Washington International Law Journal


Dispute resolution in legal systems has largely been designed for handling issues between small groups of individuals or organizations. Obtaining legal redress for those injured by mass torts and using the law as a means to prevent future occurrences has presented challenges for the development of effective dispute resolution mechanisms to obtain relief for plaintiffs and deter future tortfeasors. A comparison of French and American mass tort law and practice offers a fertile field for useful comparative study given the significant differences in approach taken by each country’s legal system. These differences derive as much from history, politics, the attitudes and practice of legal professionals, and business culture as from substantive law. This article describes and analyzes how these procedural and cultural differences impact French and American mass tort dispute resolution and how those differences must be carefully considered in any future attempt to integrate parts of one country’s dispute resolution mechanisms into the other. Using the French Mediator and United States’ Vioxx drug scandals and infrastructure disasters as case studies, this article examines and compares debates over class actions, American “entrepreneurial” lawyers versus French “corporationist” lawyers, the role of administrative agencies, notions of acceptable risk and individual responsibility, and the appropriateness of criminal law in mass tort dispute resolution. This Article concludes with an analysis of whether elements of each system might be adapted or serve to inspire the other legal system’s improvement.

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