ILR: The MDL blueprint for benefiting plaintiffs' attorneys over actual plaintiffs

Institute for Legal Reform Mar. 23, 2016, 11:11am


The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Randazzo last week ran a profile piece on the Elizabeth Cabraser, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the emissions-related class action litigation against Volkswagan AG.

While noting Cabraser’s (and her firm, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP’s) role in headline-grabbing multi district litigation, such as the Gulf oil spill, Takata air bags, GM ignition switches and breast implants, it also notes the criticism that has come the way of Cabraser and fellow “top class-action lawyers."

These attorneys, writes Randazzo, “have been scrutinized by academics who say the same lawyers are appearing too often in so-called multidistrict litigation cases, which consolidate nationwide lawsuits and often end in large settlements.”

Critics accuse these attorneys of creating a system that “benefits plaintiffs’ attorney fees and defendants’ interests, at the expense of individuals.”

University of Georgia Law School Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch weighed in, saying:

“It seems like there’s a link between lead lawyers getting paid…and defendants getting an end to the litigation.”

In 2015, Burch was awarded the American Law Institute’s Young Scholars Medal in recognition of her work on class actions and multidistrict litigation.

Burch told Randazzo that in one of the cases she studied, “plaintiffs’ lawyers steering litigation against Merck & Co. over its painkiller Vioxx, including Ms. Cabraser, initially sought 3% of any recovery for their fees. They later asked for 8%, and a judge agreed to 6.5%.”

“They’ll use the settlement to raise the fee,” said Burch. “If you agree to settle, you agree to an enhanced fee.”

Burch’s assertion tracks with findings in a December 2013 report prepared for ILR by Mayer Brown LLP, Do Class Actions Benefit Class Members?

That paper concluded that, “The hard evidence shows that class actions do not provide class members with anything close to the benefits claimed by their proponents, although they can (and do) enrich attorneys.”

ILR owns the Record.

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