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Legal Reform

Florida should crack down on frivolous lawsuits, costly verdicts

Lawsuits: A St. Louis jury awarded a record $4.7 billion verdict in a lawsuit in which plaintiffs said Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder caused cancer.

In a time of bitter division in our country, it’s refreshing to see partisan flags fall and elected leaders rally to improve our institutions and make our communities better off and more secure.

In Florida and dozens of other states, that mantra of late has been “criminal-justice reform.”

Florida’s 2019 reforms sought to rehabilitate rather than punish, giving new opportunities to nonviolent offenders who’ve done their time and are ready to transition back into society. That includes training programs and job opportunities, but also more-compassionate treatment of the accused while still providing swift justice to victims.

State lawmakers and activists should be applauded for these steps. But it doesn’t end there.

If we truly want to have a more just and balanced legal system, we’ll also need to address the broken tort system that elevates bad science, rewards unscrupulous lawyers and raises prices for all consumers.

Florida is famous for its billboard advertisements from injury lawyers: “Have you been injured?” Who can forget the injury firm Morgan & Morgan’s ads bearing the face of former governor and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on major interstates?

For years, Florida has ranked highly as having one of the worst legal climates in the country. It even topped the list of “judicial hellholes” in 2017.

Key to these rankings has been Florida’s embrace of awarding exorbitant damages, anti-scientific jury verdicts and sometimes outright bogus lawsuits.

In November, a $5 million class-action lawsuit was filed in Miami by a vegan man upset with Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper,” claiming the company did not disclose that the meat-free patties were “contaminated” by being cooked in close proximity to beef patties.

Cases like these are more common than you may believe. And dozens of websites and newsletters give people opportunities to pick and choose the best class-action lawsuits to “get cash now” — regardless of whether or not they were a victim.

The latest headline-grabber is the billion-dollar nationwide attempt to pin various cancer diagnoses on the makers of baby powder Johnson & Johnson. Plaintiffs and their attorneys claim the company has knowingly sold asbestos-tainted talc in its baby powder for years, even though scientific studies have yet to prove a definite link between modern-day talc and any cancers. The same has been echoed by the American Cancer Society.

That didn’t stop a St. Louis jury from awarding a record $4.7 billion verdict last year, one of the largest in American history. That has only fueled the epidemic of trial lawyers extorting companies and doctors’ offices to get the results they want.

Naturally, the tort courts are an important part of our justice system. And they should be used for those victims who have suffered real harm. But many of these claims do not stand up to the science and end up keeping legitimate victims from ever getting their day in court.

Frivolous lawsuits clog up the system, mislead consumers, and ultimately raise the costs for basically everyone. Now society is plagued with threats of lawsuits and major class actions. That’s not a good status quo, and it must change.

Here are some simple fixes. Let’s define who can actually be a member of a class-action lawsuit. Online sign-ups and promises of quick cash in newsletters aren’t standing for plaintiffs. Capping the amount on exorbitant lawsuits would help avoid costly litigation that amounts to higher prices for consumers. Stricter courtroom rules on what is considered scientific expertise would also help.

Overall, we must use the positive spirit channeled by the criminal-justice reform movement to ask the same of our tort law system. Only then will we get real justice.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at 
consumerchoicecenter.org

After another big lawsuit bites the dust, can we admit it’s time for legal reform?

It seems California isn’t so lawsuit crazy after all. Last Monday, Los Angeles jurors announced their ruling in just one of the dozens of lawsuits currently making their way through the courts on baby powder made by Johnson & Johnson. The jury found the company was not at fault for a woman’s mesothelioma diagnosis.

The trial brought forth experts from all stripes who presented their evidence and conclusions on whether the talc used in the baby powder produced by the Philadelphia-based company contained asbestos.

This is one instance in which a jury has sided with the scientific evidence, but that’s not often the case.

We shouldn’t forget that it was a California jury that initially awarded $2 billion to plaintiffs in a case considering whether the glyphosate found in Round-Up made by Monsanto, now a subsidiary of Bayer, caused cancer.

