…By requiring makers of components to pay for damages they did not cause in the name of warnings that the U.S. Navy almost certainly would not have heeded, the Court yields to an impulse to round up deep pockets lest a sympathetic set of litigants otherwise go uncompensated….
In his dissent, Gorsuch points out that [the new standard formulated by Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the majority] not only has no evident grounding in existing tort doctrine but is not in fact easy to apply or predict. …
But it seems almost quaint to ask whether a newly announced legal standard can readily be applied and predicted in the context of asbestos law, a sui generis creation in which the courts regularly extract vast sums from defendants on the basis of legal standards assuredly not recognized in law at the time those defendants acted in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The implications of assigning retrospective liability to actions lawful at the time loom large and disturbing over continuing expansions of liability like the one announced in today’s case.
- “Illinois Supreme Court Allows No-Injury Biometric Information Privacy Act Claims in Complete Victory for Plaintiffs’ Bar” [Locke Lord] Google’s “which museum portrait is your selfie like?” an early local casualty [Illinois Policy and generally on the law]
- “Class action reform isn’t dead. It’s just not coming from Congress” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
- To get around Daimler v. Bauman line of cases, state statutes now provide that by registering to do business in the state an out-of-state business consents to general personal jurisdiction. Is that consistent with due process? [Anand Agneshwar and Paige Sharpe, WLF, and on Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway case in Pennsylvania; Beck with survey of state statutes]
- “As Pelvic Mesh Settlements Near $8 Billion, Women Question Lawyers’ Fees” [Matthew Goldstein, New York Times, earlier and more]
- More on Department of Justice crackdown on fraud and mismanagement in asbestos bankruptcy trusts [ABA Journal, AP, Alison Frankel/Reuters, Sen. Chuck Grassley statement, earlier]
- Judge: Port Authority not liable over George Washington Bridge jumpers [Julia Marsh, New York Post]
For years lawyers have been suing Johnson & Johnson claiming that its baby powder has caused ovarian cancer, a theory that has mostly met with failure in court. This summer, however, a St. Louis jury found liability and ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion, on a related theory that asbestos contaminants in the product (as opposed to talc itself) caused the disease. On December 14 Reuters followed with a lengthy piece laying out, and implicitly siding with, the plaintiff lawyers’ accusations; the piece drew wide publicity, and the company’s shares sank by about $50 billion. Some analysts have written that J&J’s lawsuit payouts on the issue could reach $20 billion.
Now a leading business columnist has explained why he doubts that outcome. “Why? Because whether or not the company’s talcum powder contains asbestos, and whether or not it hid that fact from the public, the science remains firmly on J&J’s side.” [Joe Nocera, Bloomberg] How so? “There is no evidence that women who use talcum powder are any more likely to get ovarian cancer than women who don’t. In both California and New Jersey, judges have tossed out cases on exactly this basis.” So while plaintiffs make the most of their dark imputations of a cover-up, what they haven’t shown is that women who used the baby powder are any more likely to contract cancer than those who did not. Nocera: “And this is one mass tort where I’m convinced the science is going to win.”
Meanwhile, Mark Lanier, the Texas-based lawyer who won the St. Louis verdict, freely agrees that his efforts have helped affect J&J’s stock price. “It serves my purposes as a litigator to say, ‘Yes, get their attention; keep driving the stock down.'” [Matthew J. Belvedere, CNBC] And: “New York’s specialized court for asbestos lawsuits could become a pivotal battleground for litigation over talcum powder as plaintiff lawyers seek to establish a record of wins in a court system known for liberal rules and big jury verdicts.” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
Modern asbestos litigation has been described as an unending quest for the solvent defendant. Air and Liquid Systems v. DeVries, argued in October before the Supreme Court, presents the question of whether to permit suits against companies that made products containing no asbestos, “on the grounds that they had reason to foresee that the mineral would be used in conjunction with the products they did make.” I discuss the case in this new Reason piece.
More coverage of the oral argument from Brandi Buchman, Courthouse News and Ronald Mann, SCOTUSBlog reporting before and after. See also Robert H. Wright, Washington Legal Foundation; Federalist Society link roundup and video with Justin Torres of King and Spalding (& welcome SCOTUSBlog readers).
For well over a decade it’s been apparent that the distinctive arrangements by which asbestos plaintiff’s lawyers acquire control of the bankrupt remains of defendant corporations they’ve sued, and then exercise control over those firms’ claims, disbursements, and general management, is fraught with self-dealing and sometimes fraud, ranging from the charging of unnaturally high fees to the concealment of double- and triple-dipping by claimants. Business interests have pursued a campaign in the states and Congress to require more transparency and better judicial oversight of asbestos bankruptcy trusts. Now they may have a powerful ally indeed in the federal government, which has weighed in with an early statement of interest in one such bankruptcy to insist on better controls against fraud and abuse. Its standing for such an intervention arises in part from its role as Medicare and Medicaid payor (entitled by law to recoup some health-related outlays) rather than merely from any interest it might have in heading off fraud generally. [Daniel Fisher, Forbes; Daniel Gill, Bloomberg Law] Fisher:
In the Trump administration, at least, the government will no longer look the other way as asbestos lawyers negotiate lenient terms that make it easy for their current clients to get money at the expense of future claimants and federal entitlement programs….
