Here’s something we’ve never seen before in a mass tort MDL. In In re Zostavax (Zoster Vaccine Live) Products Liability Litigation, 2021 WL 3375941 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 3, 2021), two former MDL plaintiffs who had suffered summary judgment against their claims were allowed to rejoin the MDL – to assert legal malpractice claims against
Re-Examining the Ethics of Removal
In the early days of the Blog, in 2009, when Bexis and Mark Herrmann were operating in relative obscurity, we posed the question whether it was ethical to remove to federal court a case that may well be non-removable and hope that opposing counsel is “asleep at the switch”:
“Heck, I’ll remove it anyway. Opposing
Mass Torts and Mass Frauds
Last week we discussed a federal court’s holding that mere fear of injury was not an actionable tort. In the run-up to the description of the case, we reminisced about the diet drug litigation, where many plaintiffs alleged heart valve injuries that had not yet manifested any physical symptoms. Those plaintiffs claimed they feared sudden…
Guest Post – Justice for Patriots’ Fans
This guest post by Andrew C. Bernasconi, of Counsel at Reed Smith, is about a hopeful development in a False Claims Act case we’ve already blogged about once. The previous post queried, what happens when a FCA relator, blinded by the dollar signs in his/her eyes, resorts to questionable means to gin up…
A Reminder To Be Careful With Ex-Employees And Confidential Information
A lot of companies rely on retired and otherwise former employees for information in litigation – including product liability litigation. Particularly where a product (such as a drug that’s now gone generic) has a long history, they are often the best source of knowledge about what happened years ago. In dealing with ex-employees, however, defendants must keep in mind that, for purposes of the attorney/client privilege, discussions with ex-employees are subject to being treated much differently (and less protectively) than corporate communications with current employees.
The recent case, Newman v. Highland School District No. 203, 381 P.3d 1188 (Wash. 2016), although not involving prescription medical products, or even product liability, is a cautionary tale. The defendant in Newman was a governmental entity, a school district. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered a brain injury playing high school football, and that the injury occurred because the plaintiff was allegedly allowed to play in a game the day after suffering a concussion in practice.
The plaintiff in Newman didn’t sue until some three years after the injury. Id. at 1189-90. By then, most of the coaching staff had turned over, and the individuals with the best knowledge of what had happened were employed elsewhere. The school district’s litigation counsel contacted the ex-coaches and when they were deposed, claimed to represent them. Id. at 1190. Plaintiff challenged that representation as a conflict of interest and “sought discovery concerning communications between [the defendant] and the former coaches.” Id. The defendant resisted discovery with a claim of attorney/client privilege, and plaintiff opposed. The defendant lost, and appealed denial of its motion for a protective order. Id.…
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Litigation Funding Contract Invalidated as Champertous in Pennsylvania
This post does not involve a drug/device case – or even a tort case − but counsel worried about potentially abusive litigation funding should take a look at WFIC, LLC v. Labarre, ___ A.3d ___, 2016 WL 4769436 (Pa. Super. Sept. 13, 2016), in which a statewide appellate court, in a precedential decision, invalidated a litigation funding agreement as “champertous.”
WFIC involved commercial litigation. The underlying litigation is not important, except for its being extensive and expensive, and that the result was a significant verdict (low eight figures) – but not the nine-figure whopper that the plaintiffs had been hoping for. 2016 WL 4769436, at *1.
After entry of judgment, to keep the litigation going during the appeal, the plaintiff’s lawyer rejiggered his own fee arrangement so that various litigation funders, who had previously advanced funds, would be paid out the lawyer’s contingent fee. Id. The funds from the eventual satisfaction of the affirmed judgment were insufficient to satisfy obligations to the various litigation funders, the expectations of the original plaintiff (WFIC was an assignee of the original plaintiff, id. at *3 n.10), and also provide counsel with a fee. Id. at *2. As a result, various parties sued various parties. Id. at *3. The appeal in question pitted plaintiffs’ counsel against the world over whose priorities (if any) in the remaining funds were superior to his under the litigation funding agreement. Id.
The Superior Court didn’t decide the priority question. Instead the three-judge panel unanimously declared the litigation funding agreement itself “champertous,” and therefore void and unenforceable by anyone. WFIC, 2016 WL 4769436, at *5 (“we conclude that the 2008 Fee Agreement is champertous and, therefore, invalid”). In Pennsylvania, “champerty” is defined as:
[T]he unlawful maintenance of a suit in consideration of some bargain to have a part of the thing in dispute or some profit out of the litigation. . . . An agreement by a stranger to defray the expenses of a suit in which he has no interest or to give substantial support and aid thereto in consideration of a share of the recovery or the proceeds thereof is condemned by the courts as champertous[.]
Id. (emphasis added) (discussion of “maintenance” – essentially the same thing without a written agreement – omitted). “[T]he common law doctrine of champerty remains a viable defense in Pennsylvania.” Id.…
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A Lesson in What Losing Credibility Can Cost
This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.
Everybody lies, maybe even several times a day. Often we don’t even realize it because the lies are small. They are white lies like “of course that shirt looks good on you.” What about all those times we nod while someone is talking but we really aren’t listening. Aren’t those lies too? Then there are those lies we tell ourselves, sometimes necessary to get through the day with our self-esteem intact.
