A Successful Study Case; Tech Group participation in the Dupont Case
Summary of the case
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT No. 95-2285 IN RE SAN JUAN DUPONT PLAZA HOTEL FIRE LITIGATION, April 22, 1997"
Ninety-seven people perished in a tragic New Year's Eve fire at the San Juan Dupont Plaza Hotel on December 31, 1986, and many others sustained serious personal injuries and property losses. After thousands of individual plaintiffs filed hundreds of claims against a host of defendants in many different jurisdictions ("multidistrict litigation" "MDL"), the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all cases for trial in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico (Acosta, J.), see 28 U.S.C. § 1407.
As most plaintiffs had already retained their own counsel (hereinafter: "individually retained plaintiffs' attorneys" or "IRPAs"), the district court recognized the need to coordinate their representation through the PSC. Eventually comprised of eleven attorneys with expertise in mass-tort litigation, the PSC served as plaintiffs' lead counsel, responsible for coordinating discovery, settlement negotiations and, if necessary, trial matters common to all plaintiffs. The eleven PSC members nonetheless retained their respective roles as IRPAs, directly representing approximately seventy percent of the individual plaintiffs. The IRPAs, on the other hand, were to focus their efforts on litigation tasks idiosyncratic to their respective clients' cases.
Technology used to handle this case:
Due to the complexity of the case and the need of managing extremely high volumes of information (more than a million documents) we integrated two methods to handled data. First, we developed a program to handle a database containing the plaintiff information. In addition, we used a document management system to handled documents in different format (word processing, images, worksheets, etc.) in which the data was indexed using multiple fields. The system permitted to search the information using wild searching.
Document Management was fundamentally used to allow lawyers to effectively retrieve data, reducing the time spent in locating documents. This system permitted the litigation team to electronically search thousands of documents instantly with a few keystroke. The ability to retrieve critical documents in the blink of an eye had proven to be indispensable for trial effectiveness in this case.
On the other hand, the Plaintiffs Data Base was design to handle various issues such as plaintiff general information, document presented by the plaintiff and any other relevant information pertaining the case. This database was daily maintained by a paralegal staff in accordance to the new information being given by the attorneys.
Since time was of the essence, the classification of the data was performed prior to the entry of information into the system. This required the thorough planning of: