As the European Union and individual EU countries consider potential reforms for dealing with mass and class action lawsuits (see my previous entries here and here), Canadian class actions are becoming more similar to those in the United States, according to an April 18 report in Canadian Underwriter.ca. The article remarks that significant increases in contingent fee awards in recent Canadian class actions have led to an increase in lawyer-driven lawsuits as opposed to those that are consumer-driven or driven purely by altruistic motives.
Fair or not, it is clear that many outside the U.S. view the U.S.-style class action system as being driven exclusively by lawyers and greed. Combating this perception should be an important goal as we consider potential reforms in our own state and federal courts. Our class action system shares with those being developed considered in other countries the noble objectives of discouraging corporate or government abuse and adequate compensation of consumers. However, those of us who practice in the U.S. realize that our system is a complex one that has developed over many decades. Procedures intended to discourage widespread abuse and promote compensation of victims have to be accompanied by incentives for championing those intrests, and they must also be tempered by due process protections of the rights of potential defendants. Attempts at reform may not always have their desired result. (See this entry on the latest FJC report on CAFA). It will be interesting to track new procedures and reforms that are chosen in other countries who have far less experience and history with mass or class actions. On the one hand, they may have the advantage of being able to start from scratch without having to face pushback from entrenched governmental, institutional, and private interests in maintaining an existing system. On the other hand, they lack the decades of analysis, testing, and tweaking that our system has undergone.