The Inner Workings of Modern Mass-Torts
The Center for Truth in Science is driven by the relentless pursuit of scientific truth on issues at the intersection of science, justice, and the economy—often where they are closely intertwined and sometimes collide.
We reviewed this phenomenon in “Science vs. Settle: A Johnson & Johnson Case Study,” our examination of how allegations that talc could cause ovarian cancer led to the mass tort lawsuit against the company (litigation that continues today), the publicity and scientific misinformation that accompanied the lawsuit, and the economic impact it had on the company, its employees, and millions of consumers.
We take an even deeper look in a report released this morning, “The Mass Tort Machine: How Law Firms Profit by Suing Businesses Over Questionable Science.”
This report explores the inner workings of modern mass torts, from the trigger that sets the process in motion, to the plaintiff recruitment process, to venue shopping for the most favorable judge and jury. It also exposes how the use of inconclusive scientific evidence (rather than settled science) forces companies to make decisions based purely on financial factors: how much will it cost to defend thousands of individual lawsuits; how badly will the company’s reputation be tarnished; will the economic ramifications force the company to sell, merge, or declare bankruptcy?
It can be easy to ignore the consequences of mass tort settlements as something that only affects the company involved. But, the ripple effects of “science vs. settle” decisions impact entire industries and individual consumers worldwide. We all pay the costs of frivolous lawsuits and the enormous settlements they sometimes generate. And, beyond the financial cost is the impact on entrepreneurs’ willingness to invest in new technologies, therapies, and chemical research that improves, extends, and saves lives, as well as feeds an increasingly hungry world.
There is a place for mass torts in our judicial system. They offset the asymmetry of resources between corporations and individuals and have successfully delivered financial relief to legitimate victims while punishing companies that have willfully and intentionally endangered consumers.
But the fact remains that the overwhelming number businesses—large and small—do not have nefarious goals. Yet, the more successful these organizations are in serving consumers and growing their businesses, the more vulnerable they are to mass torts. As the report details, even companies whose products are deemed safe by government regulatory agencies are targets for such litigation if a scientific study can be found to cast doubt on in the minds of a jury.
As our recent poll highlighted, the public understands that this is a high stakes economic game. They support common sense solutions, such as the appointment of independent panels of experts to develop objective and unbiased fact-based scientific evidence about the potential dangers of chemicals and compounds before litigation is allowed to move forward.
Please take a few moments to read our report and, as always, send in any comments or feedback you have. I look forward to sharing more Center-commissioned analysis to provide people the information they need to better understand the complexities of these issue make informed and rational decisions about ways to improve conditions at the intersection of science, justice, and the economy.