The government’s unusually blunt statement of interest in the Kaiser Gypsum bankruptcy, long before any plan of reorganization has been approved, warns lawyers against including terms that make it hard to ferret out fraud and abuse, including confidentiality requirements that make it impossible to determine how much claimants have been paid and the basis for their claims….
The Justice Department also warned it will be looking for excessive fees and may not allow claimants to deduct those fees from reimbursement due the government for Medicare and Medicaid expenses.
Sequel: Feds object to trustee candidate in Duro Dyne bankruptcy.
- “Now the Personal Injury Lawyers Have Scooters in Their Sights” [Anousha Sakoui and Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg]
- Jury orders Rams to pay $12.5 million for Reggie Bush injury [AP/Valley Morning News; St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
- “Lawsuit Against Snapchat Encouraging Speeding Can Proceed” [Eugene Volokh]
- “Art Imitates Life: ‘Billions’ Describes Six-Figure, Part-Time Jobs On Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher, Legal Newsline/Forbes]
- Lawsuit by insurer State Farm accuses prominent Michigan attorney of maintaining covert ties to medical imaging provider [JC Reindl, Detroit Free Press]
- “California Court Rejects Warranty Claims Where Rats Allegedly Chewed Through Soy-Coated Auto Wiring” [Neal Walters and Casey G. Watkins, Ballard Spahr]
- NFL alleges its billion-dollar concussion settlement fund has drawn hundreds of millions in fraudulent claims [Nicholas Malfitano, Penn Record; Andrew Beaton, WSJ]
- After the mass shootings: “We’ve all gotten a thousand phone calls from lawyers.” [Jack Healy, New York Times]
- Retrial in Sheldon Silver corruption case [Bill Sanderson/New York Daily News, more, yet more (guilty on all counts)] “Silver’s disgrace has had no discernible effect on the way Albany conducts the public’s business. And no one should have expected it to, given the record.” [Bob McManus, City Journal] City’s asbestos docket, on which Silver thrived, is still a plaintiff’s playground [Daniel Fisher, more]
- One reason for Illinois’s reputation as a lawsuit hot spot is its willingness to hear disputes from elsewhere [Dan McCaleb, Illinois News Network]
- “Split Pennsylvania court refuses to void $500K award to man burned during ride in crowded limo” [Matt Miller, PennLive]
- Judge tosses lawsuit over McDonald’s Extra Value Meals [Patricia Manson, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, earlier] “NYC Man Sues Halo Top For Not Being Regular Ice Cream” [Jen Carlson, Gothamist]
Now you see it, now you don’t: a famous “Preparing For Your Deposition” memo for asbestos plaintiffs, which I wrote about back when, is not quite so easy to lay one’s hands on or read about these days, though clues are still available on the web [David Yates/Southeast Texas Record, Sarah Rafique/KXAN and Sara Corcoran Warner/Huffington Post on First Amendment suit by Christine Biederman over access to court records, Yates/SETR with more, and more]
- In “race to the courthouse,” lawyers urge Texas counties to sue over opioids [Marissa Evans, Texas Tribune] “Leading Pain Doctors Face Scores of Opioid Lawsuits” [Roger Parloff, who edits newly launched nonprofit site Opioid Watch] “Opioid Settlement Talks Hit Headwinds” [Sara Randazzo, WSJ] A professor (and friend) recently treated for cancer doesn’t care for the “just throttle the supply of prescription opioids” answer [Steven Horwitz, USA Today]
- Asbestos bankruptcy trusts are poorly defended against fraudulent claims. What happens if they run out of money? [U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform study and release] Three senators introduce bill aimed at providing oversight of the bankruptcy trusts [Sen. Chuck Grassley] Have asbestos filings finally peaked? [Amanda Bronstad, National Law Journal] “Cleaning Up The Asbestos Litigation Mess: A Role For The Department Of Justice?” [Glenn Lammi, WLF/Forbes]
- Trial lawyers yearn to knock down validity of contractually agreed arbitration so that every dispute can go to litigation. Is this their year? [L.M. Sixel, Houston Chronicle]
- Judge turns back class action against Home Depot over size of 4x4s, other lumber [Scott Holland, Cook County Record; Jonathan Stempel, Reuters (can be refiled), earlier here and here]
- “The Impact of Lawsuit Abuse on American Small Businesses and Job Creators,” November testimony by John Beisner before Senate Judiciary Committee;
- “Civil Justice Update – Wisconsin Governor Walker Signs Into Law New Reforms” [Andrew C. Cook, Federalist Society] More on disclosure of litigation finance arrangements [Kevin LaCroix]
How a plaintiff’s expert consultant, working with others associated with the litigation biz, helped touch off a cosmetics panic. “Jewelry store Claire’s said [Jan. 4] that lab results certified its products as asbestos-free, following allegations of the toxic substance in its products last month.” [Lauren Hirsch, CNBC]