LOS ANGELES - Over the course of his bankruptcy practice, Michael L. Tuchin has represented movie studios and restaurant chains, a California city and an Alabama county, a Japanese motorcycle maker and a Hollywood lingerie maker, plus a major private equity firm.
In the last few years, however, he has come to represent tort victims or their attorneys. Clients include gymnasts who were sexually abused, cancer patients who blame Johnson & Johnson baby powder for their disease and military members who allege 3M's faulty earplugs damaged their hearing.
"I find these cases particularly rewarding because you have people who are suffering personally as a result of either abuse or cancer or hearing loss and really need some recovery in order to help them heal," he said.
This new area of practice began when he and KTBS were asked to represent a number of young women pursuing USA Gymnastics in the organization's Chapter 11 case. Tuchin won approval for one of those women to file her claim late, the only late claim allowed in the case. In re: USA Gymnastics, 1:18- bk-09108 (Bankr., S.D. Ind., filed Dec. 5, 2018).
The judge in the case approved a reorganization plan at the end of last year that includes a $380 million financial settlement. "The claimants just received payments recently," Tuchin said.
In two other highly controversial bankruptcies spawned by tort claims, Tuchin represents a law firm that represents many of the injured would be plaintiffs. The cases are controversial because the alleged corporate tortfeasors -- Johnson & Johnson and 3M -- created subsidiaries to hold all their tort liabilities and then put the subsidiaries into bankruptcy.
"In our view, it's an abuse of the bankruptcy system," he said. For courts to allow such maneuvers would amount to creating "a judge-made alternative to tort litigation that deprives people of their constitutional right to a jury trial." Tuchin and his firm also represent victims of the well-known Woodbridge Development Ponzi scheme. He serves as counsel to the wind-down entity the liquidation trust. Woodbridge Group of Companies LLC, 1:17-bk-12560 (Bankr. D. Del, filed Dec. 4, 2017).
"To date, we've returned about 50 cents on the dollar to unsecured creditors, which for a true Ponzi scheme is quite a remarkable recovery," he said.