February 17, 2005

Class-action lawsuits

I'm not sure whether shifting more class-action lawsuits to federal court (via Howard Bashman) is really as bad as some Democrats are portraying it.

The idea is that state courts are much more likely than federal courts to award huge damage awards to class-action plaintiffs. Although there have been some recent examples of large awards in tobacco lawsuits, for example, I'm not sure why plaintiffs would be systematically disadvantaged in federal court. Maybe if the federal cases were decided by judges while the state courts used juries--but I don't know whether this is the case. Maybe the procedural rules are more favorable for defendants in federal court, because they give the judges more discretion, and federal judges just love big business. But this seems weird. I can't see juror bias being a whole lot different between the two court systems, either.

My skeptical half thinks that this legislation might be more effective as a way for members of Congress to build their pro-business bona fides (or pro-average consumer bona fides) than it is as a substantive piece of tort reform. This is, of course, the first piece of Bush's reform agenda to make it through Congress, which suggests it may be the least consequential.

Posted by Carey at February 17, 2005 09:02 PM

When has a class action ever gone to a jury? I can't recall such a case.

As far as jury considerations, I don't know about other districts, but it was generally believed back when I was in practice (St. Louis, MO--Eastern District of MO) that the Federal jury venire, which included a few rural counties in Eastern MO even for trials in St. Louis, was less favorable to plaintiffs than the jury venire for the city of St. Louis. I don't know if that would translate to other districts, though.

Posted by: Len Cleavelin at February 17, 2005 09:41 PM

Dude, Care-bear. Haven't you been paying attn' in Jurisdiction? (a little derunk right now). Consider what the good prof teslls us, good doctor

Posted by: Jkrasch at February 18, 2005 01:12 AM

Perhaps the federal courts' larger geographic area from which they draw their jury venires would lead to less plaintiff-friendly juries. But if none of these cases ever get to the jury, then that difference wouldn't matter too much.

Are the state court judges that much more plaintiff-friendly than the federal judges? This still seems strange.

Jkrasch: Bar night was fun? :)

Posted by: Carey at February 18, 2005 10:39 AM