The judge, though, eventually reduced the verdict to $78 million to avoid the “arbitrary award” first conjured up by the tort lawyers. And that’s considering no major national body has deemed glyphosate to be carcinogenic.

In 2016, after the first $72 million verdict against J&J for its baby powder, scientists interviewed post-trial cast doubts on the claim made by the case, specifically because there has yet to be a definite link between modern-day talc and any cancers. The same has been echoed by the American Cancer Society.

But that won’t stop the trial lawyers who now recognize their golden goose. A record $4.7 billion verdict was delivered in Missouri in July 2018 against the pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant, and that’s proved fodder for the legal firms now lining up to cash in. And that’s because a jury has determined these products to be unsafe, rather than regulators and scientific experts. In the eyes of our legal system, juries provide more proof than actual evidence.

And considering the legal fees billed by national law firms, it’s not hard to see why these cases are so lucrative for them.

If you’ve been glued into television at all the last few years, you’ll know that between political ads, dozens of law firms around the country are aggressively soliciting plaintiffs for class-action lawsuits. “Call today, you could be compensated!” “You deserve justice now!”

Websites such as TopClassActions.com purport to “connect consumers to settlements, lawsuits, and attorneys”, and maintain an active log of thousands of open class-action lawsuits that any consumer can click and join. Their daily newsletter highlights potential awards and deadlines and gives top billing to the biggest cases with a low threshold to become a plaintiff.

While such services may be necessary for legitimate harms and victims, we must admit it’s all gotten a bit out of hand.

The tort system was devised as a way to offer justice to those who have been harmed.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at 
consumerchoicecenter.org

Tort lawyer tries to extort $200 million, gets burned

We’ve written before that there is a significant problem with bogus lawsuits and unscrupulous tort lawyers in our country. That’s why we launched time4legalreform.org, to track many of these cases.

Often, large tort legal firms will put advertising to rack up plaintiffs for class-action lawsuits against companies who’ve been accused of some wrongdoing, either rightly or wrongly.

Sometimes, there is collusion between plaintiffs’ attorneys and scientific authorities who conjure up “expert” testimony to use in court. We covered that in our video on IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

This week, a startling arrest has once again proven that we need legal reform in this country.

In an action filed on Monday, a Virginia-based attorney is accused of trying to extort a global chemical company out of $200 million, claiming he’ll tarnish their reputation, cause a “40% stock loss” and start a monumental “public relations nightmare”.

It is alleged that attorney Timothy Litzenburg “approached a global company in October and threatened to make public statements claiming that it had significant civil liability for manufacturing a supposedly dangerous chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller,” according to Law360.

He was arrested by authorities for attempted extortion and interstate threats, presumably against Bayer (Monsanto’s parent company), who he is pursuing in many court actions. His firm represented the plaintiff who won a $289 million verdict against Monsanto in August 2018, a verdict that was later reduced to $78 million.

This case is similar to that of Michael Avenatti, the one-time Trump foe who was arrested and charged for attempting to extort Nike out of over $20 million. He has since been charged with fraud as well, accused of embezzling even more millions from his clients.

Glyphosate, the chemical compound in Roundup, has repeatedly been proven in hundreds of studies to not be carcinogenic, including the FDA. But that hasn’t stopped lawyers from weaponizing to the court system to overturn science.

Litzenburg is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but if the allegations are true, it’s just another case that proves our legal system is being used and abused. That’s why we need #legalreform now.

We can’t afford to continue to allow bogus lawsuits and unscrupulous lawyers to completely change public policy and public opinions on science.

Confronting Slanted Journalism on Talc Litigation

When does investigative reporting cross the line into subjective advocacy? Can the coverage of high-stakes civil litigation improperly tip the scales of the legal process toward one of the parties involved? What duty of transparency do reporters owe the public when active litigants are selectively providing much of the source material and narrative framing for stories about ongoing cases?

