On Heparin: A Few, Kind Words For Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

Posted: May 01, 2008 12:01 AM
On Heparin: A Few, Kind Words For Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

When I began covering the heparin story in February, I was astonished at how little attention it was receiving in the MSM. Perhaps because my father had used heparin for many years before he died (long before the heparin poisoning occurred), or perhaps because I have some very close, very successful friends in the plaintiffs’ bar and we regularly debate mass tort actions and their impact on the economy, I was fascinated by the story. As the number of deaths rocketed up to 81, and the long-term health effects on those who did not die but were sickened by the adulterated batches of the drug began to be debated, my curiosity increased. I am now hoping that the victims find the best plaintiffs’ lawyers in America because we need those litigators not just to get compensation for the families, but to force reform on China.

There are many ridiculous costs associated with abusive litigation, many companies injured and even destroyed by greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers. We need tort reform as urgently today as we ever have, especially if we expect doctors and other professionals to continue to deliver urgently needed services, and American business to continue to innovate and create jobs and wealth..

But plaintiffs’ lawyers do sometimes bring urgently needed justice to victims of real torts. My friend, now a retired plaintiffs’ lawyer, Joseph Timothy Cook, for years put his skills as a former Navy fighter pilot at work getting compensation for the victims of airline and helicopter crashes. He is a passionate and proud defender of his calling and the skills of his colleagues, and when he and members of the defense bar –I have far more friends from the top ranks of America’s defense bar than from among its plaintiffs’ lawyers numbers—get to debating over our system of tort law, the sparks fly.

From watching those arguments over the years, I have come to appreciate the relentlessness of the best of the plaintiffs’ bar. It can take years to bring a case to a successful conclusion, especially when a foreign company is involved and especially when that foreign company is protected by a foreign government. When the foreign government is itself the defendant, well, the trail is long and hard. Cook was one of the lawyers on the KAL 007 case, and it took decades of effort to get compensation for the victims of the Soviet shoot-down.

The best of the plaintiffs’ bar spend long stretches in hotel rooms outside of the country, threading very small needles and tracking down very reluctant witnesses. They usually absorb all of the costs, and the best of them, like Cook, care passionately about their clients.

The heparin contamination case is the tip of an iceberg we have glimpsed before in the pet food and defective toy cases. But this time scores of people are dead and whose knows how many more sickened and possibly injured for life.

Those people are owed damages and the costs of their care. We are all owed major changes in the way China does business. We need Chinese manufacturing to change dramatically.

The lawyers who represent these victims will be the agents of that change if they can find, secure and collect judgments from the Chinese businesses involved in the scandal.

If Chinese business owners see a huge cost associated with lousy quality control and abysmal inspection regimes, they will change their ways. If they pay no price, they will make no changes.

Lawsuits against Baxter and the other U.S. or European companies involved in this scandal will bring about some changes simply because they and their counterparts cannot afford to pay the costs they will certainly be paying as a consequence of Chinese indifference to safety issues.

But that which gets rewarded gets repeated. Chinese businesses made money off of the defective heparin. If they keep that money or those contracts, there will be little incentive for fundamental reforms to occur. If they are shielded from the consequences of their incompetence or worse yet, their wilfull indifference to the harm they did, they will not change. In fact, they will continue to look for ways to lower the costs of production even if that risks the health of the consumer.

So here’s a few kind words for a few great plaintiffs’ lawyers: Good luck and Godspeed in your efforts to get justice for the heparin victims and their families. Brush up on your Chinese and don’t let up until the PRC is a partner with the FDA, not a stonewalling, responsibility shifting protector of Chinese profiteers.