Another controversial issue concerns a law firm’s handling of an individual case among a large group of cases handled by the same law firm. Although aggregate litigation and settlements can be beneficial to all claimants, it is a matter of relative degree to which the aggregate settlements are utilized. For example, the Deaton Law Firm handles dozens of mesothelioma cases on an individual basis. Larger law firms handle hundreds and sometimes even thousands of claimants on an aggregate basis. Some of these larger law firms have come under severe scrutiny for grouping together too many cases, some with very dissimilar exposures and injuries, to reach an inventory of settlements.
Under this global model, it is impossible to keep each and every client informed of both the global settlements and the individual settlements. The Deaton Law Firm has avoided this type of controversy because we do not represent hundreds or thousands of clients. Most of the settlements negotiated by the Deaton Law Firm involve a settlement between one plaintiff and a particular defendant. Since the majority of settlements in an asbestos lawsuit involve claims against numerous defendants, there will undoubtedly be either a trial or a settlement against numerous parties. Obviously, since asbestos was incorporated in thousands of mass produced and distributed products, some of the defendant companies are routinely sued involving exposure by multiple plaintiffs to the same mass produced product.
It is important that a plaintiffs’ firm has more than one case against that same defendant(s). This allows the law firm to maintain some leverage against the same defendant(s). Again, however, it is a matter of degree. If the Deaton Law Firm negotiates a settlement that involves different plaintiffs against the same defendant, it is at a scale of which each plaintiff can be made aware of this group settlement and elect to either participate or not participate in such a settlement.
Clearly, if a group settlement against a defendant involves a handful of cases, then obtaining informed consent of your client is not an issue. If, however, the law firm has negotiated a group settlement against a defendant involving hundreds of cases, obtaining informed consent is problematic, if not impossible. The Deaton Law Firm has been able to avoid the controversy and criticism that the larger firms have fallen under simply by adhering to the fundamental tenant of “quality before quantity.”
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