Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is offering $8.9 billion to settle all lawsuits over its talc products, which have been linked to cancer, and at least two outside litigation funders stand to benefit. Virage Capital Management and TRGP Capital have invested in hundreds of claims in exchange for a share of any winnings. The funders worked with plaintiffs lawyers handling some of the cases, and their role in the litigation is public knowledge because the cases are in a federal court in New Jersey that requires disclosure of third-party funding. Since the disclosure rule was introduced in 2019, only nine cases have acknowledged outside funding. At the same time, calls for litigation funders to be regulated are increasing. The J&J cases illustrate how third-party funding can level the playing field between individuals and major corporations that often use their resources to steamroll smaller opponents in court.
Baidu has filed lawsuits against Apple and certain app developers over fake copies of its Ernie bot app available on Apple's app store. Baidu's artificial intelligence-powered Ernie bot, launched last month, has been referred to as China's closest answer to the U.S.-developed chatbot ChatGPT. For the uninitiated, Ernie bot is the Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration service, an AI chatbot service product of Baidu, under development since 2019. It is based on a large language model named "Ernie 3.0-Titan" and it was released on March 17, 2023.
A trial will begin on April 15 in a Delaware court to decide whether Fox News should pay Dominion Voting Systems $1.6 billion for spreading election-rigging falsehoods. The trial has been widely viewed as a test of whether Fox's coverage crossed the line between ethical journalism and the heedless pursuit of ratings, as Dominion alleges and Fox denies. Dominion alleges that Fox destroyed its business by knowingly airing false claims that its ballot counting machines were used to flip the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election against former President Donald Trump. Fox says the evidence of high-level involvement is threadbare. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said he would not block Dominion from calling Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News parent company Fox Corp, to testify in-person about his involvement in the coverage, which Davis has ruled was false and defamatory. The question could hinge upon troves of internal Fox communications and testimony by Murdoch, his son Lachlan, and a parade of Fox higher-ups and hosts who are expected to testify. Opening arguments are set to begin April 17, so look for that to dominate our newscasts next week.
A Tesla owner in California has filed a prospective class-action lawsuit against the electric car manufacturer, alleging that it violated customers' privacy. The lawsuit came after Reuters reported that groups of Tesla employees privately shared highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers' car cameras between 2019 and 2022. The plaintiff, Henry Yeh, who owns a Tesla Model Y, claims that Tesla employees accessed the images and videos for their "tasteless and tortious entertainment" and for the "humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded." The lawsuit asks the court to enjoin Tesla from violating customers' privacy and to recover actual and punitive damages. The prospective class would include individuals who owned or leased a Tesla within the past four years. Tesla has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Law firms are continuing to face layoffs due to the decline in global deals and faltering client demand. Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, a Silicon Valley-founded law firm known for working with emerging tech and life sciences companies, has cut 10% of attorneys, paralegals, and staff in its U.S. offices in response to current macroeconomic and market conditions. Other law firms, including Cooley, Goodwin Procter, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and Shearman & Sterling, have also laid off lawyers and staff since late last year due to a slowdown in work. The total value of global announced M&A deals in the first quarter of 2023 fell by 44% compared to the same period last year, and legal recruiting firms predict more law firm layoffs heading into the second quarter of 2023.