January 2017


A periodic skim of intriguing news and numbers from the world of commercial litigation.


…is combined total of three of the top six product defect verdicts in the U.S. in 2016 and they all came out of one court. Actually, the circuit court in downtown St. Louis has drawn hundreds of out-of-state plaintiffs with product liability claims against big companies.  A quirk in Missouri law allows out-of-state plaintiffs to link their claims with those of local residents and this particular circuit court has a reputation for speedy trials and generous verdicts. Two of the three verdicts in 2016 were against Johnson & Johnson and the third was against Monsanto over allegations it dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into waterways that infected food supplies.



What do you get when you combine the relaxation of laws on third-party litigation funding and the world’s largest litigation market (which is the U.S. of course)? You get increasingly large pools of money from investment firms – like the $627 million from New York- and London-based Buford Capital – supporting commercial lawsuits. Third-party litigation funders stake money to plaintiffs’ law firms in exchange for an agreed-upon cut of any settlement or money judgment. It has become an increasingly attractive investment tactic in an era of unstable economic and market conditions. A number of judges, however, believe it will increase the number of lawsuits and prolong cases. 



… has been spent in legal fees by a rock and roll band to challenge a section of U.S. trademark law that bars trademarks if the name is immoral, deceptive, scandalous, or disparaging. At issue is the band’s desire to trademark its name, The Slants. The band, comprised of all Asian-American youth, chose the name as a way of drawing attention to cultural and racial issues in the US and, in their words, “reclaiming the name as social commentary.” The National Football League’s Washington Redskins franchise sought to join forces with the band in the courts, but the band said no thanks. So, can you trademark an offensive name or not? The US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Wednesday (Jan. 18) and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of the Court’s term in June.



That’s how many Wells Fargo bank employees had filed whistleblower complaints against the bank alleging retaliation for questioning the bank’s illegal practice of opening up fake accounts – before the scandal went public and the bank was fined $190 million in September. Many of the whistleblower suits date back several years, as far back as 2002, and include among the complainants the bank’s general manager, Claudia Ponce de Leon, who said she was fired in 2011 for telling superiors about the illegal practice. Scores of the 91 whistleblower complaints were never followed up on or investigated by federal officials.