Legal Reform

Covid-19 will help us identify which regulations are holding back productivity and innovation

At a time like this, those of us who believe in free markets and limited government face challenges in justifying adherence to those principles. It is hard to argue against governments doing “whatever it takes” to combat the spread of the disease and save lives and livelihoods. In fact, as my colleague Christopher Snowdon set out in the Daily Telegraph last week, there is no need to make such arguments. There no inconsistency insupporting individual freedoms in normal times and acceptingcoercive measures by the state in a public health emergency.

Similarly, the massive expansion of the state comprised in the chancellor’s rescue package is broadly welcome for giving people the assurance they need that their homes, incomes and businesses will have some protection in highly unusual circumstances. However, there are many areas where reductions in government intervention should be urgently pursued. 

The New York Times reported that a biotech lab had carried out tests and identified cases of Covid-19 in the Seattle area, well before it was known that the virus had taken hold in the United States. The lab did not have the correct accreditations for this activity from the FDA and was ordered to cease testing. The regulators in the US have since relaxed their position on this, but the question must surely be asked, what was the purpose of the restriction in the first place and how can it be right that it applied so strictly that it actively worked against important research at a vital time?

Europe is also suffering under the burden of pointless bureaucracy in healthcare: the Consumer Choice Center has highlighted that 20 countries in Europe don’t allow online ordering of prescription medicines and 18 require even non-prescription medicines like paracetamol to be sold in pharmacies only. Thankfully the UK is not in the guilty groupof countries in either case, but we still have many regulations that are holding people back from getting the support that they need.

Some steps in that direction are being taken here. The Coronavirus Bill, published yesterday, gives the government emergency powers, but it also suspends various regulations, like the ban on recently retired doctors from returning to work more than 16 hours per week. It reduces the administration tasks and paperwork that health and care workers have to carry out – surely welcome at any time and not something that should take a global crisis to enact.

The Department for Housing Communities and Local Government has announced that planning rules will be relaxed so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways. These are the kind of rules that inspired the hashtag #NeverNeeded, urging Twitter users to identify regulations that are holding back efforts to counter the virus and were surely never needed in the first place. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that people and organisations should not feel restricted from doing what they need to do to help people because of data protection laws. This is an example of a regulation (the GDPR) that has been shown to be so badly formulated and poorly understood that people are not able to make decisions with certainty as to what is permitted without an ad hoc intervention from the secretary of state.

In my recent paper for the IEA, Rules Britannia, I noted that regulations are often put in place based on quite dubious cost/benefit analysis, and then not reviewed to see if they actually achieved their objective. The way in which regulations have been relaxed as a matter of urgency by governments around the world, in some cases after they have caused serious barriers in battling the spread of the virus, has highlighted this in stark terms. This is also why calls to impose ‘emergency legislation to remove “morally unacceptable” conspiracy theories’ from social media platforms should be resisted. Misinformation at this is time is deeply damaging, but a perception that government is controlling the media to hide things from citizens could be even worse. Knee jerk responses that unnecessarily curtail freedoms run the risk of being counterproductive, and such measures have a history of being be retained long after their original purpose has been forgotten.

When this public health emergency is over, we will need all of the productive capacity and innovation that free markets can provide to ensure that the economy recovers and there are jobs for people to go back to. Wealth is the strongest predictor of health in a society and free economies grow the fastest. If dealing with Covid-19 allows us to identify regulations that are holding back productivity and innovation in healthcare and across the economy as a whole we must not waste the opportunity to re-examine whether they were in fact ever needed.

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

COVID-19 gives us the opportunity for legal reform

Public life is now at a standstill in the United States.

Millions are social distancing and staying at home to avoid further community spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

It’s important to remain positive, but times are tough. Nearly 18% of American households are facing reduced hours or layoffs at work, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Plugging into the 24-hour news cycle and its doomsday predictions doesn’t give many good vibes either.

That said, some government institutions remain on the clock. Legislatures in New Jersey, Wisconsin and dozens of other states still have open sessions to piece together legislation to alleviate their constituents; police officers and mail carriers are still on the job; and hospitals and clinics are working overtime to heal the sick.

