The Mississippi Supreme Court has reformed its joinder and venue rules to make both forum shopping and unfair mass tort litigation more difficult. The changes stem from a recent case where 56 plaintiffs sued 42 doctors and a drug manufacturer in Jones County, where only one of the plaintiffs resided. Mississippi state law has no provision for class actions, and judges had attempted to get around this by broad application of joinder rules. (AP, Feb. 21; Davis Brister, "Ruling Could Have Major Impact on Tort Reform", WLBT, Feb. 20; Janssen Pharmaceutica v. Armond; rule and comment changes).
Aside from the forum shopping, such overly permissive joinder is often fundamentally unfair to defendants, who may be forced to try cases where their issues are entirely different from the central issues in the case. Pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court now is the case of 3M Company v. Johnson, where six plaintiffs with a minor lung impairment that did not restrict their activities won a $150 million judgment in rural Holmes County against 3M for allegedly defective face masks in the middle of a much larger proceeding involving many other defendants and asbestos manufacturing--even though 3M's masks were never designed for asbestos protection, and some of the plaintiffs had no evidence that they had ever used a 3M mask. The plaintiffs did not work together; the defendants were being sued under different theories and different sets of facts, permitting the plaintiffs to introduce large amounts of evidence about manufacturers' supposed careless marketing of asbestos-containing products that had nothing to do with 3M. (Washington Legal Foundation press release and amicus brief).
[cross-posted from Overlawyered, where it ran Feb. 23, 2004]