Tags: Plaintiff | Lawyers | Mass | Tort

NYT's Nocera: How Some Lawyers 'Gin Up' Cases for Fun and Profit

By Michael Kling   |   Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 04:11 PM

Rather than avenging angels winning awards for people hurt by greedy corporations, plaintiff lawyers are more like extortionists who extract millions of dollars from companies, keeping most themselves and often giving their clients small change, says New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.

The lawyers' business plan calls for seeking cases to be blown up into giant "mass torts," which can then be used to extract billions from companies.

Nocera outlines problems he has seen that business plan cause over the years.

Editor's Note: Economist Warns: 50% Unemployment, 100% Inflation Possible

"I’ve seen mass torts where the actual plaintiffs get coupons while the lawyers reap millions. Mass torts where the connection between the product and the harm is illusory."

Sometimes the mass-tort lawsuits are based on fraud. For instance, in the silicosis mass tort against Dow Corning, doctors fraudulently diagnosed thousands of plaintiffs with silicosis, a rare lung disease.

Sometimes lawyers win billions even if the government implies that consumers are responsible, as in the Toyota sudden-acceleration case. Sometimes a corporation that has really harmed the plaintiffs pays off the lawyers.

Lawyers filed thousands of cases against Dow Corning in 1995, saying its silicone breast implants cause autoimmune disease. The company agreed to a huge settlement, despite little evidence supporting the plaintiffs. The Institute of Medicine later concluded there was no link between the implants and autoimmune disease.

In the latest mass tort, lawyers are lining up against BP.

BP set up a claims process to give money directly to people harmed by its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, handing out $6.3 billion through the system without lawsuits. Plaintiff lawyers were upset that they weren't getting a piece of the pie. So they sued, and BP reached a settlement.

"The message is now clear: No matter how much money you are willing to pay victims, it will never be enough to keep you out of the courtroom," Nocera writes.

As part of the settlement, businesses that were not harmed by the oil spill will get compensation. "All over the Gulf, lawyers are advising clients to line up at the BP trough, and they are doing so."

"The oil giant BP has recently done a very good job of casting itself as the victim of greedy plaintiffs' lawyers looking to get rich by submitting unwarranted claims for businesses that weren't actually harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," writes Reuters columnist Alison Frankel.

The settlement may prompt the defendant in the next mass tort case to be less likely to settle, Frankel says. "Instead, it should be 'Make 'Em Prove It.'"

Editor's Note: Economist Warns: 50% Unemployment, 100% Inflation Possible

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