Tuesday, November 24, 2015

NFL Concussion Settlement Oral Argument

Just before the start of the regular season in 2013, thousands of former players first settled with the National Football League (NFL) over concussion-related suits. The league agreed to pay for medical benefits and injury compensation to retired players, as well as to fund medical exams, research and to pay litigation expenses. The lawsuits accused the league of hiding known risks of concussions and returning injured players to games. After that first deal was rejected by the trial court, a second deal doing away with a cap on the fund from which injured former players would draw was reached. Reportedly, the second settlement approved earlier this year could payout more than $1 billion. The lower court, however, kept out a class of players who had argued that they should benefit from the settlement because in the future they may develop the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Failure to compensate players with CTE is the primary objection to the previously approved deal which only compensates for CTE if the player has died. Several players appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Currently, CTE can be detected only by an autopsy of the brain, and the families of several former players who died and were found to have the condition stand to receive up to $4 million. Those awards apply only to players found before the settlement was approved last April. Apparently, appellate judges appeared skeptical during oral argument last week, noting that those conditions were widely prevalent in the general population and that players who developed the conditions would not necessarily have CTE. One judge on the panel even remarked that the settlement could be watered down by every depressed field-goal kicker. The case faced significant legal hurdles at the start that could have landed the case in arbitration instead of federal court. At the outset, the district judge signaled a preference for settlement of the case, believing that the interests of all parties would be best served by a negotiated resolution. The settlement was characterized as avoiding litigating thousands of complex individual claims over many years and providing immediate relief and support. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners claim they wanted to "do the right thing" for former players with neurological conditions who believe their problems stem from on-field concussions. The appeals court noted that the settlement included a provision that obligates lawyers for the league and the retired players to have good-faith negotiations in the coming years to consider future science and other issues. The appellants’ lawyers argued that was inadequate because the NFL maintains veto power over any settlement amendments. See more here-- http://nyti.ms/1MYEIHZ

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Water Wars

A settlement in an ongoing 25-year water war between Florida and Georgia has not yet been attained, but a move towards compromise was just announced. Special master, Ralph Lancaster, who was previously appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to help resolve the dispute, said he was delighted to see both the word ‘settlement’ and the word ‘mediator’ in recent status reports, indicating a move to the formal ADR process of mediation. Lancaster already urged attorneys for each state to settle the water wars case amongst themselves, rather than risk an unsatisfactory outcome for all involved. Georgia's Governor set aside $20 million for the latest legal battle pitting Florida’s ailing oyster industry against Georgia’s right to use Chattahoochee River water across metro Atlanta. Florida states that Georgia’s overconsumption of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier, is creating economic hardship, particularly on the oyster industry in the Florida Panhandle region's Apalachicola Bay. Georgia also seeks to maintain full use of the Flint River and its tributaries for farmers in southwest Georgia. The rivers join at the Florida border, becoming the Apalachicola River. Crucial to Florida's seafood folks is a fresh water-salt water balance for oysters to survive in the Apalachicola Bay. While there's been no material progress on a global settlement since last summer, Georgia now reportedly believes the best way to advance the process is "to engage a mediator acceptable to both sides who can create a framework for formal in-person discussions and periodic exchanges of information specifically directed to settlement.” Florida apparently welcomed the suggestion, along with the special master. See news stories here-- http://on-ajc.com/1NcbBY7 and http://bit.ly/213eZsn

Friday, November 6, 2015

National Love Your Lawyer Day

What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of...you know the jokes. But joking aside, it's love your lawyer day. Apparently, the idea was first hatched in 2001 by the American Lawyer Public Image Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the positive public image of lawyers. This is the first year it's been recognized by the American Bar Association's Law Practice Division, which passed a recent resolution to observe the first Friday of each November going forward. I've read some of the press this week covering this day and have seen mostly disdain for the occasion. Lawyers obviously play a prominent role in American cultural life and, heroes aside, their ethical behavior is sometimes reflected poorly in pop culture, television and movies. In reality, lawyers have been some of the most productive members of our society and have had great impact on our American experiment. In regard to the Framers of the Constitution, more than half of the delegates were trained as lawyers. I would venture to say that the importance of lawyers in society cannot be overemphasized. Alexis d’Tocqueville long ago observed in his commentary on law in the United States, that there are few political questions that that do not become, sooner or later, a judicial question. Lawyers in an adversarial system are agents of order in a society that may not otherwise exist without them. Contributions of lawyers are widely unheralded, especially in pro bono work that almost no other profession takes upon itself to deliver. Of course, it has been said that lawyers perform a critical role in the administration of the rule of law under the requirements of justice, namely fair outcomes arrived at through fair procedures. Settling cases within the legal system remains the best way of avoiding conflict among citizens. I just wish the emphasis of this day of recognition had been more on that. See summary of news coverage here-- http://bit.ly/1iHIca4 and ABA resolution here-- https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/LoveYourLawyerDay.pdf

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cyber Week 2015

It's Cyber Week again! This program focuses on trends in the emerging field of "ODR" or online dispute resolution. Anyone can attend this interesting virtual conference on the future of alternative dispute resolution which is sure to be filled with a wealth of webinars, discussion forums and activities. A content rich website, hosted by the ADRhub-Werner Institute at the Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, contains a variety of webinars discussing the integration of technology and dispute resolution. The link below provides access to registration links for the online educational activities this year. Event organizers encourage visitors to review the entire program to ensure not missing a topic that will meet interests of practitioners considering using technology in dispute resolution processes. Some highlights from the program include presentations entitled: Video Mediation, Power of the e-Apology, and a mobile app demonstration by the developer of Picture It Settled, about which I've blogged before. It seems the topics this year are more domestic focused, as international mediators were more interested in this form of mediation at this juncture last year. Curtailing travel costs can be incentive enough to mediate online, but the efficiency of the software in being able to access negotiations at the user’s convenience seems to be the main feature touted in this modern method of settling lawsuits. Amounts in controversy will likely drive the ODR process to lower value cases with a shorter average duration. Efforts in this area have been around for more than a decade, but I'm still not sure ODR is ready for prime time in larger cases where a human element in decision-making is often intangible without parties participating in person. See more here-- http://www.adrhub.com/page/cyberweek-2015