris and everyone at Widener for an outstanding conference.  It was a honor to participate. 


April 22, 2013 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)