Bad news for the public: the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, the defective GM ignition switch, or a widely used drug that turns out to have dangerous consequences – all create “Big Cases.” Big Cases are good news for lawyers and for the expert witnesses they need.
What makes a Big Case? A large number of persons impacted, and the greater the aggregate harm suffered the better it can be for those experts who will be called upon to help investigate, determine, opine on and/or calculate matters such as cause and effect and damages.
Big cases are exceptionally attractive to lawyers, who typically scramble to become involved. Plaintiffs’ lawyers tend to take to television and the Internet to get the word out to the prospective clients they hope to represent. As plaintiffs’ attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, the larger the potential recovery, the greater their potential fees. Successfully representing hundreds or thousands of victims can be a bonanza for plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Defense lawyers, on the other hand, typically are paid by the hour – and each hour is very pricey. Especially with Big Cases, the hours add up fast – and defense lawyers are paid their high fees win, lose or draw. While it has historically been “beneath” most large corporate / insurance defense law firms to pitch their services publicly on TV or the Internet, they still throw a mean fastball, but pitch in the privacy of corporate board rooms, country clubs and industry associations, and through long-cultivated relationships and old school ties. The bigger the case the harder the major defense and corporate law firms jockey to attract the large corporation that created the problem, or the insurance companies that are faced with the Hobson’s choice of paying the claims or paying defense lawyers to defeat or whittle down the claims.
There seem to be two Big Cases about to go nuclear.
The GM defective ignition switch has already attracted litigation with defective switches and countless potential plaintiffs who may have had accidents as a result, and who thus may be in a position to sue GM. The hurdle they face is GM had filed for bankruptcy and thus many claims may have been extinguished in the bankruptcy proceedings, although plaintiffs’ lawyers are scrambling to overcome that. If not, automotive experts will be in very high demand.
The second and possibly bigger case involves ED Drugs. On April 7, 2014, the Internal Medicine Journal of the American Medical Association issued the results of a decade long university study. Its results suggest the millions of men who took Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra® — and perhaps Eli Lilly’s Cialis® or Bayer’s Levitra® as those drugs effect the same pathway that may make people more susceptible to invasive melanoma — may be at significantly greater risk for the often deadly skin cancer melanoma. Although a connection does not prove causation, that’s what experts do. And lawyers are already looking into possible lawsuits and that’s bound to be good news for expert witnesses who are physicians and pharmacologists.