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How Some Lawyers Harm Our Mass Tort System

For years, a foreign company marketed its miracle pill. The TV commercials asked, “Do You Have Diabetes?” The company made billions pushing its pill. Slowly, patient after patient began suffering bladder cancer. Then, researchers discovered the pill was defective and dangerous. Yet, it was too late for many people. How many people developed cancer because of the bad pill? How many people suffered injury? Thousands of patients across the United States, including many in Alabama, suffered injury. I represented several of these patients and worked hard to prepare their cases.

Most people understand a car accident that hurts a couple people. Most people understand a work-related accident that hurts an employee. Those cases are very different from a mass tort. A mass tort is when a bad act or bad product harms many different people. Think an explosion that harms hundreds of people. Think a commercial plane crash. Think a defective drug or medical device prescribed to patients across Alabama or the United States.

Because mass torts may involve huge numbers of uniquely injured people, our Federal Courts have developed a special process called Multi-District Litigation (MDL) to handle them. Typically, our Federal Courts will assign a single judge to oversee the pre-trial process for all of the claims. That means a single judge may be overseeing claimants from distant places. In recent years, I’ve represented injured people from Alabama in MDL cases overseen by judges from distant places including New York, California, West Virginia and Florida to name a few. If you are talking to a lawyer about a mass tort injury claim and want to know if he or she really handles those claims, ask if they have been admitted to practice in far away MDL courts. We have. These cases require special attention.

The MDL process is beneficial in that it allows courts to handle a large volume of cases. But, the system does have flaws. Most of the flaws are due to lawyers. Here are THREE ways our MDL system is flawed:

Many Claimants Do NOT Know What’s Happening In Their Case

I get it. These cases can take a long time. I’ll give you an example. I represented a number of Alabama women injured by defective mesh implants. Those cases were consolidated before a Federal Judge in West Virginia. They took several years to reach a resolution. During that process, we regularly spoke with our clients to keep them informed. We worked closely with our clients and their doctors to maximize the compensation they received.

While we know our clients personally, many other lawyers do not. In too many other mass tort cases, consumers see an ad on television. They call the number. Although injured in Alabama, they reach a law firm somewhere far away like California. They may not even speak with a lawyer at that firm. Those advertising firms are handling hundreds or thousands of claimants they have never met. That law firm does not know its clients and may never communicate with them. According to one recent survey, 75% of MDL claimants don’t know what’s happening in their case. That means most of these nationwide advertising firms never talk with their injured clients. Something is really wrong when 3/4 of the participants don’t know what’s happening!

Injured claimants need to know what’s happening in their cases. They need to know their lawyer. Their lawyer needs to know them. And, they deserve an update when they call.

The lack of communication also causes a lack of preparation. A lawyer needs to hear and understand his client’s unique injuries. This is important if the lawyer is going to be able to prepare the case fully. Too many mass tort firms don’t know their clients and really don’t prepare their cases. That’s a huge problem.

Many Claimants Do NOT Trust Their Lawyer

How can a claimant trust a lawyer halfway across the country that he or she has never met? How can a claimant trust a lawyer when the lawyer’s office cannot even provide an update?

Many injured mass tort claimants are shuffled between lawyers. What do I mean? They hire an advertising lawyer from television. Or, they hire some lawyer simply soliciting cases to refer elsewhere. We even have a few local northern Alabama lawyers advertising for cases just to refer them to another lawyer. One Huntsville lawyer has recently bragged about the number of claimants who retained him. But, he never appeared in the MDL court to help. He simply referred their cases to someone else. Too many mass tort claimants are treated like a commodity rather than a person. That’s wrong. Every human has a unique story. Every injured claimant needs a lawyer who will handle their case directly and build the evidence needed for their maximum recovery.

Many Claimants Suffer Unreasonable Lawyer Fees

Almost all personal injury lawyers work on contingency fees. That is, they only get paid if you successfully recover compensation in your case. Contingency fees are completely OK.

What’s not OK? The long retainer agreements of some firms that contain hidden charges or language allowing the lawyer to settle your case without consultation. Many advertising firms also fail to tell their clients that many MDL settlements require claimants to pay additional common fees to the lawyers overseeing all the cases. Did your lawyer disclose all the potential fees and terms? They should. At our office, we discuss all the terms in detail so that our clients are fully informed.

Improving The System Should Start With The Lawyers Handling Cases

The Federal Court MDL system is designed to effectively handle thousands of claimants and claims at a time. But, it does have flaws. Most of those flaws are created by attorneys marketing for cases with no intention of actually working to help the clients. That includes nationwide mass tort firms that never even meet their clients. It also includes local lawyers who just want to sign and refer the claim without helping. We need some common sense requirements so that lawyers are actually working for the people who hired them.