If you care about mass tort litigation, there’s a very interesting experiment under way right now in St. Louis. Federal district court Judge Catherine Perry is overseeing some 3,000 suits in which rice farmers allege that Bayer CropScience was careless in its handling of an experimental, genetically modified strain of long-grain rice, permitting the non-approved strain to contaminate the U.S. long-grain rice crop. Last August the judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation refused to certify it as a class action, which meant that the lead plaintiffs counsel — Adam Levitt of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and Don Downing of Gray Ritter & Graham — faced the prospect of thousands of individual trials.

And they were up against a defendant (and law firm) with plenty of mass tort experience. Bayer and its lead counsel in the rice MDL, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott were justly celebrated a few years back for their hard-nosed, but sensible, approach to the product liability litigation over Bayer’s cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol. Bayer said it would pay damages to the relatively small number of plaintiffs who could demonstrate an injury directly linked to Baycol. All the others, it said, would have to go to trial. When the first two Baycol trials ended with defense verdicts, plaintiffs lawyers started dropping Baycol cases by the thousands.

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