These are just some of the troubling questions that are raised by the reporting in outlets like Reuters and the New York Times on lawsuits involving talc products made by companies like Johnson & Johnson.

In cases with such large potential impact – on public health, investors, legal precedent, and reputation – the bar for standards like objectivity, accuracy, balance, and sourcing ought to be at its very highest. But instead of sober analysis, reporting on these cases often blows through those guidelines in headlong pursuit of garish and slanted pieces that might as well have been written by the publicists for plaintiff’s attorneys. Tough questions are one thing but willfully distorted reporting is something else, especially when it misleads the public about key elements and serves a hidden agenda that is being concealed from readers.

Let’s start with the simple and easily verified fact that the talc products have been tested for impurities repeatedly and exhaustively over and over again for decades by a laundry list of independent entities. Yet even that overarching truth gets mangled. Outlets like Reuters routinely wave it away with the rhetorical formulation that “Johnson & Johnson points to studies it says…” See the sleight of hand? Reuters misleads its readers to believe these reviews aren’t objectively and independently true. Instead, Reuters insinuates these are just interpretations made by the company.

That underhanded trick also enables reporters to avoid including any of the authoritative sources that affirmed the safety. Why rely on empirical evidence or consensus findings when there’s an outlier study with hypothetical conclusions that can be cited? That’s facile and it enables reporters to elide the central question that’s at issue: do the plaintiff’s claims have a hard scientific basis?

This kind of macro omission is often used in concert with narrower, specific omissions to create the appearance of controversy or ambiguity where there is none. Take one example: In a long article, Reuters notes that in the 1970s, a researcher claimed to find “a relatively small” amount of asbestos in J&J talc. But Reuters does not tell you he re-tested and found none. Independent microscopists also tested the same lot that the researcher used and found that he was mistaken in his findings and that the samples tested did not, in fact, contain asbestos.

This tilted framing is a variation on the idea of “false equivalence” that media ethicists have long lamented in public affairs reporting. The Flat Earth Society doesn’t deserve the primary or even equal voice in news reporting, that argument holds, because the contrary evidence is so overwhelming and obvious. Yet the outlandish claim that J&J has knowingly poisoned women and children for decades, targeting minorities especially, has not only been touted by Reuters and NYT but trumpeted by those outlets on social media and through their publicity departments.

Pretending that News is Breaking

Let’s look closer at how the Plaintiff’s attorney Mark Lanier has co-opted reporters at Reuters and the New York Times. In one recent example, Reuters reporter Lisa Girion took spoon-fed material from plaintiff’s attorneys claiming that Johnson & Johnson “knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its baby powder” and then touted it as “reported here for the first time.” But that’s false in two key ways. First, those memos actually reflect a diligent concern preventing the talc from being contaminated. Second, those memos aren’t newly discovered at all – they have been open exhibits in the public record at trials that took place months and sometimes years ago. The only revelation is that the plaintiff’s attorneys were able to co-opt Reuters into dressing them up when other news outlets had rightly discounted them.  

That deceptive technique of rehashing court exhibits as if they are breaking news was on display in yet another Reuters report that outlandishly declared Johnson & Johnson had “targeted” minorities as part of a malevolent scheme. But that allegation was actually rejected by the courts because of course advertising to specific demographic groups is an entirely routine and perfectly appropriate part of marketing. In fact, the ad industry has an entire group dedicated to this socially vital practice, called the Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing. Even though it was deemed unfit for a court of law and legally irrelevant, the publicists for those trial lawyers simply rehashed the material for Reuters which happily parroted their argument.

The New York Times docuseries The Weekly also took the bait. Over the 27-minute episode, plaintiffs’ attorneys and experts are given more than 9 minutes of screen time, including Lanier dramatically staging a scene for reporters interviewing him in his Houston office. File boxes filled with documents from Johnson & Johnson are stacked with dramatic thuds in front of reporters. The ruse works. The New York Times reports Lanier’s theory as verifiably true. Johnson & Johnson’s representative is given just under 3.5 minutes to defend the product and every claim is questioned by reporters along the way. None of the hundreds of independent experts who have confirmed talc’s safety are interviewed. 

