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Trial lawyers armed with anti-corporate lawsuits are still a threat despite recent courtroom victories for business, writes a prominent legal commentator.

Recent courtroom results like the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to bounce a punitive-damages case against Philip Morris have spurred optimism in boardrooms and business schools. BusinessWeek recently celebrated with a "How business trounced the trial lawyers" cover.

Yet despite the hubris, class action lawsuits targeting business are still alive and kicking across the country, warned Walter Olson in an editorial in yesterday's Chicago Tribune.

Olson edits the legal blogs Overlawyered.com and PointOfLaw.com and is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

He points out that in Louisiana and Mississippi, damage caused by Hurricane Katrina has sparked a feeding frenzy amongst some citizens and their lawyers. The New Orleans municipal government alone recently claimed $77 billion in losses caused by levee breaks.

Nor can tobacco companies in some states afford to breathe easier, as it were. California and Massachusetts recently made it simpler to bring tobacco-addiction suits while Louisiana left part of a huge punitive damages award stand, Olson pointed out.

States like Texas and Alabama have recently seen a sharp decline in lawsuits, Olson conceded, particularly out-of-state asbestos filings. But the effect has been similar to squeezing a balloon - the suits have popped up again in unreformed states like Illinois.

He warns business that, despite contrary media reports, nightmare class action suits are still kicking. "To call this a high-water mark is going to require more evidence than we've seen so far," he concluded.


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