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Friday, April 11, 2008

Should thousands of product-liability cases be wiped from court dockets?

One of the more eye-opening commentary pieces that has appeared in Minnesota Lawyer recently was one penned by Scott Smith of Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson. Smith, who defends manufacturers in product-liability cases, discussed a "loophole" in state law that allowed otherwise time-barred product-liability actions to be brought in Minnesota, even though the suits had no real connection with the state. Here is a taste of Smith's piece.

From May 2004 through the end of 2007, nearly 9,700 individual
plaintiffs commenced product liability actions in Minnesota’s state and federal
courts against nonresident corporate defendants. Amazingly, nearly 9,000 of
those plaintiffs also hail from outside Minnesota. Not one of those 9,000 bought
the alleged injury-causing product in Minnesota, was harmed in Minnesota, sought
medical treatment in Minnesota, or has any connection whatsoever with this
state. Nor was a single complained-of product manufactured here. Yet, for the
vast majority of these plaintiffs, Minnesota is their forum of choice for one
reason — their lawsuits are time-barred in their home states, indeed everywhere
else in the country, but not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. (Click here to see Smith's full piece.)
The Minnesota Legislature amended the law to close the "loophole" that allowed this kind of forum shopping in 2007, but thousands of cases from before it was closed remain on the docket. Smith wants the Legislature to make the 2007 change retroactive, thereby wiping those cases from the docket and freeing up valuable court-time for more Minnesota-related matters.

It's an excellent argument that makes a lot of sense from a court-resources point of view, although no doubt the thousands of plaintiffs who are under the impression that their cases will be heard would be devastated. Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Although the people involved in the cases still on the docket for their product liability claims would certainly be disappointed; I feel they should be removed from the docket. Why? Well, how would they feel if we clogged their court system because our state's limitations put us in the same spot. If they have no ethical dilemma with using our resources unfairly, how can we credit them with integrity for trying to hold a company responsible for an abuse of their trust? The end result of their case being dropped is no different than the result they would have had anyway in their own state...

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree. While it's always too bad for a plaintiff when he/ she becomes time-barred, the way to have avoided that would have been for that plaintiff to have filed in a timely manner in his/ her home state. If plaintiffs don't like their home state's statute of limitations, they should petition their legislatures, not run off to Minnesota.