Publicity as a Legal Cudgel

But why do the trial lawyers put such an emphasis on influencing the media and driving a narrative? Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera (no softie on big business) explained part of the strategy in a recent column. “For decades, ever since the trial lawyers realized that if they acted in concert, they had a high likelihood of landing a big payday, even if the facts were not on their side. This has become the business model for the plaintiff’s bar.” Nocera added, “Once the lawyers have a product in their sights, the next step — and this is key – is to find not just a handful of people who believed they’ve suffered harm as a result of using the product. They also need tens of thousands of ‘victims.’ How do they find them? By advertising.”

That’s why the free publicity that’s being provided by Reuters and the New York Times is so essential. It allows them to solicit additional members of a class action and at the same time, it helps validate the claims of the complaint in the eyes of prospective jurors.

The best perk of all, however, is how the cheerleading from the national press puts downward pressure on a company’s stock price. That’s leverage the trial lawyers then use to strong-arm a financial settlement. The day after the first Reuters story appeared, the plaintiff’s attorney Mark Lanier appeared on CNBC to brag about how his help to the reporters had caused a $40 billion drop in the company market cap. “I think this litigation can be resolved for much less than $40 billion,” Lanier crowed. “So [the article] serves my purposes as a litigant to say, ‘yes, get their attention, keep driving the stock down.”

Tune out the Skeptics

It doesn’t take a seasoned media critic to spot the holes in the reporting or the half-baked legal theory that supports it. Each piece from Reuters and the New York Times on the talc litigation has been thoroughly eviscerated by numerous readers that have expertise in fields varying from epidemiology, oncology, and medical research.

The media is complicit in the scheme. Reporters are no longer objective as they are angling for financial benefits the same as the trial attorney. Unless dramatic steps in transparency are taken by Reuters and The New York Times, their coverage and claims should be dismissed as fast by the public as they are by the court.  

Building a Stronger Justice System to Grow Safer Communities

Helping people resolve their legal issues faster and more affordably

TORONTO — The Ontario government is taking action to make it easier, faster and more affordable for people to access the justice system.

Today, Attorney General Doug Downey introduced the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act to simplify a complex and outdated justice system. If passed, the bill would modernize and improve how legal aid services are delivered, class actions are handled, court processes are administered and make life easier for Ontarians by paving the way to allow identities and legal documents to be verified online.

“We have heard loud and clear from people across Ontario that the justice system has grown too complex and outdated, and needs to better support the growth of safer communities while standing up for victims of crime and law-abiding citizens,” said Attorney General Downey. “Our government is proposing smart and sensible reforms that will allow people to spend less time and money resolving their legal matters while strengthening access to the legal supports Ontarians need.”

Included in this proposed legislation are amendments that would give Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) the tools it needs to help clients resolve their legal issues faster and with fewer road blocks. The proposed changes build on the strengths of community legal clinics, duty counsel and the use of private bar certificates to fix or replace outdated processes. They also provide LAO the authority to make rules about operational matters. As a result of these changes, LAO could seamlessly and sustainably provide high quality services to clients where and when they need them.

“The new Legal Aid Services Act is an important step towards improving access to justice in Ontario. It offers opportunities for innovation, and allows us to address gaps in the justice system. This legislation, if passed, would allow Legal Aid Ontario and its valued service providers—including staff, clinics and the private bar—to better serve clients,” said David Field, CEO, LAO.

The Attorney General also confirmed that, following extensive consultations, LAO’s 2020-2021 funding will be maintained at its current levels. 

