Monday, January 2, 2012

Why DePuy Hip Recall Won’t Be a Class Action Lawsuit

In a recent article, we explained the difference between bringing an individual lawsuit against DePuy vs. becoming part of a mass action lawsuit. In this article, we're delving into the differences between mass action and class action.

Historically, class action lawsuits are the stuff that give lawyers a bad name. The senior partner at our firm, Andrew Sullo, likes to say that class action lawyers represent people who don't know they've been harmed and don't care.

He's not just speaking metaphorically. It's entirely possible in a class action lawsuit to represent people who have no idea a lawsuit is being conducted in their name. Statistically, it's likely that you yourself have been involved in a class action lawsuit without ever knowing it.

In the case of the DePuy hip recall, it's extremely unlikely that any judge would allow the case to be brought as a class action. Here's why:

Advantages of a Class Action Lawsuit

When a class action lawsuit is filing, it must name one or several plaintiffs on the behalf of a proposed "class" of people. The "class" of people are individuals or business entities who have suffered a common injury or injuries.

The rules vary by state (in Virginia, for example, there are no class action provisions) but in general the idea is that the group is so large that individual lawsuits are impractical, and the claims are so similar that they can be considered by the judge as a single problem that many people have in common.

Class actions have several advantages. As we noted in our article on the advantage of bringing a mass action lawsuit against DePuy, any lawsuit that involves many people working under a single lawyer or collaboration of law firms has distinct financial advantages, since it will cost far more to bring each case individually than it will to bring a group of cases with similar problems. Another oft-cited advantage of class actions is that there is no advantage to plaintiffs who file early as opposed to plaintiffs who file late, and a third advantage is that class action suits have often been used historically to purposely change the behavior of a group of individuals such as physicians or companies.

Of course, all of these advantages only apply to lawsuits that are brought with the plaintiffs' best interests in mind. Unfortunately for our legal system, class action lawsuits have been used repeatedly to benefit unethical lawyers rather than plaintiffs.

The Missing Money

The biggest problem in class action lawsuits is that the plaintiffs often do not receive a share of the money recouped - or the share they receive is so small as to be negligible. Lawyers often take a large share of the awarded compensation while leaving plaintiffs with coupons of little or no value.

Lawyers are required to inform members of the "class" for whom they are filing suit that those individuals are now a part of a class action lawsuit. In theory, this means the people whose names are being used in the class action lawsuit have an opportunity to opt out of being a part of the lawsuit. In practice, most people either do not read such notices, viewing them as junk mail, or do not understand them.

Even if the notices are read and understood, it is extremely unlikely that the individual can do very much to forestall the class action lawsuit unless that person has significant personal funds. It is possible to sue a lawyer who uses your name without your consent in a class action lawsuit, but it would require significant funds and the lawyer often wins such cases, claiming that he brought a suit in the plaintiffs' best interest and had nothing but good intentions.

Meanwhile, the lawyer pockets much of the settlement. For those willing to spend their careers in such shills, it's a process with great rewards and little risks.

Why Can't the DePuy Hip Recall Be Filed as a Class Action Lawsuit?

Lawyers must seek approval to bring a case as a class action lawsuit, and as we've already explained, class actions must include a group of individuals with similar damages. Though all the people who received an ASR XL Acetabular System and a notification of the DePuy hip recall have the same hip implant, the injuries they have suffered are extremely wide and varied.

The future consequences, and the damages they are due for pain, suffering, and loss of wages will also vary widely. One person may receive a hip revision that fails as a direct consequence of the faulty ASR Acetabular System he originally received. As a result, he may be completely incapable of doing his former job as a construction worker.

That person will have an entirely unique case from someone who had a few minor medical consequences as a direct result of the ASR Acetabular System and whose hip revision was successful. The latter case still has merit and that person should still be compensated, but the evidence, the harm done, and the consequences for which the plaintiff should receive compensation will be very different.

In a case where the injuries to the plaintiffs are this varied but it is still to the plaintiffs' disadvantage to bring an individual lawsuit, a mass action lawsuit is best. A mass action suit means that plaintiffs will have all the advantages of a class action suit (lower costs to bring the case, no advantage to early filers, etc.) without the disadvantages of receiving a negligible sum for their grievances.

It is extremely unlikely that any judge would allow the DePuy hip recall case to be brought as a class action lawsuit, since it clearly does not fit the parameters for such a suit.

Why Mass Actions Don't Dip into Plaintiffs' Pockets

In a mass action lawsuit, most lawyers will agree to bring the case on a contingent fee basis, which means that you owe nothing if the case is lost. The lawyer takes the risk of funding the case up front in exchange for a portion of the awarded compensation at the conclusion of the case.

This is also true for class actions, with one significant difference: there are limits on the percentage of the compensation a lawyer is permitted to recoup at the conclusion of the case. In most states, the limits are between 30-40% of the total compensation. Though that number may seem high, recall that the lawyer is funding the case throughout the time period it is being brought, which may be years. The lawyer is taking significant risk and asking for no fees until the case is successfully concluded.

And, of course, the lawyer earns nothing if the case is lost. In fact, the lawyer is out of pocket if the case is lost, since there is no way to recoup the money already spent on bringing the case in the first place. This gives the lawyer strong incentive to bring the best case possible.

In a class action, lawyers often retain the majority of the funds awarded. In a mass action, that number is limited to a reasonable fee and the plaintiffs are assured of proper compensation for their injuries.

One More Significant Advantage to Mass Action Lawsuits

In a class action, plaintiffs are treated like numbers. In a mass action lawsuit, plaintiffs are treated as individuals. This is both a personal and professional choice for us at Sullo & Sullo. Every plaintiff's story and personal experience is valuable to the case, so it is only logical that we should want to hear every word and learn all about the client's history.

We also do it simply because it is important that these stories be heard. Every story we've heard so far from our clients has been heartbreaking. It isn't enough to say "some people got hurt and we settled the case." It's important that your story is heard, and that the compensation you receive is directly tied to your life and your losses.

Recommended Readings:

Hip Implant Risks May Include Premature Failure

How the ASR XL Acetabular System is Constructed

DePuy Asks Hip Implant Patients to Sign Away Their Legal Rights

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Author: Andrew Sullo
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Andrew Sullo is a National Trial Lawyer's Top 100 Selection for 2013-2019. He is a member of the American Association of Justice (2013-2019), and a recipient of the 2019 AVVO Client's Choice Award.

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