All these institutions have had to pivot to the situation at hand and focus on how to react to the effect of the pandemic.

Police officers in cities such as Philadelphia and Lansing, Mich., have been instructed to not pursue low-level nonviolent crime to concentrate resources on the coronavirus. District and federal courts have been shuttered across the nation to do the same, leaving criminal, civil and immigration cases hanging in the balance.

With a huge pause button pressed, what will be the effect on our legal system?

While judges and lawyers have been sent home, there remain thousands of major lawsuits on the docket that could shape much of our lives once all this ends. And that’s important to remember.

Perhaps during this time, we can evaluate what we’d like our nation’s courts to prioritize once they return to normal.

That’s especially important because for every bogus lawsuit about Amazon “price gouging” toilet paper or hand sanitizer companies overstating their claims for killing germs, there are other major trials featuring outright hysteria and moral panic that deny scientific evidence and could lead to sweeping negative changes.

Currently, there are dozens of lawsuits related to the tenuous connection between nicotine pod vaping devices sold by companies such as Juul, and the outbreak of lung illnesses that took place last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out in December and clarified the injuries were caused by vitamin E acetate found in illicit cartridges, but tort lawyers have not been dissuaded. They hope juries will buy emotional arguments over the science.

The same can be said for cases considering whether Johnson & Johnson baby powder contained talc products laced with asbestos, a carcinogen.

One trial in New Jersey is reviewing whether one testimony claiming such will be considered credible scientific evidence, known as the Daubert standard. Multiple scientific studies have yet to prove a link between talc in modern baby powder and any cancer, but previous cases have awarded as much as $4.7 billion to plaintiffs and their attorneys.

Will the judge listen to existing scientific evidence or hired court “experts” who stand to gain from huge payouts?

These are the types of perverse incentives that exist in today’s legal system.

Talk of reforming both criminal justice and tort law have been top of mind for many legal researchers and policy advocates for the past few years, and for good reason.

Much like the anti-scientific tort cases outlined above, too many people have had their lives ruined by nonviolent offenses that have stunted their careers and limited their successes. This legal abuse swarms our legal system and leaves legitimately injured consumers and citizens locked out of the courts.

Not everything deserves to rise to the level of our courts and our legal instruments if there isn’t legitimate harm to our people and communities. It’s the same principle as police officers in Philadelphia and Lansing being instructed to avoid low-level arrests of nonviolent offenders.

When life picks up again, and we deconstruct how our institutions fared in a time of crisis, we will need to ensure important reforms are implemented.

We need tools and reforms to avoid abuse of our nation’s courts by overzealous attorneys and prosecutors alike. That’s a noble goal we can all agree on.

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

COVID-19 gives us the opportunity for legal reform

Public life is now at a standstill in the United States.

Millions are social distancing and staying at home to avoid further community spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

It’s important to remain positive, but times are tough. Nearly 18% of American households are facing reduced hours or layoffs at work, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Plugging into the 24-hour news cycle and its doomsday predictions doesn’t give many good vibes either.

That said, some government institutions remain on the clock. Legislatures in New Jersey, Wisconsin and dozens of other states still have open sessions to piece together legislation to alleviate their constituents; police officers and mail carriers are still on the job; and hospitals and clinics are working overtime to heal the sick.

All these institutions have had to pivot to the situation at hand and focus on how to react to the effect of the pandemic.

Police officers in cities such as Philadelphia and Lansing, Mich., have been instructed to not pursue low-level nonviolent crime to concentrate resources on the coronavirus. District and federal courts have been shuttered across the nation to do the same, leaving criminal, civil and immigration cases hanging in the balance.

With a huge pause button pressed, what will be the effect on our legal system?

While judges and lawyers have been sent home, there remain thousands of major lawsuits on the docket that could shape much of our lives once all this ends. And that’s important to remember.

Perhaps during this time, we can evaluate what we’d like our nation’s courts to prioritize once they return to normal.

