High-stakes corporate liability litigation is changing. Rather than just defending themselves in court on the merits, big companies increasingly are taking the offensive against plaintiffs’ lawyers who sue them. On Oct. 15, for example, Chevron launched a civil racketeering lawsuit in federal court in New York against a New York environmental attorney who won a $19 billion oil pollution judgment against the energy giant two-and-a-half years ago in a local court in Ecuador. Beyond the money at stake (serious cash, even for a mammoth multinational such as Chevron), the case will test the emerging strategy of seeking to discredit corporate gadflies—while possibly destroying the professional reputation of their lawyers in the process.
“Companies are watching the Chevron suit because they’re sick and tired of unfair mass-tort verdicts,” says Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the corporate-backed American Tort Reform Association. “Chevron is providing a model for how to fight back.”