Widener Law Journal Symposium Examines Issues in Mass Tort Litigation
Web Editor - Published: April 18, 2013
“I don’t think we really have a theory of mass torts, but one could talk about principles,” said Deborah R. Hensler, the Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies at Stanford Law School as she spoke on the “Mass Tort Theory” panel at the Perspectives on Mass Tort Litigation Symposium held on Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus on Tuesday, April 16th.

In discussing the origins of mass tort litigation, Hensler observed, “Mass tort litigation – aggregate litigation – is a pragmatic response,” emphasizing that the existing legal system was not really designed to produce justice on an individual basis in mass claims.

Sponsored by the Widener Law Journal and the Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc., the daylong symposium brought together prominent legal scholars from around the country to discuss emerging issues in mass tort practice. Professor Christopher J. Robinette was instrumental in organizing the event and served as the moderator for the first panel.

In addition to five panel discussions, the program featured a distinguished luncheon address by U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno titled “Federal Asbestos Litigation: Black Hole or New Paradigm?” Robreno, who sits in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is the presiding judge of the federal asbestos multidistrict litigation docket, MDL 875, the largest and longest-lasting multidistrict litigation docket.

“We’ve had 180,000 cases and we’ve had one trial,” said Robreno, who observed that if the court provides a clear path and the lawyers involved know how much a case is worth, the system can clear cases much more efficiently.

Speaking on the day’s second panel, “Emerging Issues in Mass Tort Practice,” the honorable Thurbert Baker, who served as attorney general for the state of Georgia for 13 years and is now a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, discussed the issue of third party litigation funding and the “ethical morass” it presents for lawyers. He cited in particular the possible conflicts created by lawyers with equity interests in lending companies as well as questions about who a lawyer’s real client is in such situations.

The day’s other panels focused on civil justice issues in the state of Pennsylvania, bankruptcy issues related to asbestos litigation, and legal ethics in the context of mass tort litigation.