High-Impact Litigation

Do public-policy disputes belong in the courts?


The states' successful litigation against the tobacco industry has spawned a new legal offensive -- against gun manufacturers. Thirty local governments want to force gunmakers to pay damages for gun-related injuries, change gun design and alter marketing practices. Cities and gun-control advocates say the suits follow established legal principles. But critics say the litigation amounts to extortion and an end-run around the legislative process. Meanwhile, plaintiffs' attorneys are pressing private class-action suits against other businesses, including health maintenance organizations and giant Microsoft Corp. Business interests say the disputes do not belong in the courts, but defenders say litigation often is the only way to hold industry accountable and force decisions on pressing social problems.

Asbestos Control Inc.'s Edward Zalig holds a pile of asbestos, a substance ...

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