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Because hard-and-fast formal rules are scarce and ethical obligations are murky, repeat players like lead plaintiff and defense attorneys can strategically play for “rules” (the shorthand term for practices that will tip the scales in their favor in future cases) in areas that affect what matter to them most. The chapter opens with Lance Cooper’s allegations in the General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation. He claimed that lead plaintiffs’ lawyers settled all their own cases confidentially before trial and cut a secret deal with GM to limit its financial exposure if plaintiffs won a big verdict. Cooper’s allegations give life to data that reveals a world open to exploitation: few rules, little oversight, multimillion dollar common-benefit fees, and a push for settlement can tempt repeat players to fill in the gaps in ways that further their own self-interest. Connected lawyers form their own groups, enforce norms, and financially sanction defectors much like a cartel would. This chapter’s empirical analysis confirms that repeat players populate plaintiff and defense leadership positions, and its social network analysis reveals that no matter what measure of centrality is used, a key group of attorneys maintains their elite position within the network and may disproportionately impact settlements.
It was her 29th birthday. After ending her shift as a nurse at West Atlanta Pediatrics, Brooke Melton headed out to meet her boyfriend for a celebratory dinner. She was a cautious driver – no speeding tickets, always a seat belt. But as she drove her Chevy Cobalt down the highway, it suddenly cut off. At just before 7:30 p.m. she swerved across the centerline. The oncoming car was unavoidable, it sent her careening into the fast-moving water of Picketts Mill Creek. Twenty minutes later, medics pulled her from the half-submerged Cobalt. And at 10 p.m., the hospital called Brooke’s parents and told them about her accident, her broken neck, and how doctors could not save her.
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