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Bankruptcy is being used as a tool for silencing survivors and their families. When faced with claims from multiple plaintiffs related to the same wrongful conduct that can financially or operationally crush the defendant over the long term—a phenomenon we identify as onslaught litigation—defendants harness bankruptcy’s reorganization process to draw together those who allege harm and pressure them into a swift, universal settlement. In doing so, they use the bankruptcy system to deprive survivors of their voice and the public of the truth. This Article identifies this phenomenon and argues that it is time to rein in this destructive use of bankruptcy. Whereas the current literature largely discusses mass tort bankruptcy from a doctrinal, constitutional, or economic perspective, this Article examines how bankruptcy proceedings like these cause direct harms to survivors, to public trust in the justice system, and to the corporate economy. It traces the evolution of defendants’ use of bankruptcy to resolve mass torts from asbestos, IUD, and breast implant product liability litigation to its present-day use in controversies involving the Catholic Church, Purdue Pharma, the Weinstein Companies, USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America, Alex Jones’s Infowars, and Johnson & Johnson. The Article shows how the prior use of reorganization for mass torts created the necessary conditions to allow defendants to use bankruptcy to silence people and facilitate cover-ups in a wider variety of onslaught litigation. It concludes with a normative proposal for the narrow circumstances in which courts should allow bankruptcy to be used to deal with onslaught litigation, while still preserving the voices of those harmed.
Virginia Law Review
bankruptcy, chapter 11, reorganization, mass tort, tort litigation, procedural justice, due process, third-party releases, settlement, tort victims, tort survivors
Bankruptcy Law | Law
Pamela & Christopher K.,
Silencing Litigation Through Bankruptcy,
Virginia Law Review