Friday, September 23, 2022
Catherine Sharkey on Common Law Tort as Transitional Regulatory Regime and Climate Change Litigation
Catherine Sharkey, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy at NYU School of Law, has posted to SSRN her book chapter, Common Law Tort as a Transitional Regulatory Regime: A New Perspective on Climate Change Litigation, in Climate Liberalism: Perspectives on Liberty, Property, and Pollution (Palgrave: Jonathan Adler ed.) (2022 Forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
This book chapter explores how common law (state or federal) tort law evolves to fill regulatory voids. Particularly in areas that pose emerging, and incompletely understood, health and safety risks, common law tort liability holds out the potential for a dynamic regulatory response, one that creates incentives to develop additional information about potential risks and stimulates innovation to mitigate and/or adapt to these risks. In this temporal model, common law tort plays an essential role in transition, allowing for experimentation with various risk-minimization methods and remedial approaches until optimal approaches emerge which could then be enshrined in more uniform regulations.
The chapter identifies and assesses this dynamic, information-forcing role for common law tort liability in the realm of climate change litigation. In this model, common law tort, rather than a relic of the past, emerges as relevant to the future of environmental risk regulation, as indeed superior to legislation and/or regulation in terms of addressing newly-emergent risks. Moreover, the model suggests that the interaction between common law tort and federal statutes and regulations will remain interactive and dynamic over time.
The chapter then uses climate change litigation as a case study to shed light on the expansion of common law public nuisance to fill a regulatory void in this area, revealing the modern relevance of common law tort in environmental law. The chapter concludes with a preliminary evaluation of the extent to which experimentation among states and municipalities with regard to various adaptation measures fits the optimal model of common law tort in transition, with a final gesture toward forces at play that may stymie the common law’s evolutionary impulses.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Last week, I sat down with Nicolas Terry, who hosts the podcast, The Week in Health Law. We discussed the role of repeat players in multidistrict litigation leadership (on both sides), the functions and control of MDL judges, the ongoing opioid litigation, and my new book--Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation.
If you like podcasts and civil procedure, it might be just the thing for a morning commute. Just click on the icon below.
If you're interested in the opioid suits and online reading is more your style, then you might prefer the conversation that Jenn Olivia and I had, which is written up on Harvard Law's Bill of Health (click on the icon below). While you're on the blog, you'll find lots of useful information if you search by category: Opioid Crisis.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
For judges, lawyers, and even academics toiling away in the world of mass torts, getting a handle on the big picture can be tough. I've seen many empirical claims made when it comes to the push for or against creating federal rules specific to mega-MDLs, all of which are mass torts. Yet, most lack real, empirical data.
For the past six years, I've been collecting data on all of the products-liability proceedings that were pending on the MDL docket as of May 2013. (Yes, yes, I live a thrilling life.) Like a hoarder, I've squirreled away data on Lone Pine orders, Daubert motions, class-certification motions, plaintiff fact sheets, summary judgment motions, census orders, class action settlements, private aggregate settlements, and on and on and on. Those data-collection efforts have culminated in a book that is out today, Mass Tort Deals. There is ton of information in the book's appendix on all of the information I just mentioned. Here's a way to Download Index to Data.
One thing I noticed along the way was that neither Pacer nor Bloomberg Law allow you to search inside the text of MDL dockets, which can be long and unwieldy in and of themselves, as many of you know. So, with the help of the wonderful UGA Law School IT department, I've created a free website that allows you to search the text of the thousands of MDL documents that I've been stockpiling for the past six years. It includes all of the documents that I relied on for the book and I will continue to update it periodically.
As for the book, Mass Tort Deals marshals this wide array of empirical data to suggest that the systematic lack of checks and balances in our courts may benefit everyone but the plaintiffs. Multidistrict proceedings, which place a single judge in charge of similar lawsuits filed across the country, consume a substantial portion of the federal courts’ civil caseload. As the figure below shows, many MDLs are product liability proceedings (for an interactive version, click here):
And if you consider not just the number of proceedings, but the number of actions pending in those proceedings, products-liability suits dominate (for an interactive version, click here):
Of course, most of these product-liability proceedings are not run-of-the-mill disputes. Litigation over products like pelvic and hernia mesh, opioids, Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, Roundup, and hip implants are headline-grabbing media magnets.
Federal judges certify a small handful of these proceedings (principally those without personal injuries) as class actions, which affords them judicial safeguards. But as tort reform has made its way into civil procedure, it has effectively clamped down on class actions. As you can see from the graphic below, most product-liability proceedings within my dataset ended in private, aggregate settlement (click here for an interactive version):
As readers of my work know, I've voiced some concerns with adequate representation and repeat players in MDLs. Judges and academics have long raised questions about arms-length bargaining and adequate representation in the class-action context, even though Rule 23 builds in some safeguards. In class actions, for example, judges have the authority to appoint class counsel; consider whether counsel adequately represents class members; ensure that any class settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate; and award class counsel’s attorney’s fee.
