Until that story [on the silicone breast implant episode], I’d always taken the liberal view of plaintiffs’ lawyers as avenging angels, righting wrongs and helping wrest compensation for people who had been harmed by greedy corporations. …
[Since then] 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. Mass torts built on fraud (silicosis). Complex litigation settled for billions even when the government implies that consumers are responsible (Toyota sudden acceleration). I’ve also seen cases where some victims hit the jackpot with a giant jury verdict and other victims come up empty. Or where a corporation really has done harm but pays off the lawyers instead of the victims. Over the years, I’ve thought: There’s got to be a better way.
New reports of a study linking an exceedingly rare cancer (anaplastic large cell lymphoma, 3 in 100 million women) to breast implants shouldn’t be seen as somehow vindicating the long-discredited litigation-driven scare campaign against the implants. [David Gorski; Robert Goldberg, DrugWonks; David Oliver]
As longtime readers of this site know well, the late mass tort king John O’Quinn nicked the accounts of breast implant plaintiffs with a fortune in unauthorized overcharges. Austin attorney Terry Scarborough, who spent ten years helping get some of the money back, “says he could have built a practice based on people itching to sue O’Quinn, whose generosity toward charitable and Democratic causes was shadowed by a reputation for stiffing fellow attorneys — a mortal sin in the practice of law.” [Austin American-Statesman, Texas Lawyer]
- Understatement alert: per the official Congressional Research Service on Capitol Hill, “For the moment…one thing seems certain: implementation of the CPSIA is not going well.” [report in PDF format courtesy ShopFloor]
- In Wisconsin, the Madison Children’s Museum has for the past 21 years based its annual fundraiser (July 18, this year) on a big discount sale of American Girl dolls and accessories. Worse luck for them.
- “Anti-recycling”, maybe? Is there a word for what happens when you yank perfectly safe, useful products off shelves by the ton and send them instead to landfills?
- Blast from the past dept.: if you think Public Citizen has made a mess of the risk and science issues in its advocacy on behalf of CPSIA, you should check out the world-class mess it made when it enlisted in the trial lawyer campaign against silicone breast implants, to name but such one campaign of many.
- Powersports dealers wary of whether new stay of enforcement really protects them [DealerNews, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal]
- The first senior, influential Senate Democrat to acknowledge that CPSIA needs fixing? Montana’s Max Baucus is willing at least to sign on to a legalize-minibikes bill.
- In the comments section on NPR’s phthalates story earlier this month, one of the most-recommended comments was that by Steven Tesney of Houston, who wrote, “As a result of CPSIA and the surrounding political grandstanding, my small home-based company will be going out of business. I design clothing for ‘Alternative’ families with infants, toddlers & kids. My products are organic and use natural dyes but because of new testing requirements that are completely cost prohibitive, I will be forced – along with hundreds of thousands of crafters, artisans and other small business owners – to close my doors. The only companies that will be able to afford the testing will be large corporations (many from China). Mass produced goods win while homemade, handcrafted goods lose. Say goodbye to the charming hand carved wooden toys & crocheted baby caps that you take to baby showers. Say hello to a plethora of licensed products staring back at your children.”
- “CPSIA and the black market” [Wacky Hermit]
Public domain image courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org: Walter Crane, illustrator, The Baby’s Aesop (1887)
Lester Brickman has a new must-read paper on an under-reported problem:
Lawyers obtain the “mass” for some mass tort litigations by conducting screenings to sign-up potential litigants en masse. These “litigation screenings” have no intended medical benefit. Screenings are mostly held in motels, shopping center parking lots, local union offices and lawyers’ offices. There, an occupational history is taken by persons with no medical training, a doctor may do a cursory physical exam, and medical technicians administer tests, including X-rays, pulmonary function tests, echocardiograms and blood tests. The sole purpose of screenings is to generate “medical” evidence of the existence of an injury to be attributed to exposure to or ingestion of defendants’ products. Usually a handful of doctors (“litigation doctors”) provide the vast majority of the thousands and tens of thousands of medical reports prepared for that litigation.
By my count, approximately 1,500,000 potential litigants have been screened in the asbestos, silica, fen-phen (diet drugs), silicone breast implant, and welding fume litigations. Litigation doctors found that approximately 1,000,000 of those screened had the requisite condition that could qualify for compensation, such as asbestosis, silicosis, moderate mitral or mild aortic value regurgitation or a neurological disorder. I further estimate that lawyers have spent at least $500 million and as much as $1 billion to conduct these litigation screenings, paying litigation doctors and screening companies well in excess of $250 million, and obtaining contingency fees well in excess of $13 billion.
On the basis of the evidence I review in this article, I conclude that approximately 900,000 of the 1,000,000 claims generated were based on “diagnoses” of the type that U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack, in the silica MDL, found were “manufactured for money.”