That’s especially important because for every bogus lawsuit about Amazon “price gouging” toilet paper or hand sanitizer companies overstating their claims for killing germs, there are other major trials featuring outright hysteria and moral panic that deny scientific evidence and could lead to sweeping negative changes.

Currently, there are dozens of lawsuits related to the tenuous connection between nicotine pod vaping devices sold by companies such as Juul, and the outbreak of lung illnesses that took place last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out in December and clarified the injuries were caused by vitamin E acetate found in illicit cartridges, but tort lawyers have not been dissuaded. They hope juries will buy emotional arguments over the science.

The same can be said for cases considering whether Johnson & Johnson baby powder contained talc products laced with asbestos, a carcinogen.

One trial in New Jersey is reviewing whether one testimony claiming such will be considered credible scientific evidence, known as the Daubert standard. Multiple scientific studies have yet to prove a link between talc in modern baby powder and any cancer, but previous cases have awarded as much as $4.7 billion to plaintiffs and their attorneys.

Will the judge listen to existing scientific evidence or hired court “experts” who stand to gain from huge payouts?

These are the types of perverse incentives that exist in today’s legal system.

Talk of reforming both criminal justice and tort law have been top of mind for many legal researchers and policy advocates for the past few years, and for good reason.

Much like the anti-scientific tort cases outlined above, too many people have had their lives ruined by nonviolent offenses that have stunted their careers and limited their successes. This legal abuse swarms our legal system and leaves legitimately injured consumers and citizens locked out of the courts.

Not everything deserves to rise to the level of our courts and our legal instruments if there isn’t legitimate harm to our people and communities. It’s the same principle as police officers in Philadelphia and Lansing being instructed to avoid low-level arrests of nonviolent offenders.

When life picks up again, and we deconstruct how our institutions fared in a time of crisis, we will need to ensure important reforms are implemented.

We need tools and reforms to avoid abuse of our nation’s courts by overzealous attorneys and prosecutors alike. That’s a noble goal we can all agree on.

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

COVID-19 gives us the opportunity for legal reform

Public life is now at a standstill in the United States.

Millions are social distancing and staying at home to avoid further community spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. 

It’s important to remain positive, but times are tough. Nearly 18 percent of American households are facing reduced hours or layoffs at work, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Plugging into the 24-hour news cycle and its doomsday predictions doesn’t give many good vibes either.

That said, some government institutions remain on the clock. Legislatures in New Jersey, Wisconsin and dozens of other states still have open sessions to piece together legislation to alleviate their constituents; police officers and mail carriers are still on the job; and hospitals and clinics are working overtime to heal the sick. All these institutions have had to pivot to the situation at hand and focus on how to react to the effect of the pandemic.

Police officers in cities such as Philadelphia and Lansing, Mich., have been instructed to not pursue low-level nonviolent crime to concentrate resources on the coronavirus. District and federal courts have been shuttered across the nation to do the same, leaving criminal, civil and immigration cases hanging in the balance.

With a huge pause button pressed, what will be the effect on our legal system?

While judges and lawyers have been sent home, there remain thousands of major lawsuits on the docket that could shape much of our lives once all this ends. And that’s important to remember.

Perhaps during this time, we can evaluate what we’d like our nation’s courts to prioritize once they return to normal.

That’s especially important because for every bogus lawsuit about Amazon “price gouging” toilet paper or hand sanitizer companies overstating their claims for killing germs, there are other major trials featuring outright hysteria and moral panic that deny scientific evidence and could lead to sweeping negative changes.

Currently, there are dozens of lawsuits related to the tenuous connection between nicotine pod vaping devices sold by companies such as Juul, and the outbreak of lung illnesses that took place last year. The CDC came out in December and clarified the injuries were caused by vitamin E acetate found in illicit cartridges, but tort lawyers have not been dissuaded. They hope juries will buy emotional arguments over the science.

The same can be said for cases considering whether Johnson & Johnson baby powder contained talc products laced with asbestos, a carcinogen. 

