NJCJI President, Anthony Anastasio, recently penned an opinion piece challenging the notion that justice is served when courts consolidate mass tort claims for trial. “Underpinning our legal system is the principle that every person’s claim rises or falls on its own merits,” Anastasio observed. “Anyone who alleges harm needs to prove it.”
Nevertheless, Anastasio explained that some New Jersey attorneys filing talc suits have sought to consolidate the cases of numerous plaintiffs for trial to hide the inadequacy of clients’ individual allegations. “The lawyers highlight certain aspects from each plaintiff’s case and ignore their individual deficiencies to build their case around a composite ‘perfect plaintiff,’” Anastasio opined. This tactic, however, threatens to undermine the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial by capitalizing on jury confusion and anger to push unmeritorious claims over the finish line and inflate damages awards. “Judges and other legal experts agree this tactic confuses juries and distorts the search for truth.” Moreover, Anastasio noted that, “Social science experts have found that juries hearing these types of batched and blended cases are more likely to find against a defendant, become angry, and issue higher awards, including punitive damages. The result is a distortion of justice in all aspects of the case.” Anastasio explained that these concerns have led federal appellate courts across the country to warn that consolidating such cases threatens to undermine a fair civil justice system.
Moreover, the “batch-and-blend” approach favored by plaintiffs’ attorneys pushing mass tort claims does not only threaten the guarantee of individual justice—it also harms consumers and workers. Anastasio observed that “in the face of ballooning, outsized verdicts companies must set aside greater reserves to defend themselves and prevent financial ruin. This in turn raises the cost of doing business, limits innovation and hiring, and encourages migration to other states with more equitable justice systems.”
A copy of Anastasio’s opinion piece can be found here.