A new report released by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) reveals the rapid growth of large firms representing state and municipal governments in cases involving opioids and climate change in recent years. It raises important issues regarding the hiring of outside counsel and the deep pockets of private attorneys.
The report points to several instances of well-known law firms driving more than 1,000 pending opioid lawsuits across the country and explores both the involvement of firms in state opioid and climate change litigation as well as the billions of dollars in contingency fees at stake. Also highlighted is the process by which state attorneys general, district attorneys and other local officials select law firms to handle cases. The report finds hiring often is motivated by significant campaign donations and political favors.
“Our new report, For Profit or for the Public, is a careful and necessary examination of the nature of these lawsuits, which are intended for public benefit,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said. “This analysis is critical to inform Americans as to whether these suits are in the public interest, or whether the true intent is to serve as a vehicle for trial attorneys to rake in millions of dollars in legal fees and court awards.”
Also included in the report is a breakdown of the litigation targeting fossil fuel manufacturers for their alleged role in climate change. Many of these suits rely on the nebulous definition of what constitutes a “public nuisance” in hopes of obtaining sizable settlements before a case even reaches court. Similar to polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)- related cases, both types of lawsuits share the fundamental weakness in that neither seeks to compensate for significant health effects due to exposure.
“In order to ensure that our courts are truly providing equal justice under the law for all parties, it is imperative to highlight the dangerous precedents being set by these cases,” Joyce said. “We encourage our lawmakers and leaders to enact positive, reasonable reforms to ensure that any litigation brought on behalf of state or local governments serves the public interest and not create a windfall for personal injury lawyers.”