Another Jackpot (In)Justice: Verdict Variability and Issue Preclusion in Mass Torts
42 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2012
Date Written: 2009
If there are no prior inconsistent verdicts, non-mutual offensive issue preclusion generally allows a finding by a single jury to bar relitigation, in future cases, of the issue by the defendant who lost in the prior case. This approach, however, ignores the possibility that the first verdict delivered may have been an outlier if further verdicts were permitted to be delivered. In mass tort litigation, such a flawed approach may result in critical issues such as defect or negligence being resolved by only six jurors, whose potentially outlier verdict is then applied to resolve the cases of thousands, perhaps bankrupting a company or an industry when most juries would not so hold. Focusing on mass tort litigation, this article presents the growing empirical evidence of verdict variability and then critiques the use of issue preclusion, whose downside is applied only against defendants, not plaintiffs, because only defendants were parties to the prior action. As a result, the article argues that courts should exercise their discretion to deny issue preclusion in mass tort litigation. Instead, courts should join the emerging consensus of mass tort management that ultimately better serves the goals of efficiency and public respect supposedly underlying issue preclusion: allow multiple verdicts to unfold a more balanced view of liability that will frequently be used for well-informed and far-reaching settlements.
Keywords: issue preclusion, collateral estoppel, procedure, jury, tort, litigation, mass tort
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