Zimmerman: The Bellwether Settlement

Adam Zimmerman (Loyola) recently posted his article The Bellwether Settlement on SSRN which will soon be appearing in the Fordham Law Review and should appeal to readers of this blog.  From the abstract:

This Article examines the use of bellwether mediation in mass litigation. Bellwether mediations are different from “bellwether trials,” a practice where parties choose a representative sample of cases for trial to determine how to resolve a much larger number of similar cases. In bellwether mediations, the parties instead rely on a representative sample of settlement outcomes overseen by judges and court-appointed mediators. 

The hope behind bellwether mediation is that different settlement outcomes, not trials, will offer the parties crucial building blocks to forge a comprehensive global resolution. In so doing, the process attempts to (1) yield important information about claims, remedies, and strategies that parties often would not share in preparation for a high-stakes trial; (2) avoid outlier or clustering verdicts that threaten a global resolution for all the claims; and (3) build trust among counsel in ways that do not usually occur until much later in the litigation process. 

The embrace of such “bellwether settlements” raises new questions about the roles of the judge and jury in mass litigation. What function do courts serve when large cases push judges outside their traditional roles as adjudicators of adverse claims, supervisors of controlled fact-finding, and interpreters of law? This Article argues that, as in other areas of aggregate litigation, courts can play a vital “information-forcing” role in bellwether settlement practice. Even in a system dominated by settlement, judges can help parties set ground rules, open lines of communication, and, in the process, make more reasoned trade-offs. In so doing, courts protect the procedural, substantive, and rule-of-law values that aggregate settlements may threaten. 

One thought on “Zimmerman: The Bellwether Settlement”

  1. I fail to see the point of bellwether settlements. The biggest reason to settle is to avoid the uncertainty of trial. With settlement, there isn’t the uncertainty or unpredictability of trial. So what’s the point of having a bellwether settlement if there’s no uncertainty to avoid? Perhaps a bellwether settlement can be useful, not because it’s supposed to be a representative settlement, but that its terms are public?

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