Thousands of personal injury lawsuits against American corporations could end up being filed in Ireland as a consequence of a landmark US Supreme Court decision.
The ruling came in a case involving pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. It effectively shuts down access to the US courts for compensation claims by people not resident there, unless the harm was caused in the US.
A leading medical malpractice lawyer said the decision could lead to thousands of cases being taken in Ireland instead.
Naas solicitor Liam Moloney, recently elected to the board of governors of the American Association for Justice, the world’s largest trial lawyer association, said international claimants would be looking for other forums in which to sue, with Ireland a likely destination.
“All of a sudden all of the multinationals who have registered here could be faced with lawsuits here rather than in the United States,” he said.
Mr Moloney said people as far away as Australia and New Zealand who would previously have tried to sue in the US may now choose to bring actions in Ireland.
He said Ireland was considered an attractive forum due to generous compensation awards by European standards and a liberal system on standards of proof.
But he warned a deluge of cases could cause major headaches for the Irish courts due to the lack of a dedicated system for dealing with class actions.
In the Bristol-Myers Squibb case, the US Supreme Court effectively blocked so-called “forum shopping”, where alleged victims bring proceedings in a state that they do not live in.
The practice often involved injured parties suing in Florida, California, New York and Illinois, as opposed to other states, as they are regarded as being more generous in compensation rulings.
But the US Supreme Court ruled last month that a court in California had no jurisdiction to deal with claims against Bristol-Myers Squibb brought by non-California residents as part of a class action over the alleged side effects of a heart disease medication. None of the non-resident claimants had bought the drug in California or had taken the drug there.
As a result of the decision, only California residents will be able to move forward with their cases in that state.
The court noted the pharmaceutical company was incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York and the non-residents could issue proceedings in either state.
Mr Moloney said claimants would be “perfectly entitled” to sue a US company here if it was registered in Ireland.
However, he warned the courts may have difficulty handling so many cases as there is no system in place to deal with class actions involving hundreds of similar cases.
The High Court has previously struggled with large volumes of claims over hip implants manufactured by medical devices firm DePuy.