by HGD Staff
Talk to most average Americans about “class action” lawsuits, and you will probably hear all sorts of myths and rumors about how these lawsuits are ‘frivolous’ or driving up insurance rates. Sadly, these views are usually misinformed and focus on isolated anecdotal stories rather than facts. In truth, mass tort claims often have a huge impact on changing legislation and improving the quality of life for Americans everywhere. To illustrate just how important these types of cases can be, consider the following five changes that have happened because of mass tort cases.
Toxic Waste is Bad, 1984
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Occidental Chemical Company routinely dumped toxic chemicals into a landfill in Niagara, New York. The “Love Canal” site became so hazardous that people started showing signs of chemical exposure, including increases in cancer and mortality rates. A massive class action lawsuit ultimately brought the matter to national attention.
According to court documents from the case, Skey v. Occidental Chemical, 102 A.D. 2d 130 (4th Dept. 1984), the company admitted to dumping about 80,000 tons of waste, including as many as 25 chemicals. In fact, the problem was so pervasive that the drainage site became known as “Bloody Run Creek.” Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has entered into Administrative Consent Orders with the company in order to mitigate and prevent such problems.
Big Tobacco Changes, 1998
It is certainly easy to claim that smoking is a personal choice for adults and that government should not prohibit or interfere with that choice. But what about directly marketing to small children? How about putting addictive chemicals in a product, solely for the purpose of eliminating choice? Well, these are the issues that came up during extended tobacco battles in the 1990s, and while tobacco is still legal, you have probably noticed some changes without even realizing it.
In a sweeping class action case against tobacco companies, the tobacco industry ultimately settled for $206 Billion, being paid out over a period of 30 years. Unlike many class action cases, this one was not brought by private attorneys. Rather, the attorneys general from 46 U.S. states combined efforts to bring the case, alleging that the tobacco industry should have to pay back Medicaid (state-funded public health insurance) for the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses. The major changes since then have included:
- Big Tobacco cannot target children
- Strict rules about how and where they can market and advertise
- Stricter warnings and labeling
The Enron Scandal
When people think of mass torts and class action cases, they usually think of cases in which people have been physically injured. Enron and its progeny just go to prove that injuries can just as easily be financial. It all started in 1985, when the company was a fledgling pipeline company arising out of a merger between two companies – Houston Natural Gas and InterNorth. Enron grew rapidly – almost too rapidly. Shortly after 9/11, Enron collapsed in 2001. The company defaulted on thousands of investments, after allegedly misrepresenting the value of stock, lying about their financials, and various other forms of internal corruption. Ultimately, the company settled with investors for $7.2 Billion.
In the wake of Enron, two major pieces of legislation were enacted. First, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in order to prevent investment fraud and hold large companies accountable to accurate reporting of profits. Next, the Frank-Dodd Act was enacted almost a decade later in 2010, after the recession. While this was in large part a response to the recession, you can find remnants of the Enron scandal throughout the legislation, which aims to protect consumers from corrupt and fraudulent banking industry practices.
Mass Torts and Class Action Claims
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious loss or injury due to a large corporation’s illegal or reckless conduct, you have specific rights. Many times, existing agreements and funds are in place to compensate victims, provided you meet specific guidelines. These large tort claims are often extremely complex and require knowledge of multi-state legislation and regulatory schemes. Common types of mass torts include:
- Defective medical devices
- Pharmaceutical (e.g. “bad drugs”)
- Defective auto parts
- Defective vehicle designs
- Improper engineering and structural designs
Whatever your injury, if your injury was caused by someone else’s carelessness or negligence, you have a right to be compensated. Call Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC to talk to an experienced class action lawyer about your case. We never charge for the consultation, and we only collect a fee if we are able to help you recover compensation.