Given my qualms about what lawyers are doing (Chapter 2 and 3) and what judges are doing (Chapter 4), should we implement rules for MDL proceedings? Not necessarily. Our system needs a makeover, yes. But Chapter 6 uses basic economic and social principles as the bedrock of reform.
I suggest ways in which we can build opportunities for dissent and competition into the fabric of multidistrict proceedings and incentivize lawyers to use them.
But doing so relies on judges. Educating judges and encouraging them to select leaders via a competitive process, tie leaders’ fees to the benefits they confer on plaintiffs, open the courthouse doors to hear about those benefits (or not) directly from the plaintiffs, and remand those litigants who don’t want to settle can allow the vibrant rivalries within the plaintiffs’ bar to see to it that dissent and competition flourish.
As attorneys object and compete, they are likely to divulge new information, thereby equipping judges with pieces of the puzzle that they currently lack. In short, Chapter 6 explains how arming judges with procedures that better align plaintiffs’ attorneys’ self-interest with their clients’ best interest equips courts to hold parties accountable even without legislation or rulemaking.
From diagnosis to reforms, my goal in Mass Tort Deals isn’t to eliminate these lawsuits; it’s to save them.
May 16, 2019 in Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Medical Devices - Misc., Pharmaceuticals - Misc., Procedure, Products Liability, Regulation, Settlement, Trial, Vehicles, Vioxx | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, February 8, 2019
Professor Sarah L. Swan (Florida State Law) has posted to SSRN her manuscript, Preempting Plaintiff Cities, Fordham Urb. L. J. (forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
Within the city-state relationship, states hold an enormous amount of power. Recently, states have been using that power to pass extremely aggressive preemption laws that prohibit cities’ regulatory efforts on many fronts. These new preemption laws most commonly occur in the context of red states limiting the regulatory scope of blue cities, inflaming those already tense city-state relationships and cutting into what many view as the appropriate scope of local autonomy.
But despite this intense clash in the regulatory sphere, when we move away from the world of city regulation and toward the world of city litigation, things look surprisingly different. Although cities have been bringing forward hundreds of quite controversial claims against corporate wrongdoers for harms ranging from the subprime mortgage crisis to the opioid epidemic, such plaintiff city litigation has provoked relatively little state hostility. States have not ratcheted up their response to this exercise of city power in at all the same way as they have for regulation. Rather, states have shown a remarkably limited appetite for preempting plaintiff city litigation.
What accounts for these differing responses? Three main factors are likely in play. First, while regulatory preemption is largely the result of intense political polarization, states have historically viewed litigation against corporate wrongdoers in less partisan terms. Both blue and red states have themselves engaged in this type of litigation, and there is thus an institutional tradition of flexibility in this context. Second, and relatedly, the issues at the heart of plaintiff city litigation are often not as politically divisive as those at the heart of the preempted regulations. Harms like lead paint poisoning and the opioid epidemic have attracted widespread condemnation, while many of the regulation preemption subjects remain hotly contested. Finally, unlike regulation, litigation is not an obvious instrument of governance. It has unpredictable outcomes, it is not an exclusively governmental power, and it relies on existing law.
Since plaintiff city litigation operates mostly outside of state crosshairs, it can provide a space for cities looking to pursue progressive goals. Plaintiff city litigation may not achieve the same immediate governance goals as regulation, but it does have significant political benefits for cities and their residents. Thus, even in an era of rampant regulatory preemption and deep political animosity between cities and states, plaintiff city litigation presents a viable parallel track for cities to continue their pursuit of urban social justice. Although such litigation does not directly address the contentious issues forming the basis of regulatory battles, it does offer a means of protecting vulnerable communities and advancing goals of democratic equality in other ways.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
I'm at a conference on litigation funding and realized it might be useful, especially for journalists, to think through what we mean when we talk about litigation funding or litigation finance.
Journalists and others tend to describe all forms of investment that support litigation under one umbrella: “litigation funding.” But in fact the litigation funding market is highly specialized. Types of litigation funding should be considered separately because they are very different financial products with different costs and benefits. This is my stab at setting out the parameters of this space:
- Commercial litigation funding. This type of litigation funding is offered by investors and can be used by either plaintiffs or defendants. The funding agreements involve sophisticated parties on both sides, either firms or clients. It well recognized in international arbitration and is increasingly used in other types of commercial cases. Funding may be for an individual litigation or for a portfolio of suits.
