Compensation czar to deliver Lippes lecture at tort law conference

Release Date: September 22, 2014 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The attorney who oversaw the administration of compensation funds established on behalf of the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Boston Marathon bombing and several other high-profile mass disasters and mass torts will be in Buffalo on Oct. 6 to speak as part of the Gerald S. Lippes Speaker Series co-sponsored by the UB Law School and the UB School of Management.

The lecture by Kenneth R. Feinberg, founder of the Feinberg Rozen law firm and currently a lecturer at Harvard Law School, also serves as the keynote address of a conference titled “Recent Developments in Tort Law and Practice,” co-sponsored by the Law School and the business group Coalition for Litigation Justice, a business group whose agenda includes legislative proposals for tort law reform.

The conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. Feinberg’s address, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Detailed information and registration for the conference and the Lippes lecture is available on the Law School’s website.

Conference organizer S. Todd Brown, associate professor at the Law School and director of its Center for the Study of Business Transactions, says Feinberg will speak on timely issues in the administration of mass tort actions.

“He’s an amazing speaker, very engaging,” Brown says. “He makes sure that his presentations are accessible to a very broad audience. Even when he’s speaking to experts in the field, he speaks in a way that’s very easy and approachable.”

Feinberg has managed some of the most complex and emotionally fraught mass tort compensations in U.S. history. They include:

  • The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, established by the Obama administration to process claims arising out of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. The BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund awarded $20 billion to parties injured by the spill.
  • Special master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, for which he worked 33 months pro bono. He developed the regulations governing the administration of the fund and administered all aspects of the program, including evaluating applications, determining appropriate compensation and disseminating awards. The fund awarded $7 billion to 97 percent of the families affected by the tragedy.
  • Administrator of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, again pro bono, following the killings of 32 students and faculty on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007.
  • Special master — the “pay czar” — of TARP Executive Compensation, appointed by the secretary of the Treasury in 2010 to oversee the compensation of top executives at companies that received federal bailout assistance.
  • Administrator of the One Fund, the victim-assistance fund established in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
  • Special master in the federal Agent Orange product liability litigation.

The conference on tort law and practice “is an opportunity to host something at the cutting edge of what’s going on in this area of law,” says Brown. In addition to practitioners, business owners, students and law professors, and faculty from other UB units with an interest in environmental issues or public health and safety issues will benefit, he says.

Topics to be covered by panelists at the conference include:

  • Are mass tort actions best handled entirely in aggregate, or — as has been done recently — should pretrial issues be handled for claimants as a group, with individual cases then returned to state courts for trial or settlement? “It has worked brilliantly in the asbestos arena,” Brown says. “It has been much more efficient than trying to push everyone into one big settlement. And it gives the individual and the lawyer the ability to exercise greater control over what happens with their individual claims.”
  • A practitioner panel on asbestos litigation, including information about legislative reforms at the state and federal levels.
  • A speaker from the RAND Institute for Civil Justice discussing the early findings from its study on how the bankruptcy of a potentially liable company affects whether plaintiffs remember being exposed to the company’s products. One expectation, Brown says, is that claimants often forget such contact after a company goes bankrupt, leaving the other companies being sued with greater financial exposure.
  • A look at New York State’s scaffolding law, which, Brown says, has “become much more of an issue as the law has been interpreted as applying to a broader range of issues.” The law, which requires employers on building sites to ensure the safety of laborers working above the ground, has been under attack as antiquated and as provoking sky-high insurance premiums.
  • A panel of judges telling of their experiences with asbestos litigation.

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Jacqueline Molik Ghosen
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School of Management