Drs. Oz & Roizen: When lawsuits help health

Drs. Oz & Roizen:

March 9, 2014 

Ever wonder what happens to unclaimed cash left on the table after a company settles a big lawsuit with a large group of people? It can amount to tens of millions of dollars. In most of the U.S., it usually goes right back to the company or person accused of cheating or causing harm in the first place.

But it doesn’t have to.

In 11 states, this unclaimed money is fueling better health, better schools, food banks, housing and legal assistance for those in need.

A pioneering movement based in Dr. Mike’s hometown (we’re talking about you, Cleveland!) is urging lawyers in Ohio and beyond to lead the charge.

Patrick Perotti, a partner in the northeast Ohio law firm of Dworken & Bernstein, got the ball rolling several years ago when he discovered that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars left over in one of his first consumer class-action lawsuits. Wielding a legal concept called “cy pres” (pronounced sigh-PRAY), which means “as near as possible,” he argued that the funds should go to charity. They did, and he vowed never to settle a class action without considering the use of cy pres for unclaimed funds.

That was just the beginning. Perotti and his partners founded Ohio Lawyers Give Back to help spread the word. The group estimates that $500 million in class-action settlement money goes uncollected each year across the U.S.

To date, Mr. Perotti has distributed more than $25 million to more than 187 groups that help fight and prevent a variety of diseases and ailments. Kids have been the big winners, with funds going to help a children’s hospital, a kids’ emergency room, schools, after-school programs, projects that provide warm clothing and shoes, and programs for pregnant women and mothers with new babies, too.

Want to help?

Make your state a “Smart State.” If you live in one of 11 smart states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington, according to the National Law Journal — rules direct lawyers to make plans upfront for this unspent money, usually earmarking it for legal aid or charities. But in the rest of the states, there usually are no provisions.

So if you don’t live in one of the states, spread the word; and if you’re a lawyer, our friends at Ohio Lawyers Give Back can help you reclaim and redirect leftover funds from class-action suits you’ve worked on.

By the way, if you try to make this a state law, you probably will run into resistance. Opposition by the Chamber of Commerce is why this smart idea was not enacted as law yet in Ohio (according to one key politician we spoke with). But even where it is not a law, each plaintiff’s lawyer can insist on such a community-building resolution. And lawyers won’t earn an extra dime by doing this — but the rewards are priceless.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service