Update (August 21, 2012): Another theory on where the plaintiffs’ class action bar will go next: the New York Times reports that consumer food companies alleged to use words improperly like “healthy,” “nutritious,” or “fruity,” are in the cross-hairs. Minnesota Litigator has noted recent cases along these lines.
Our consumer crusaders go from taking on the sellers of tobacco, a highly addictive and cancer-causing product, to representing people who feel fooled because their “Greek Yogurt” is not truly Greek and other frivolous inconsequential gripes? What are we to make of this cultural shift? Are these craven plaintiffs’ lawyers scraping the bottom of the barrel or what?
Fundamentally, perhaps the ultimate target here is dietary health (and obesity), which, like smoking, involve widespread social ills made worse by our market-driven consumer culture in which sophisticated multinational billion dollar firms exploit informational advantages to the ultimate detriment of of vulnerable (yet personally responsible, most agree) consumers.
Update (July 1, 2012): Follow-up on the query below as to the next wave of litigation: Concussions?
Original post (June 13, 2012): The hideous scourge of tobacco has been extremely profitable for many decades to the sellers of this highly addictive legal drug. Paradoxically, it’s been a pretty good living for many Minnesota lawyers as well, quite a few defending Big Tobacco, but far more lucrative for those attacking it (with Michael V. Ciresi at the top of the heap).
Given the immensity of the potential pay-out, is it any surprise that the plaintiffs’ bar wanted, if at all possible, to go for seconds?
It should be no surprise. Our legal system is a market. The laws of supply and demand run deep under the extensive and complex network of the written laws that lay on the surface (Cf. “Slick Willy” Sutton).
On the other hand, it is not altogether accurate to characterize the recently decided Minnesota Supreme Court case of Curtis v. Altria as plaintiffs or plaintiffs’ lawyers “going for seconds.” Characterizing the case more favorably for the plaintiffs, the question was whether the State of Minnesota’s 1998 Settlement with Big Tobacco should bar suits by Minnesotans harmed by Big Tobacco, Minnesotans with no connection with the 1998 settlement at all, aside from the fact that they are Minnesotans.
In other words, can the state of Minnesota, purporting to act in the best interest of its citizens, enter into a settlement and deprive individual citizens of their individual claims?
The answer, as the Minnesota Supreme Court found, is clearly, “Yes.” The state gives citizens lawsuits and it can take them away.
The plaintiffs’ bar will have to look elsewhere for its next financial Goliath to slay (or at least hobble, or maybe just to tax).
Any predictions for the next waves of large-scale billion-dollar nation-wide litigation? Privacy and the internet? Sugar? A completely new angle not even a flicker at the edge of our radar screen right now?