NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

World's Plaintiffs' Lawyers Shopping for Judges -- in America

January 3, 2003

It is customary for American lawyers to file their suits in states known to have juries usually sympathetic to the interests of their clients -- Mississippi, for example.

But in a new trend, European lawyers and their clients are using any pretext to have their cases heard in the United States on any possible pretext, since punitive damages and class actions are usually not permitted in Europe.

  • American citizens and noncitizens alike can have their overseas personal injury claims heard in U.S. courts -- as long as Americans are involved and America has some interest in the litigation.
  • The 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act gives federal courts wide jurisdiction over suits alleging human rights violations.
  • Plaintiffs' lawyers argue that the U.S. law allows anyone to be part of a class, including non-citizens.
  • Thus a massive class action with a European company defending and with thousands of European plaintiffs and lawyers involved could wind up in U.S. courts -- if only one American can be found as a plaintiff.

In fact, a suit stemming from a 1998 crash of a German train, which killed 101 people, is being heard in New York, even though only one American is listed among the plaintiffs -- but lawyers have selected her as lead plaintiff in the case.

Source: Michael Freedman, "Ich Bin Ein Tort Lawyer," Forbes, January 6, 2003.


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