By: Forrest Latta
Alabama’s tort system is winning attention again, except this time for reasons opposite twenty years ago when it earned a dangerous reputation. The distance traveled can be seen in a recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, Sandoz, Inc. v. State of Alabama, 2012 WL 2866764 (July 13, 2012), which reversed a $78.4 million verdict against a pharmaceutical manufacturer.
The Sandoz decision is a victory for the rule of law, as well as another cautionary tale for states who would consider hiring outside contingency-fee lawyers to aggressively pursue “regulation by litigation.” It also is a healthy sign of Alabama’s turnaround, paralleled—not coincidentally—by major business growth in the state including the announcement of Airbus’s recent decision to locate a U.S. manufacturing facility there.
It was almost two decades ago, in 1993, when author David Frum published an alarming column in Forbes magazine entitled “Unreformed,” recounting how Alabama had become the “worst place in America to be a civil defendant.” A similar article in Time labeled Alabama as “tort hell,” a place “where corporate America bleeds for the public good.” Such news sent businesses scrambling for the exits, inspiring a new literary genre (state tort rankings), and ushering in a tort reform movement that has become a cottage industry.
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