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Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Mass Tort Class Action
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Professor Coffee began by providing an excellent working definition of a mass tort:
Mass tort litigation is characterized by several unique features: (1) a predictable evolutionary cycle during which the value and volume of individual claims starts low and then spirals upward; (2) high case interdependency so that litigated outcomes in any mass tort area quickly impact on the settlement value of other pending cases in that same field; (3) a highly concentrated plaintiffs' bar, in which individual practitioners control exceptionally large inventories of cases, sometimes totaling in the tens of thousands; and (4) a capacity to place logistical pressure on individual courts that is simply unequalled by any other form of civil litigation.
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On an ethical level, probably the most disquieting phenomenon about recent mass tort settlements has been the acceptance of a single attorney acting as the representative of multiple subclasses of plaintiffs. Not only have the interests of these subclasses clearly conflicted, but the class counsel has explicitly traded off the interests of subclasses against each other, obtaining substantial compensation for one subclass in return for a waiver of cash compensation by anoth- er. In such multiparty negotiations between the defendants and different subclasses of plaintiffs, even the well-meaning plaintiffs' attorney shifts inevitably from the role of an advocate and adviser for clients to the role of a philosopher king, dispensing largess among his client subjects.