- Appeals funding. This type of funding is given to lawyers against fees (often contingency) and to clients against expected recoveries.
- Patent litigation funding. These involve three types of entities. First, some entities purchase patents and prosecute patent infringers but have no relationship to the inventors. Second, a company may sue the infringers and give a small percentage of the recovery to the inventors. Third, universities or companies may monetize their patent portfolios using a funder.
- Law firm financing. Law firms may obtain financing usually structured as a loan with their receivables as collateral.
- Consumer litigation funding. These funders provide small retail level non-recourse loans to individual tort or contract plaintiffs, typically under $5,000. This type of funding is the most like “payday” loans.
- Mass tort monetizations. These types of funders may advance money to lawyers against future earned fees and to clients against expected recoveries in aggregate tort litigation such as multidistrict litigation after a settlement matrix is in place. Depending on how it is used, this may be more like law firm financing for a portfolio of cases of a particular type (cases filed against a particular defendant for example) or consumer litigation funding, directly offered to the client. These funders specialize in mass torts, but loans to lawyers should be differentiated from advances to clients because lawyers are sophisticated market actors who can protect themselves, whereas tort clients tend to be more vulnerable.
(This was edited to correct the amount that individuals usually obtain from consumer funding).
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Professor Wendy Parmet (Northeastern Law) has posted to SSRN her article, Paternalism, Self-Governance, and Public Health: The Case of E-Cigarettes, 70 U. Miami L. Rev. 879 (2016). Here is the abstract:
This article develops a normative framework for assessing public health laws, using the regulation of e-cigarettes as a case study. Although e-cigarettes are likely far less dangerous to individual users than traditional cigarettes, it remains uncertain whether their proliferation will lead to a reduction of smoking-related disease and deaths or to increased morbidity and mortality. This scientific uncertainty presents regulators with difficult challenges in determining whether and how to regulate e-cigarettes. This article presents a normative framework for analyzing such questions by offering three justifications for public health laws: impaired agency, harm to others, and self-governance. Each justification responds to the common charge that public health laws are impermissibly paternalistic. The self-governance rationale, which is the most robust, and most reflective of public health’s own population perspective, has been the least theorized. This article develops that theory, examining the basis for the justification as well as its limitations. The article then applies its normative framework to the regulation of e-cigarettes, focusing on the FDA’s so-called deeming regulations, which at the time the article was written were pending but have since been promulgated in a substantially similar form. The article supports the FDA’s ultimate decision to ban the sales of e-cigarettes to minors and to require the disclosure of warning labels based upon the impaired agency rationale. However, the scientific uncertainty renders the harm rationale inadequate. As a result, the regulations’ pre-market review requirement must rely on the self-governance rationale for its normative justification. Given the lack of clear legislative guidance and political engagement, the article concludes that the pre-market review provisions are normatively problematic: if public health advocates want to claim the mantle of self-governance, they must take it seriously.
Friday, April 1, 2016
Monday, February 8, 2016
In today's New York Times, Michael Wines & John Schwartz have an article called "Regulatory Gaps Leave Unsafe Lead Levels in Water Nationwide."
What they describe in the article are not only regulatory gaps - that is places such as certain waterways or sources of water that are un- or under- regulated, but also cases where regulations are ignored, poorly followed, etc.
On prawfsblawg, Rick Hills writes about the Flint water crisis in particular and the relationship between litigation and regulation. He correctly observes: "Darnell Earley, the emergency manager appointed by Governor Snyder to run Flint, had a bureaucratic mandate to save money and no electoral incentive to protect non-fiscal goals like voters' health. By switching Flint's water supply from the expensive Detroit water system to the cheaper and more corrosive Flint River, Earley maximized the first goal and ignored the second, with the result that Flint's residents now have elevated lead levels in their blood."
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Professor Kate Greenwood (Seton Hall) has posted to SSRN her article, 'Litigant Regulation' of Physician Conflicts of Interest, Ga. St. L. Rev. (forthcoming). Here's the abstract:
While physicians’ financial relationships with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are increasingly of concern to legislators and regulators, plaintiffs have had only limited success pursuing private law remedies for the harms that result from conflicts of interest. Courts have long channeled individual patients’ claims against their conflicted doctors into the medical malpractice cause of action, where patients have difficulty establishing that their physicians’ conflicts caused them to suffer concrete and compensable injuries. With recent notable exceptions, courts have also blocked patients’ claims against drug and device manufacturers. Courts apply the learned intermediary doctrine to dispose of failure-to-warn personal injury suits, without regard to whether the plaintiff’s physician had a financial relationship with the defendant manufacturer. Third-party payers, such as employers, insurance companies, and union health and welfare funds, have similarly struggled to overcome a strong presumption of physician independence. Courts routinely find that a physician’s prescribing decision breaks the chain of causation between a manufacturer’s illegal promotional efforts and a payer’s obligation to pay for a prescription, even when those promotional efforts include the payment of kickbacks.