But what about the biggies? The look someone in the face and make up something that is simply not true just to benefit oneself type of lie. The type of lie that is told when someone cheats or steals. Or, the type of lie that is told when a lawyer doesn’t do his or her homework but makes representations to the court as if they did. Look, nobody is perfect and there are times, especially in mass torts with lots of plaintiffs, where facts get jumbled or twisted a bit. Times when a little more digging before filing a lawsuit would have revealed different product usage or dates of ingestion. And sometimes those minor differences in facts can lead to cases being dismissed that probably shouldn’t have been brought in the first place. But complete fabrications of the core facts on which a case rests, in multiple cases – that’s going to get you sanctioned. And worse than a sanction, you’re going to lose your credibility with the court.
Losing credibility with the court isn’t something any lawyer ever wants to have happen. It also doesn’t take the extreme misrepresentations we are going to tell you about with today’s case. Promising things by certain dates and not delivering. Overstating a position and not being able to back it up. Being unprepared generally and repeatedly. All of this can lead to a court’s disfavor; to a judge doubting a lawyer’s veracity. While today’s case is very unique and the court’s distrust is directed to plaintiffs’ counsel, the most important to keep in mind is you don’t want to be in this position. Every time you address a court, in writing or in person, know your facts, know your law, and be honest.…
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Did You Search Your Jurors’ Social Media? There Are Rules
If you represented a large corporation or a wealthy individual, wouldn’t you want to know if your prospective jurors were campaigning for Bernie Sanders on Facebook? Or how about criminal prosecutors who might want to know if members of their jury panel had posted strong feelings on police conduct? If you were adverse to a drug or medical device company, maybe you would want to know if a prospective juror wrote for the Drug and Device Law Blog (although we can guarantee that you will find no more thoughtful and impartial jurors than the seven individuals who make up the collective “we”).
Millions of potential jurors make information like this (and much more) publicly available on the Internet through social media or otherwise, and what trial advocate would not want to uncover it? We got to thinking about this topic a few months ago when we read a unique order that came out of the Northern District of California in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2016 WL 1252794 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 2016). The district judge in Oracle v. Google asked the parties in a high-stakes copyright action to abstain voluntarily from searching the jury panel’s social media. If the parties would not agree to a complete ban, then the court would impose specific limitations.
We’ll get to the details in a minute. But first, we set out to see if there are any rules that govern searching jurors’ social media (with research assistance from Reed Smith attorney David Chang). It turns out there are, mainly within the rules of ethics and professional conduct. The first rules obviously are our duties of competence and diligence. They are among the first duties listed under the ABA’s Model Rules and probably the rules governing lawyers in most every state. See Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 1.1, 1.3. If there is publicly available information that would help us identify jurors with potential biases, a competent and diligent trial advocate needs to consider gaining access to it.
There are, however, countervailing considerations. On April 14, 2014, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility published “Formal Opinion 466, Lawyer Reviewing Jurors’ Internet Presence.” The ABA committee’s opinion came on the heels of an opinion from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York—“Formal Opinion 2012-2, Jury Research and Social Media.” These are not the only publications on the topic, but they were at the cutting edge, and they cover the major considerations.…
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The Risks of Plaintiff Lawyer DTC Advertising
We have been riding the Philly subway for years, but only recently realized how much the ads on the car walls have changed. Not so long ago there were lots of ads for vocational schools, inducing today’s un- or underemployed to become tomorrow’s truck drivers and beauticians. But nowadays at least three quarters of the ads are from plaintiff lawyers hawking their ability to wring cash out of slip-and-falls or the latest mass tort. Mass transit advertising space that formerly advised riders to get skills is now dedicated to pleas to get paid. The same is true for daytime television advertising. Perhaps we are not alone in seeing this evolution as further proof, along with Keeping up with the Kardashians and the ascendancy of kale salad, that our culture is headed to Hell in a handbasket.
You won’t be surprised to hear defendants and their lawyers bemoan plaintiff lawyer advertising. But we are not alone. Recently, we heard a MDL judge express frustration about how plaintiff lawyer advertising was a blatant attempt to extend the tail of an over-mature mass tort. Some plaintiff lawyer advertising is naked poaching of other plaintiff lawyer inventories – e.g., why pay a 40% contingency fee if you can pay only 20%? But the most obvious aim and effect of such advertising is stirring up litigation. What might not be so obvious is the extent to which plaintiff lawyer adverting causes adverse health outcomes. A recent law review article looks into this issue and it is well worth reading. The article is by Elizabeth Tippett, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. The title is “Medical Advice from Lawyers: A Content Analysis of Advertising for Drug Injury Lawsuits,” 41 Am. J. L. & Med. 7 (2015).…
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Campaign Contributions and Judicial Recusal in Pennsylvania
Have you ever been hammered in court, and then learn that the judge has received large – maybe Texas-sized – political campaign contributions from opposing counsel? We have, and it’s not a good feeling. Well, in Pennsylvania at least, new judicial ethics rules handed down yesterday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court now provide…