When investors discuss “the next big thing,” they’re generally speculating about innovations that might spur major economic growth. When personal injury lawyers and certain interest group executives talk about the next big thing these days, however, it’s quite possible they’re referring to vague and broadly worded state consumer protection acts (CPAs) ripe for exploitation. After all, several plaintiffs attorneys and their physician allies are now under criminal investigation for allegedly fraudulent asbestosis and silicosis claims. Recent court rulings suggest the tobacco gravy train is running out of steam. The “I’m-fat-and-fast-food-companies-are-to-blame” lawsuits haven’t gotten much traction. And the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to amplify its 2003 State Farm v. Campbell decision against excessive punitive damages.

So what’s a plaintiffs lawyer to do? Well, since many state CPAs include statutory attorney fees and treble damages, they have become the latest target for lawsuit abuse. Adding to the allure of these well-intentioned laws — written in the 1960s and 1970s, before the industrialization of personal injury litigation — many state judges have begun interpreting them rather loosely. In some states, plaintiffs don’t even need to claim an injury or loss, much less knowledge of or reliance upon the allegedly “unfair or deceptive” commercial practice.

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