Courts can and should move beyond the often counterfactual presumption of physician independence. In personal injury cases, this can be achieved through a nuanced analysis of alleged conflicts of interest that distinguishes between kickbacks, on the one hand, and legitimate financial relationships between manufacturers and physicians, on the other. Limited early discovery would allow plaintiffs to develop their claims about the influence of conflicts on their physicians’ decision-making without putting an undue burden on defendants. In economic injury cases, courts can move beyond the presumption of physician independence by allowing plaintiffs to use standard statistical methods to demonstrate that physicians’ prescribing decisions were not independent in the aggregate. If the doctrine were to evolve in these ways, it would amplify the role “litigant regulation” plays in the regulatory structure governing physician-industry relationships and bring closer the goal of ensuring that patients and payers are fairly compensated for the harms caused by conflicts of interest.
Adam Abelkop (Graduate Student, Indiana U., Bloomington, School of Public & Environmental Affairs) has posted to SSRN his article, Tort Law as an Environmental Policy Instrument, 92 Or. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013). Here's the abstract:
Policymakers aiming to tackle any environmental problem have a diverse tool chest of policy instruments at their disposal, including command and control regulations, taxes, marketable allowance, and liability entitlements. Scholars of public health and safety have been debating the effectiveness of tort law as a regulatory tool for decades. The legal literature on this topic, though, is muddled because the field has failed to adopt a set of criteria by which to compare tort law to public regulation. Heightened clarity on the usefulness of tort law as a complementary policy instrument to public regulations may have legal and policy implications. This article therefore adopts evaluation criteria from the policy analysis and public policy fields — equity, legitimacy, efficiency, organizational competence, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness — to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of tort law as an environmental policy instrument relative to public regulation.
Friday, October 12, 2012
A Wall Street Journal article, Pharmacy in Outbreak Acted Like Drug Maker, by Mark Maremont, Jonathan D. Rockoff, and Timony W. Martin explores the history of the companies allegedly involved in the fungal meningitis outbreak. The article notes that a class action has already been filed in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Tom Scott, the Executive Director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, has posted on Fox&Hounds a 2012 wishlist for legal reform. While there are many proposed reforms helpful to business, I was struck by one not usually associated with business desires or law reform:
6. Stop cutting the funding of the California courts. Our court system is still reeling from cuts last year, and more cuts would only reduce access to the courts even more.
I am heartened to see that even those who are "fighting against lawsuit abuse" understand that adequate court funding is essential if suits are to be promptly adjudicated -- and found either meritorious and tried, or found unmeritorious and dismissed. Both pro-plaintiff and pro-business groups should be able to come together to advocate for court funding in a time of shrinking governmental budgets. And those who practice in mass tort litigation should be especially vocal, in light of the heavy demands such litigation places on state and federal courts. Moreover, as the election season approaches and disagreements multiply across the political spectrum, liberals and conservatives might remind themselves that they agree on government's core responsibility in providing a functioning court system for dispute resolution.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The New York Times reports that under new regulations to be announced by the Obama administration, pharmaceutical companies will have to report payments to non-employee doctors for "research, consulting, speaking, travel and entertainment." The reporting requirements are to cover any company that has a product covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and the reporting information is to be subsequently posted by the government on a publicly accessible website.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Interesting article from the New York Times on services that offer loans to litigants and the high interest rates typically charged: Lawsuit Loans Add New Risk for the Injured, by Binyamin Appelbaum. The article discusses the movement to subject such loans, and their high interest rates, to regulation. Of course, if the interest rates able to be charged are limited by state law, the effect may be to destroy the lawsuit loan market, because the default risk for such loans may be high enough that only a high-interest rate lending model may be profitable over the long term. Losing such loans would be unfortunate, because litigants with meritorious cases may need access to funds while the the justice system processes the case. Instead of regulatory capping of interest rates, why not instead rely on clear disclosure of rates in contracts, and market forces of vying lenders competing over interest rates?
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Barry Meier of the NYTimes reports. The issue is whether the plaintiff can bring products liability suits or whether they must bring the suit only in the vaccine court, created by the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.
This case concerns a woman who suffered seizures as a result of a DPT vaccine administered when she was a baby and has resultant developmental problems. But there are many parents of children with autism who believe there is a link between vaccines and autism and would like to bring their cases outside of the adminsitrative system set up by the Act.
Thomas Burke, a political scientist at Wellesley College, has written on this topic. Click here for his website.
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)