International Law

Plaintiffs Firms Bring International Tort Claims

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Plaintiffs class-action firms are starting to get involved in international human-rights cases.

Previously such suits were usually brought by public-interest lawyers. But now plaintiffs firms such as Motley Rice of South Carolina are suing international defendants for human-rights violations, according to Adam Liptak of the New York Times.

Motley Rice is known for its work in tobacco, asbestos and other injury cases. It has a suit pending in Miami against two leaders of the United Arab Emirates claiming thousands of boys from South Asia and Africa were kidnapped and forced to ride racing camels to entertain the rich.

Critics say plaintiffs firms are motivated by money and won’t be selective in bringing important cases. A lawyer for Motley Rice acknowledged it is seeking a contingency fee, but said that is not the only reason it for its involvement.

“We’re trying to right wrongs that have been committed,” John M. Eubanks told the newspaper.

The case and others like it are brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that allows federal suits by foreigners injured “in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” A 2004 Supreme Court decision limits claims under the statute to classic violations of international norms like piracy, torture and slavery.

The United Arab Emirates claims it has made progress in fighting slavery, freeing almost 1,000 victims and agreeing to pay about $11 million to compensate them and establish social services. And the defendants claim they don’t have enough contacts here for American courts to hear the suit.

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