One trial in New Jersey is reviewing whether one testimony claiming such will be considered credible scientific evidence, known as the Daubert standard. Multiple scientific studies have yet to prove a link between talc in modern baby powder and any cancer, but previous cases have awarded as much as $4.7 billion to plaintiffs and their attorneys. 

Will the judge listen to existing scientific evidence or hired court “experts” who stand to gain from huge payouts?

These are the types of perverse incentives that exist in today’s legal system. 

Talk of reforming both criminal justice and tort law have been top of mind for many legal researchers and policy advocates for the past few years, and for good reason. 

Much like the anti-scientific tort cases outlined above, too many people have had their lives ruined by nonviolent offenses that have stunted their careers and limited their successes. This legal abuse swarms our legal system and leaves legitimately injured consumers and citizens locked out of the courts. 

Not everything deserves to rise to the level of our courts and our legal instruments if there isn’t legitimate harm to our people and communities. It’s the same principle as police officers in Philadelphia and Lansing being instructed to avoid low-level arrests of nonviolent offenders.

When life picks up again, and we deconstruct how our institutions fared in a time of crisis, we will need to ensure important reforms are implemented.

We need tools and reforms to avoid abuse of our nation’s courts by overzealous attorneys and prosecutors alike. That’s a noble goal we can all agree on.

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

Digital identity verification could present big opportunities for Ontario — but big risks, too

A proposed overhaul of Ontario’s justice system could set the province on track toward digital identity verification, the attorney general has hinted. 

Bill 161 would include changes to the Notaries Act to “allow for remote or virtual commissioning and notarization online.” Although the change would only happen “once appropriate data and privacy safeguards are put into place by regulation,” Attorney General Doug Downey indicated in a December interview with Law Times that he was interested in hearing feedback from the legal profession and examining what other jurisdictions are doing for “paving the way for online document verification and signing” in real estate and wills. 

When Downey announced the proposed changes to the Notaries Act, he cited David Clement, North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center, who said it “makes the system more consumer friendly and more responsive.” Lena Koke, CEO and co-Founder of Axess Law, is also quoted by the office of the attorney general.

“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,” she said in the press release. “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.”

Downey’s announcement comes as companies like Oakville’s FCT — a title insurer and real estate services provider — team up with Toronto-based SecureKey Technologies for identity verification. SecureKey is best known for Verified.Me, which cross-checks traditional IDs, such as drivers’ licenses, with other secure services like banking records, without revealing any of the information to the third party.

The result, says SecureKey CEO Greg Wolfond, is more secure than simply checking a single form of ID. He says that the bar set by Verified.Me is appropriately high, given the importance and speed needed for big deals like mortgage transactions.

“I could do identity validation just by scanning a driver’s license and digital verification of the driver’s license. And I think that’s going to move us towards digital, faster, for sure. But it’s going to move us to fraud much, much faster. It’s not hard for someone to make a fake copy of a piece of plastic that is in their wallet,” he says.

“So how do we find a way to keep our consumer safer, where they can go places to share who they are and be trusted, but also make it harder for the bad guy to impersonate our customers? . . . . The existing system, I would say, is broken.” 

Wolfond notes that real estate scammers, in particular, are known to try and dupe lawyers, making it vital that the province use strong identity verification if the process moves online.  About 27.8 per cent of LawPro claims in 2018 were real-estate related, second only to litigation claims in volume.

“The problem with the old way of doing things is, number one, it puts a lot of burden on society. It takes a lot of time. It’s expensive, and it’s slow. And at the same time, susceptible to fraud,” he says. “And law firms today are already dealing with that . .  . . that’s costing lawyers and law firms and trusts, and it’s costing them real dollars.” 

Wolfond says Notarius is another type of service that’s been adopted by some legal groups, including the Law Society of Alberta and Chambre des huissiers de justice du Québec. The company claims to “ensure the legal reliability of an electronic document and confirm the identity and professional status of the signatory at the time of signing.” 

Either way, says Wolfond, multi-factor authentication of some sort is key.

“This is a really good idea, and we should do it,” he says of online verification. “My concern is, we have to do it right.”

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

Why are juries awarding millions of dollars based on shoddy baby powder science?