Despite the considerable evidence I review that most of the “medical” evidence produced by litigation screenings is at least specious, I find that there is no effective mechanism in the civil justice system for reliably detecting or deterring this claim generation process. Indeed, I demonstrate how the civil justice system erects significant impediments to even exposing the specious claim generation methods used in litigation screenings. Furthermore, I present evidence that bankruptcy courts adjudicating asbestos related bankruptcies have effectively legitimized the use of these litigation screenings. I also present evidence that the criminal justice system has conferred immunity on the litigation doctors and the lawyers that hire them, granting them a special dispensation to advance specious claims.
Finally, I discuss various strategies that need to be adopted to counter this assault on the integrity of the civil justice system.
Bizarro-Overlawyered hasn’t quite gotten the hang of how to put forward their propaganda campaign to deprive consumers of the choice of arbitrating disputes.
A New Orleans woman, Patricia Dicorte, says she got ripped off by her contractor in May 2007, so she took him to an arbitrator, and in July 2007—a fraction of the time it would take in a civil suit of that magnitude—she had an arbitration ruling in her favor for $219 thousand. Unfortunately for her, she then took it to the cesspool of Orleans Parish Courts for enforcement, and Democratic Judge Yada Magee—a colleague of the cousin of the contractor—violated the Federal Arbitration Act and threw out the arbitrator’s ruling. (Dennis Woltering, “Despite arbitrator’s ruling woman still fighting contractor”, WWL-TV, Feb. 25). This will eventually be reinstated on appeal at some unnecessary expense, but somehow Kia Franklin is advertising this fiasco as an example of problems with arbitration (!), rather than as a problem with the judicial hellhole of New Orleans. (If the judge isn’t willing to give a fair ruling for the consumer in something as straightforward and administrative as arbitration judgment enforcement, what makes Franklin think that the consumer would have had a better chance with that judge in a civil trial?)
Judge Magee is best known for railroading negligence findings for 1800 plaintiffs against Dow Chemical in bogus silicone breast implant litigation in 1997, a decision thrown out by a Louisiana appellate court in 2002. Spitzfaden v. Dow Corning Corp., 833 So.2d 512 (La. App. 2002).
As always, worth reading: “In the end, the truth — and personal freedom — prevailed [when the FDA re-approved the devices after 15 years]. But only after a heck of a fight, and only after sustaining some serious wounds.” (“Recovering, finally, from the breast implant panic”, syndicated/Chicago Tribune, Nov. 3). More: Nov. 20, etc.
“The government on Friday rescinded a 14-year ban on silicone gel implants for cosmetic breast enhancement, a decision praised by some for providing women with a better product but criticized by others who still question their safety. … After rigorous review, the [Food and Drug Administration] can offer a ‘reasonable assurance’ that silicone implants are ‘safe and effective,’ said Donna-Bea Tillman, director of the FDA Office of Device Evaluation.” (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Daniel Costello, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 18). Silicone breast implants, available to consumers in most other countries, were driven from the market after a campaign of speculation and misinformation by trial lawyers and allied “consumer” groups, particularly Dr. Sidney Wolfe’s Public Citizen Health Research Group. The campaign resulted in billions in legal settlements over nonexistent autoimmune effects from the devices, none of which had to be repaid even after more careful scientific studies dispelled the early alarms. Chapter 4 of my book The Rule of Lawyers, which tells the story of the silicone litigation episode in detail, isn’t online. The New York Sun has an editorial drawing some of the appropriate conclusions (“Now They Tell Us”, Nov. 20)(& welcome Above the Law readers). More: Second Hand Conjecture channels Virginia Postrel (via InstaPundit).
Australia: “Leading plaintiff lawyer Peter Gordon from the firm Slater & Gordon was paid a $1 million bonus he was not entitled to from the profits of a massive class action over faulty breast implants. A disgruntled former partner has alleged the $1 million bonus was paid directly to Mr Gordon despite having been earmarked by the firm as ‘post-settlement expenses’.” The allegations filed in court by the former partner, Paul Mulvany, offer “a rare insight into the inner workings of Australia’s best known no-win, no-fee law firm”. However, the insight-window appears to have snapped shut with great rapidity: “one day after Slater & Gordon was informed The Australian had obtained the court documents, the matter was settled with neither side commenting on the sudden resolution of their dispute.” (Katherine Towers and Dan Box, The Australian, Sept. 15). P.S. Not all will agree with the opinion of the contestants in the brawl that the silicone implants at issue were “faulty”.
Houston plaintiff’s lawyer John O’Quinn, famed for his huge fee hauls in asbestos, tobacco and silicone breast implant cases, was the winning bidder at $500,000 at a Labor Day auction of a Lamborghini race car signed by celebrities. O’Quinn “also spent $335,000 on a Batmobile used in the film ‘Batman Forever.’ His other purchases at the auction included $250,000 for a 1938 Cadillac Town Car used by Pope Pius XII and $290,000 for a 1941 Packard limousine used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” (AP/Houston Chronicle, Sept. 5; Houstonist, Sept. 5)(title allusion).