A woman reached out to a lawyer after she began having medical issues caused by pelvic mesh, a medical device used to treat incontinence.
She wanted to sue because the mesh was breaking apart inside her, as it had with hundreds of thousands of other women—in many cases, puncturing organs.
So was grouped with other plaintiffs in a large lawsuit against the manufacturer called a mass tort.
She was getting worried about the direction of her case, when her attorney told her, “If you don’t settle, then I’m going to withdraw from representing you, and you’re not going to see a red cent.” She began to feel like her own lawyer didn’t have her best interests in mind.
This is a true story, and it’s one that is much too common in the world of mass torts, said Elizabeth Burch, who holds the Fuller E. Callaway Chair of Law at the University of Georgia. Mass torts are often resolved through “multidistrict litigation,” a procedure used when a company causes harm to thousands of individuals across the United States, but when the individuals are not all similarly harmed, as in a class action.
Burch has corresponded with over 400 women suing for harms from pelvic mesh. Those conversations are part of an ongoing research project looking at the mass tort system from plaintiffs’ point of view. With over 100,000 women involved, the pelvic mesh case is the largest mass tort since the asbestos case.
As she laid out in her most recent book, Mass Tort Deals, Burch believes that the mass-tort system is failing many plaintiffs and that reform is necessary.
“Left unchecked, plaintiffs’ attorneys’ self-interest can take over,” said Burch. “And there are no checks. Consequently, there is an urgent need to improve the mass-tort system as a whole.”