Committee Chair Corner – Toxic and Hazardous Substances Litigation Committee
William Ruskin Law
I am honored to be Chair of the Toxic and Hazardous Substances Litigation Committee (THS). Due to the vigorous participation of incredibly committed THS members, interest in toxic tort-based programs has soared at recent IADC events. If you are a toxic tort practitioner and have not been attending IADC meetings recently, you have missed out on some important experience-based programming offered by some of the nation’s finest defense lawyers and in-house counsel who are on the front lines of major mass tort litigation.
The primary objective of THS is to maximize the value of IADC membership for toxic tort lawyers by keeping members up-to-date on new developments through timely publications, such as the Defense Counsel Journal and the Committee Newsletter, in-depth Webinars, and thought-provoking CLE programming. THS’ goal is to ensure that subjects of interest to toxic tort lawyers dominate IADC’s CLE agenda. As Chair of THS, my over-arching objective is to make every lawyer in the Committee feel that the organization is “My IADC!”
The theme of the recent Midyear Meeting was the “primacy of the Rule of Law.” We kicked off with a timely analysis of how best to connect with jurors in the “alternative facts” era of motivated reasoning. We discussed how we, as advocates, can persuade jurors who have firmly held beliefs, particularly with regard to litigation involving hazardous substances. A jury consultant offered advice about how to focus the jury on the law and away from their biases and emotions in what has been called the “post-truth era.” In all, THS sponsored and co-sponsored six programs at the meeting. THS members played a role in three practical programs that addressed preparing corporate witnesses for potential minefields at Rule 30(b)(6) depositions; maximizing the relationship between defense counsel and their trial experts; and “Judicial Hellholes” – how to spot them, how to survive them, and how to improve them. There was also a lively nuts-and-bolts panel discussion on the changing landscape of personal jurisdiction jurisprudence in mass tort litigation in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in the Daimler and Bristol-Myers-Squibb cases. The program provided toxic tort practitioners with valuable practice tips on when and how to present successful Daimler motions to dismiss. Additionally, THS co-sponsored a program that examined the hurdles of preserving the appellate record during the trial of toxic tort and product liability cases, while ensuring that lawyers have created the best possible record to preserve those issues for an appeal.
At the 2017 Annual Meeting in Quebec, THS advocacy was front-and-center during every session. In a “Science in the Courtroom” program, experienced trial counsel discussed the challenges of persuading trial judges to permit the use of scientific studies in the courtroom. Depending on how this issue is presented to the court, the variation in potential rulings spell the difference between a dynamite expert presentation with strong slides or a near-gutting of the defense expert’s testimony. A distinguished panel of lawyers and experts explored the pros and cons of organic food versus “genetically modified” food and the challenges in separating fact from fiction when it comes to biotechnology and American agriculture. Programs in Quebec also examined (1) the strategic use of mediation to resolve toxic tort litigation; (2) de-bunking plaintiff’s voodoo economics to juries in catastrophic injury cases; and (3) fighting the urge to use “deny-defend-delay” tactics in catastrophic event litigation in favor of innovative progressive approaches to early resolution in order to achieve a fair outcome.
Looking ahead to the upcoming 2018 Annual Meeting in Portugal and the 2019 Midyear Meeting in Santa Barbara, THS will be well-represented on the CLE agenda. At the 2019 Midyear Meeting, we will examine the filing of multi-billion dollar lawsuits brought by states, counties, and municipalities against manufacturers to recover damages relating to climate change and costs associated with the fossil fuel use, PCBs, agricultural products, lead paint, and other products alleged to have had environmental and other societal impacts. A common link in all of these cases is the plaintiffs’ increased reliance on the innovative use of the tort of public nuisance. As at past meetings, an illustrious panel of corporate counsel from the front lines of these cases will examine the legal underpinnings of the latest public nuisance litigation, and address the significant challenges presented to industry and potential defenses.
THS is inextricably linked to other IADC Committees, most notably but hardly limited to, Product Liability; Environmental and Energy Law; Drug, Device and Biotechnology; Corporate Counsel; and Trial Techniques and Tactics. Together, our Committees comprise some of the world’s leading corporate lawyers, insurance executives, and trial lawyers. Whether we are partners in large or small firms, senior counsel in corporate law departments, or insurance executives, all our members contribute to this powerful and distinguished group with advanced skills in defense law who look to each other to further promote their skills, their business, and the legal profession in general. As lawyers who share an over-arching commitment to the furtherance of social justice and the Rule of Law, it is through our commitment to our IADC Committees that we continue to strengthen and renew that commitment.
The premise of "My IADC" is that the more a member becomes involved with an IADC Committee that best reflects his or her professional interests, the greater the likelihood that IADC membership will have enhanced value. THS provides numerous opportunities to contribute and grow within the Committee. During monthly conference calls conducted on the first Friday of each month at 3:00 p.m. CST, we share information about new laws, rulings, and cases and discuss what our members are working on and their recent accomplishments. If you would like to be included, please join our Committee or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THS develops one-hour Webinars on hot topics that our members (and their non-member colleagues) can attend from the comfort of their desks. If you have an idea for a Webinar, or would like to participate in a Webinar project, please reach out to Amy Champagne, Vice Chair of Webinars, at email@example.com. If you have an idea for a CLE program, please contact Bill Anderson, Vice Chair of Programming, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have an interest in contributing a newsletter article or an article for the Defense Counsel Journal, please reach out to Josh Leader, Vice Chair of Publications, at email@example.com. Finally, if there are toxic tort lawyers with whom you practice, either in your firm or across town, whom you believe would be good IADC members, consider nominating those colleagues for membership. Michael Fox, Vice Chair of Membership (MLFox@duanemorris.com), can discuss with you just how easy it is to nominate a prospective new member.
Our Committee is home to some of the top leaders in the field for in-house counsel. THS is committed to actively recruiting outstanding corporate counsel and including them in our programming and publications. For issues and opportunities of special interest to in-house lawyers, I urge you to speak with Joe Speelman, Vice Chair of Corporate Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org. As we count down the weeks before our next meeting in Lisbon, we are fortunate to have Peter Pliszka as our Vice Chair of International. Peter can be contacted at email@example.com. THS Committee leadership welcomes and encourages your participation!