Monday, August 28, 2006

Mass Torts & Class Actions: Going the Way of the Dodo?

Mass torts and class action lawsuits are on the wane, reported the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Davies in the Weekend Edition. “The future of mass torts and class actions is very much in question,” said NYU law professor Geoffrey Miller. Some reasons why:

The Milberg Weiss Effect: This year, new securities-fraud class-action lawsuits are down 45%, to 61 through June from 111 in the first half of 2005, according to a new study. (One reason: The indicted Milberg Weiss has filed just 17 lawsuits in the first six months of 2006, versus 55 in 2005’s first half — and hasn’t filed a class-action case since its indictment.)

The Controversial Silicosis Litigation: Federal Judge Janis Jack found last year that nearly 10,000 claims of lung damage from silica dust “were manufactured for money.” The case involved 200 companies that manufactured or used silica, which allegedly causes silicosis, an incurable lung disease. Judge Jack’s decision – detailed in this NPR feature – has also reportedly chilled asbestos litigation, which involves many of the same lawyers, doctors and plaintiffs.

Legislation: Congress passed a tort-reform bill earlier this year that makes it easier to move many class-actions from state to federal court, where judges are more likely to dismiss dubious claims. And several states – including Florida, Georgia and Texas – have passed “medical-criteria” bills, requiring physicians to certify a patient has been harmed by asbestos or silica, and not simply exposed, before a lawsuit can proceed.

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