Other proposed amendments would move Ontario towards a stronger and smarter justice system by:

  • paving the way to allow for the online verification of identity and legal documents for transactions such as real estate agreements, gifting a used vehicle to a family member or starting a claim in court
  • enhancing Ontario’s civil forfeiture laws to ensure crime does not pay and proceeds of crime are used to support victims of illegal activity
  • prioritizing the interests of Ontarians in class action lawsuits so they receive faster, more transparent and more meaningful compensation and access to justice
  • making it easier for cyberbullying victims to sue offenders convicted of the offence of non-consensual distribution of an intimate image
  • allowing for a simplified procedure for small estates, making it less costly to administer estates of a modest value
  • increasing the maximum fine for lawyers and paralegals who engage in professional misconduct and stopping the practice of government footing the bill for legal fees incurred by judges and justices of the peace who are dismissed due to misconduct
  • amending the death registration process to ease the burden for families when faced with registering the death of a loved one in the absence of their remains.

“The amendments announced by the government today respond to an evolving legal landscape,” said Law Society Treasurer Malcolm Mercer. “The Law Society is specifically pleased with the amendments to the Law Society Act, all of which will help provide greater public protection. We thank the government for moving ahead on these changes which assist in regulation of the legal professions in the public interest.”

In total, the proposed legislation includes changes to more than 20 acts that would simplify complex and outdated processes so justice works better for Ontarians.

Quotes

“We are very pleased Attorney General Downey continues to recognize the foundational role community legal clinics play in creating a strong Ontario justice system that protects vulnerable members of our communities and provides them with the legal services they need.”
– Trudy McCormick, Co-Chair, Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario

“This new legislation will improve the delivery of legal aid services in Ontario while ensuring  independent community legal clinics continue to work closely with the communities they serve in identifying their needs and in providing poverty law services to their clients.”
– Gary Newhouse, Co-Chair, Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario

“The Ontario Paralegal Association applauds the Ontario government for putting forward proposed changes to the Notaries Act and the Commissioners for taking Affidavits Act that would make it easier for paralegals in their daily practice to fully serve their clients. These changes will make accessing notary services easier and improve access to justice for Ontarians. We are pleased that Attorney General Downey has listened to our concerns and is moving forward on this change.”
– George Brown, President, The Ontario Paralegal Association

“Allowing for virtual commissioning and notarizing is a positive step for those using legal services. Permitting virtual commissioning and notarizing ultimately makes the system more consumer friendly and more responsive. From a consumer standpoint, this is a welcomed change.”
– David Clement, North American Affairs Manager, Consumer Choice Center

“This bill is a breakthrough needed to modernize Ontario’s legal system. Permitting online verification of an individual’s identity and legal documents will level the legal services playing field for all Ontarians. No matter where a person lives, when they work, or what mobility or ability challenges they may face, they will soon be able to access the same high quality legal services that are easily accessible in urban centres across Ontario.”
– Lena Koke, CEO and Co-Founder, Axess Law

“Ontario’s police leaders continue to work with the government and our partners to modernize our justice system and make it more efficient. We support the proposed legislative changes to the Civil Remedies Act, 2001 because it will simplify the processes around personal property forfeitures while also relieving the burdens on our police personnel and the court system.”
– Chief Paul Pedersen, President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

“Consumers Council of Canada agrees with the reforms that have emerged from the Law Commission of Ontario consultation process and the Attorney General’s own review. This legislation is critical to access justice for Ontario residents, especially so for consumers. The Council supports the reforms designed to make class representatives and their counsel more transparent and accountable for their actions on behalf of class members.”
– Don Mercer, President, Consumers Council of Canada

Quick Facts

  • Ontario’s legal aid legislation has not been substantially updated since 1998.
  • Ontario’s civil forfeiture laws allow the government to take the profits of illegal activity (e.g., a telemarketing scam, trafficking of drugs or guns, sexual exploitation or forced labour) and give it back to the victims of that crime or fund projects to support victims and target criminals. The changes would simplify the process to take the profits of illegal activity from criminals.
  • Ontario’s class action legislation has not been substantially updated in more than 25 years.

John Oliver is on the money on lawsuit abuse and the need for legal reform

The United States of America is lawsuit crazy.

