...and its profitable international division departs the U.S. entirely, to reincorporate in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the legal environment is more disapproving of expropriation. Hans Bader has some thoughts on capital flight.
The way at least one British lawyer tells it, the push to open up class action procedures in the U.K. may represent a sort of carom-shot strategy on the part of the U.S. plaintiff's bar: they want to stir up these actions, but aren't actually likely to file them in British courts:
...the US plaintiffs’ Bar is showing a keen interest in recruiting claimants in the UK. The aim is not to develop claims in Europe, but to export claims in which the US courts are accepting jurisdiction. So if you have a choice as a claimant, the US will be first every time: no risk on costs, contingency fees and high damages make it attractive. If a UK claimant can be recruited either as a lead plaintiff or as a candidate for opting out of the class settlement, the returns for the attorneys can be significant.
This interest is likely to be heightened by a series of decisions in the US courts. In a claim by shareholders against Vivendi, the judge in the Southern District of New York decided arbitrarily that English claimants could litigate claims before the courts, but Germans could not. All turned on the view of the court as to whether a class judgment or settlement would be enforceable; yes in England but no in Germany.
How a specialized court to handle claims arising from asbestos and other injurious dusts has operated since 1989 in Australia's largest state, New South Wales (official LawLink site and FAQ; 2007 regulation, Law Society site; Wikipedia page). Note that the tribunal hears civil claims and is an entirely separate entity from what is known as the Dust Diseases Board, which compensates industrial dust ailments on a no-fault workers' comp model. In the United States, by contrast, neither the courts nor the workers' comp system have developed specialized branches devoted to this type of claim.
P.S. Ted writes to point out, "Depends on your definition of 'specialized.' There's no formal 'Asbestos Court,' but most jurisdictions (including the federal courts) consolidate their asbestos dockets and place them under a single judge -- Madison County notably stopped being a magnet jurisdiction for asbestos cases when they switched who the asbestos judge was."
So Kathy Ricketts, vice president at Swiss Re, told insurance execs at a Toronto seminar:
She noted the Supreme Court of Canada has capped general damage awards at roughly Cdn$100,000, indexed to inflation. [Today, the value would be roughly $320,000.]
Ricketts added that Canadian court awards, while they are getting higher, would never approach those in the U.S. for the following reasons:
* Canadians, unlike U.S. citizens, have universal health care and are thus less likely to be ruined by medical claims (and are therefore less likely to have to sue to recover their medical costs);
* Canadian judges are appointed, not elected, and therefore Canadian courts are somewhat insulated from pressure to make decisions that will appeal to the electorate (i.e. policyholders).
* The outside limit for punitive damages against an insurer in Canada is thus far about Cdn$1 million. To approach this kind of award, the defendant’s conduct would have to be demonstrably “vindictive,” “reprehensible,” and “malicious.”
* There is more of an emphasis on bench trials in Canada, as opposed to jury trials in the United States.
Long regarded as more conservative than the U.S. on matters of litigation ethics, Great Britain may soon bid to out-Americanize the Americans:
[German-based international insurer Allianz] is launching a new business dedicated to investing in British legal disputes.
The insurer is the first mainstream institution to join the UK’s fledgling market for third-party litigation, where investors offer to pay legal fees upfront, in return for a share of the winnings.
More here and, from a Times writer who can't imagine any dangers arising from the practice, here.
A "tort-averse legal system" helps out (via KevinMD).
Encouraged, no doubt, by the example set south of the border, Canada is experiencing a boom in wage-hour, discrimination and harassment suits, reports the Financial Post: "Employers are increasingly finding themselves being punished with expensive fines, court awards and tribunal rulings for infractions that several years ago would not have been considered in a legal forum." Easing of class-action procedure has facilitated suits as well, and of particular concern is a bill being introduced in the Ontario legislature that would remove limits on punitive damages in suits against employers, as well as authorizing courts to order employees reinstated and encouraging claims in other ways.
Roger Parloff has details. Earlier: Aug. 8. And Skip Oliva has some background on an official U.S. role.
As has been reported here and elsewhere, France has been moving to adopt procedures permitting class action lawsuits. Business Insurance (Aug. 6, no free link) quotes Cedric Musso, manager for institutional relations at French consumer body Union Federale des Consummateurs -- Que Choisir, who is among the consumer advocates who have been consulted by the new Sarkozy government on the measure. Musso's group strongly supports such an expansion of the law, but at the same time approves of constraints:
"We don't want an American law with its excesses -- no contingency fees for lawyers or elected judges and jury trials. There would be a series of brakes on abuses with professional judges."
It's hard to imagine a major consumer group in this country expressing a similarly critical perspective toward those excesses.