There’s something amiss in our nation’s courts.

Just last week, a New Jersey jury awarded $750 million to four people who claimed baby powder products made by Johnson & Johnson had contributed to their cancer diagnoses.

In the end, that amount will actually be reduced to $186 million, a feature of New Jersey law that caps award amounts to five times the damages declared by previous rulings.

What’s amiss in this ruling is just how much the jury verdicts stray from actual scientific opinion.

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, and the same conclusion was reached by a wide-ranging 2014 study published in the Journal of National Cancer Research Institute.

Last month, the largest-ever study on baby powder and talc was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It followed 250,000 women who used the product and found “there was not a statistically significant association” between using baby powder and any link to ovarian or other cancers.

Why, then, would the juries have sided against the science?

In the last verdict in a similar case, a St. Louis jury sided with Johnson & Johnson, finding no proof in the cases furthered by plaintiffs.

Others, though, have delivered record awards. But why?

It’s a combination of ambitious tort lawyers and misleading journalism.

Tort Lawyers and the Long Legal Pursuit

In the trial mentioned above, and in other cases I profiled in my article in the Miami Herald, attorneys specializing in injury cases have elevated what would otherwise be an open-shut case based on science to become a cause célèbre based on penalizing a large company with a familiar brand.

Indeed, the lawyers who argued this case against Johnson & Johnson made the company’s global revenue and its CEO’s compensation the baseline for compensation. It was the first trial in which J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky testified before a court.

In his final words to the jury, Panatier made it clear that the focus of their verdict should be on Johnson & Johnson’s conduct. “So when you think about the punitive damages, what number punishes and deters them, you’ve got to think in Johnson & Johnson terms,” he said, noting that Johnson & Johnson was a “$60 billion company.” “And you can make them pay attention. And that is an immense responsibility and it is an immense, immense task that you’ll have to try amongst the 10 of you to determine what that number should be.”

New Jersey Law Journal

What was missing from their core argument was any definitive proof that the plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos from the talc in the baby powder – or that this is how they contracted mesothelioma, a specific lung cancer.

An analysis provided by FDA and mineral experts last week could only conclude that the mineral products in question are likely too small to be adequately tested, and thus new testing would be required.

But again, that conclusion does not negate the various and recent studies that have found no connection between the baby powder and cancer.

Despite that, it hasn’t stopped leagues of injury lawyers from lining up to take their shot at winning a multi-million dollar verdict. More than 16,000 class-action plaintiffs have been assembled to sue the company in other jurisdictions.

The interest of injury lawyers, who receive sometimes up to 40% or more of the winnings, is quite clear.

Media Malpractice?

When it comes to reporting on the facts of these trials, the science is often downplayed in favor of convincing legal arguments and sensationalist headlines.

For news outlets such as Reuters and the New York Times, the decades of scientific studies are often overlooked – or at the very worst, neglected.

An oft-cited example is on the company’s cautious recall of thousands of baby powder products in October. But further tests concluded none of the batches of the company’s baby powder contained asbestos, a fact admitted by Reuters.

Most internal J&J asbestos test reports Reuters reviewed do not find asbestos. However, while J&J’s testing methods improved over time, they have always had limitations that allow trace contaminants to go undetected – and only a tiny fraction of the company’s talc is tested.

Reuters

As such, it’s difficult to prove what so many lawsuits and investigative allege. Not enough for scientific analysis, but maybe enough for a courtroom and a few headlines. Herein lies the issue.

In the reports of the baby powder cases, these products and cancer are too casually linked. At least according to the studies we have provided to us.

For real understanding about what’s in the products we use and consume, it’s best to adhere to the studies and academic literature. Of course, no one wants to use anything that could prove harmful to them, and consumers should always be wary.

But, in that case, shouldn’t we look to science for those answers rather than 12 men and women sitting in a jury box? Shouldn’t that be the standard we employ for all of the important health issues of our time?

That, along with many other reasons, is why we need true legal reform in this country. We cannot afford to allow real science to be voted away in jury boxes and courtrooms.

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.  

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