It’s a fact that any visitor to our county readily notices. Lawyers put up large billboards in major cities wanting to “fight your case” for simple fender-benders. Television programs promise big money in payouts for class-action lawsuits against bad corporate actors.

Underlying all of this is a legal system that rewards such frivolous lawsuits and grants them oxygen when they should be instead be laughed out of the room.

That was the subject of a recent John Oliver segment, who has himself been the target of a bogus lawsuit. The lawsuit brought against Oliver and his program concerned a coal company CEO upset with Oliver’s characterization of his company.

The lawsuit is typical of those that currently clog our nation’s country’s courts; there is no real injury to speak of, and the classification of the victims is problematic.

This speaks again to the very important goal of overhauling the legal system in this country. That means allowing legal reform so that our justice system doesn’t raise prices for consumers, allow bogus lawsuits to go forward, or reward exorbitant amounts of money for people who weren’t actually harmed.

There are thousands of cases beyond this that will help serve this point. And we hope this can start a new dialog in our country.

Check out the segment here:

Tort reform should be part of criminal justice reform

Criminal justice reform appears to be one of the rare items that Republicans and Democrats agree on.

At the federal level, the First Step Act was a huge step forward in regards to righting historical wrongs. Anyone who has cared about criminal justice reform, on both sides of the aisle, saw the Act as a meaningful piece of legislation.

At the state level, chipping away at the war on drugs, via cannabis legalization, has begun to take hold in states. In Illinois, cannabis legalization is due by the first of next year, and that will be a net positive for residents.

But more can be done to make the justice system more fair and just. Earlier this month, a ranking of state legal systems was released by the Institute For Legal Reform. Atop the list is Delaware, which scored first place by curbing meritless class actions, having high-quality judges, and by having a stable and predictable legal climate. At the bottom of the list, at 50th, is the state of Illinois.

Illinois, weighed down by the poor scores of Madison and Cook County, failed to rank above 48th in any of the 10 categories evaluated in the report. Despite the fact that the national trend in criminal justice is moving towards fairness, Illinois is lagging behind. That’s a problem worth addressing.

How did Illinois rank so poorly? Much of the state’s poor performance comes from the fact that the state’s legal system is ripe for frivolous, and sometimes abusive, litigation. For example, recent class actions on the use of asbestos filed in Illinois have actually been on behalf of plaintiffs who don’t live in the state. Some 92% of Illinois’ asbestos plaintiffs aren’t actually from Illinois. If that has you scratching your head, you aren’t the only one.

Illinois has set itself up as the bogus lawsuit capital of the United States, mostly on the back of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling on biometric scanners. In that case, plaintiffs rightfully wanted to have their privacy protected. Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court ruled in that case that plaintiffs didn’t actually have to prove that they were harmed in order to sue. This precedent has cleared the way for Illinois courts to be filled with frivolous class actions, most of whom aren’t actually from the state at all.

This technical point in the legal system matters in the context of criminal justice reform because it makes a state court system that is increasingly unpredictable, and increasingly unfair. Tort law exists in the United States for the purpose of punishing harmful behavior and civil wrongs, but that is being distorted. Unfortunately, the thousands of tort law firms that exist in the United States now see Illinois as the perfect jurisdiction to bring forth their often outrageous and frivolous class actions. The situation has become so dire that bogus lawsuits cost Chicago area taxpayers upwards of $3.8 billion in 2018.

There is a tort crisis in the United States, which is soaking taxpayers, driving up costs for consumers, and ultimately distorting the purpose of tort law altogether. Unfortunately, Illinois has allowed itself to become ground zero for this growing problem, which is a huge disservice to all residents.

As part of Illinois’ push for criminal justice reform, legislators should seriously look at how the state court system is being abused, and ensure change is made to make Illinois’ courts fairer, and ultimately, more just.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Lawyers are already using misinformation on vaping to start class action lawsuits

The goal of these legal firms is to drum up as much misinformation on vaping as possible in order to file large class-action lawsuits that will end up financially benefiting them. This is outrageous and irresponsible.

