I recently read an article which indicated almost 2/3 of all injured plaintiffs in mass tort cases were unhappy. That’s no surprise! Many of these individuals suffered very serious injuries only to be lost in a system that treats them like numbers rather than people. The article discusses a study by Georgia Law Professor Elizabeth Burch and Federal Judicial Center visiting scholar Margaret Williams.
What is a mass tort? I’ll use the ongoing Zantac injury claims as an example. Zantac was a drug distributed across the United States for many, many years. You could even buy Zantac without a prescription for many years. The claim is that Zantac is defective and causes cancer. You have a common product used by everyone. But, the injuries (cancer in this case) are unique. Every person suffers uniquely and individually. Our office has filed several Zantac personal injury claims. Each of our clients is unique and deserves individual attention.
How are these mass tort claims handled? Our Federal Courts will typically assign the cases to a single judge for pre-trial purposes like discovery. The idea is that it saves time and resources for a single judge to oversee all pre-trial issues. Once your individual claim is ready for trial, it will be transferred back to the Federal Court where you filed the case. You get a trial on your unique injuries and damages. At least, in theory, that’s how it is supposed to work. The process is called Multi-District Litigation (MDL).
While I have criticisms of some issues in the process, the concept is good. By handling pre-trial issues together, individuals should save legal costs and gain court access. My biggest criticisms relate to those law firms advertising for volumes of cases without providing individual legal advice and without advocating for individual justice. According to the research by Burch and Williams, too many plaintiffs feel forgotten. They should. Too many big volume law firms signed them up and then forgot they were real people suffering real pain.
Cases Involve Real People! You Are More Than A Number!
Real justice involves real human lives. Yet, some of the nationwide mass tort law firms (and the lead generation companies they use) think only in terms of volume. Mass volume! Signed contracts!
In recent years, I’ve heard many personal stories from real people, across Alabama, lost in a system where they were treated like a number rather than a person. That’s wrong.
“I never even spoke with the attorney.” That statement should shock you. But, it’s standard for many large nationwide firms involved in mass torts. “I never hear anything about my case.” That statement should shock you. But, it’s standard for many large nationwide firms involved in mass torts. After all, they probably don’t know anything about you or your case. Their goals — Step One. Sign up massive numbers of clients. Step Two. Settle all the claims as a bundle for a big attorneys fee.
Those firms sign clients with little or no interaction. Most of those firms simply email an electronic contract with a medical release. Once you electronically sign, you are a “client” of a law firm that might be located hundreds or thousands of miles away. You are a “client” of a law firm where you may never speak to a lawyer. You are a “client” of a law firm which will never focus on your serious and unique injuries. You are likely a “client” of a law firm with attorneys who may not even be licensed in Alabama.
How is that settlement mill law firm located far away with a faceless attorney going to develop the evidence about your injuries? How are they going to meet and interview your local Alabama doctors? They won’t. They can’t.
We recently resolved our last transvaginal mesh case. Our client lived right here in Alabama. I can tell you that building the evidence from the local doctors who treated our Alabama client made all the difference in the world! We met with these doctors. We took their depositions.
If you are injured by a bad drug or defective medical device, choose an experienced Alabama lawyer who knows you and works for you. You are not a number.
Cases Involve Real Harms! You Are More Than A Mass Settlement!
In the Zantac case example I previously mentioned, the injuries include very serious cancers. Every cancer patient suffers uniquely. That’s why each person’s injuries and damages should be fully explored.
In a mass settlement involving hundreds or thousands of claimants signed by a law firm, those individuals with little or no injuries may benefit by getting something. When we receive calls from individuals who took a bad drug or used a dangerous medical device but suffered no real injury, we give them that advice. But, those individuals with serious and substantial injuries suffer in large volume settlements. Their serious injuries are diminished by a large pool of claims. In my opinion, seriously injured people very often get far less than they should by signing with mass volume law firms.
During our work for a number of Alabama women suffering from transvaginal mesh implants, we had several opportunities to join large mass settlements with some nationwide firms. We listened to the proposals. But, they were not fair. So, we declined them and pressed forward. Our clients deserved better for the damage they had suffered.
Are your injuries substantial and serious? If so, think long and hard before you join a large volume of claimants simply for a mass settlement.
Cases Involve Real Damages! You Are More Than A Law Firm Windfall!
Mass settlements are often a bad deal for people with real and serious injuries. But, they are a good deal for the volume law firms handling them. The researchers Burch and Williams (whose article I mentioned at the beginning of this post) found that a “settlement culture” has overtaken mass tort litigation. It’s a “settlement culture” that may benefit the law firm more than the consumers who suffered the injury.
Think about it. The companies who make bad products profit tremendously. When the truth is finally discovered, it benefits them to settle all the claims as a bundle for a low per claim amount. It also benefits the settlement mill law firms. I’ve written previously about settlement mill law firms in car accident cases. The concept is the same. The law firm settles volumes of cases. You suffer because the settlement per case is low. The volume lawyers profit.
Who wins in your settlement? If the companies and the lawyers are winning while you are not, then something is wrong. Search for legal counsel who puts your interests first.
How Should Courts And Law Firms Respond?
Again, I’m not advocating to throw out the system. Our mass tort MDL system allows claimants across the country to join together for pre-trial discovery purposes. It benefits the courts and claimants to handle key pre-trial issues in one process rather than hundreds (or more) separate cases. It lowers costs and barriers to the court.
But, we need to re-think the processes concerning how clients are handled by the law firms who are supposed to be working for them. We need to re-think the processes for settlements of these important cases. This is a discussion that should be ongoing.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm handles cases involving serious personal injury across Alabama. If you have questions about a legal issue, let us know. Our consultations are always free and confidential.