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« "Defending the Practice of Medicine" | Calif. insurance dept. hires lawyer on contingency »

August 19, 2004


Europe going our way?

"'The biggest emerging risk for insurance groups world-wide is the proliferation of the U.S. tort system or elements of it,' says Allianz AG's chief risk officer, Raj Singh. Although a number of crucial elements of the U.S. system -- such as class actions -- aren't available in many places, it is only a matter of time before lawyers or consumer activists find ways around the problem, insurance executives say."

Damages in Europe, however, are often tiny compared with those in the U.S. "A second major difference with the U.S.: Nowhere in Europe can lawyers operate on the basis of contingency fees, the system by which lawyers get paid only if successful and take a percentage of any damages awarded. What's more, in the U.K. and Ireland, plaintiffs who lose their case often end up footing their opponent's legal bills, a risk that prevents a lot of speculative and frivolous suits from coming to court, lawyers say. But the absence of contingency fees, too, might be coming to an end. Some French lawyers now accept lower billing rates in exchange for a 'success fee'. And since 2000, British lawyers can charge a 'conditional fee,' taking nothing if unsuccessful and as much as twice their usual fee if they win." -- Charles Fleming, "Europe Learns Litigious Ways", Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24 (search on title name, $)

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