Why We Need Legal Reform Now

From bogus lawsuits to unscrupulous trial lawyers, Yaël Ossowski of the Consumer Choice Center breaks down why we need more attention on reforming our legal system to better serve individuals and consumers who have been wronged.

Interviewed by radio host Joe Catenacci on Big Talker 106.7 FM in Wilmington, N.C.

https://consumerchoicecenter.org

Opinion: Have we reached peak lawsuit?

Another day, another bogus lawsuit.

That seems to be the trend in today’s frantic fever to adjudicate every aspect of our lives. It’s gone much beyond the famous $3 million McDonald’s “hot coffee” lawsuit of the 1990s.

We see this with the landmark $572 million opioid lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma, boiling down all the complexities of a multi-faceted crisis to the workings of one big bad company in a single court case.

This, even though the company’s pharmaceutical subsidiary only sold two opioid drugs for a period of a decade and it represented just 1 percent of the entire U.S. opioid market. The lawyers hired by the attorney general of Oklahoma will net a handsome $90 million as a result of this suit. The rest of the money will be allocated to the state of Oklahoma for education, addiction centers and the general budget, without much oversight. Something is rotten in the state of Oklahoma.

Though the Food & Drug Administration shares in the blame for the opioid crisis, owing to its 1995 endorsement of opioids for “chronic pain” when the science only supported short-term use, the issue is simply too complex to relegate to a single trial.

In California, a recent jury trial on glyphosate, the herbicide in Round-up, gives us a similar example.

Dozens of international environmental agencies, hundreds of studies and millions more farmers have attested that glyphosate is both safe and not carcinogenic, including our own Environmental Protection Agency.

But in July, the jury returned a verdict against Bayer subsidiary Monsanto, ordering the company to pay $86.7 million to a couple who claimed the herbicide contributed to their case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s drastically reduced from the $2 billion the trial attorneys sought, but will still net them a good payday and spawn hundreds of similar lawsuits.

Again, this is relegating science to the courts of justice. And consumers will be the ones to pay. No doubt, the power of the courts is a mighty one, and intended to provide justice to those who have been wronged.

But have we been led astray?

Known as tort law, this part of our legal system was originally designed to punish bad behavior and “civil wrongs.” Today, thousands of law firms exist solely to pursue large torts against corporations that would rather pay out moderate sums than face the burden of unpredictable trials. These costs end up raising the costs for both consumers and taxpayers, as more resources must be used in litigating the concerns and helping pay for the exorbitant levels of purported damage.

In the Chicago area, one group estimated that tort abuse brought by bogus lawsuits resulted in a cost of $3.8 billion to the city and county last year alone.

It’s no wonder tort lawyers are some of the biggest advertisers in the nation.

Across the United States, television commercials and highway billboards taken out by tort law firms implore consumers to “call now “ to “cash in” on the major settlement that is set to pay out huge winnings.

The conditions for joining the lawsuit are general if not spurious. Have you been in a bad car wreck involving a Toyota Camry? Did you use baby powder in the years between 1980 and 1995?

Many lawsuits arise because of “pricing discrepancies” (prices rounded to 99 cents rather than the dollar) as witnessed by the dozens of Amazon or Banana Republic settlements you may have seen in your inbox. These lawsuits are filed with the intention of getting big paydays for the attorneys who conjure them up, not civil justice.

It’s no wonder that firms, once they achieve a certain size, are forced to raise prices to push back against these many frivolous suits.

These lawsuits end up costing consumers dearly. And it shouldn’t be that way.

That’s why we need legal reform in our country. By capping the payments from these exorbitant lawsuits, actually defining who can be a defendant, and bringing legitimate science into the courtroom, this can be achieved.

Yes, bad actors must be punished. But we cannot continue to allow bogus lawsuits launched by dubious lawyers looking more for a payday than actual justice. We, as both consumers and citizens, deserve better.

READ MORE HERE: https://www.houmatoday.com/news/20190903/opinion-have-we-reached-peak-lawsuit

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