On April 28-29, 2022 ODR.com CEO Colin Rule delivered an intensive course entitled “ODR: State of the Art” at Externado University in Bogota, Colombia. Twenty students attended the training, completing simulations in text-based, audio-based, video-based, and algorithmic ODR. An in-depth discussion of artificial intelligence and ODR led into a mass claims exercise, where the participants broke into small groups to design a rule-based system for distributing proceeds from a class action settlement to more than 5000 claimants. Each group was given an Excel file with data on all the claimants (including their name, tenure at the company, severity of illness, and prior documented medical expenses) and they were asked to design a set of rules that would calculate the appropriate payout for each claimant. Afterward the different calculators were compared by analyzing the payouts for individual members within the data set.
Here is the fact pattern for the simulation:
Allied Industries was a large manufacturer with factories in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. It began operations in 1976 and continued until 2008, when it shut down its last manufacturing plant. One of Allied’s largest businesses was making many types of industrial glass. Unfortunately, Allied’s technique for making this glass exposed many of its workers to large amounts of crystalline silica dust. Many of these workers were not adequately protected from inhaling this dust, and as a result they developed silicosis, a disease that comes from breathing in silica dust.
Symptoms of silicosis can appear from a few weeks to many years after exposure to silica dust. Cough is an early symptom and develops over time with exposure to silica that is inhaled (many Allied workers developed chronic coughing.) Symptoms typically worsen over time as scarring in the lungs occurs.
In acute silicosis, sufferers may experience fever and sharp chest pain along with breathing difficulty. These symptoms can come on suddenly.
In chronic silicosis, you may only have an abnormal chest X-ray in the beginning and then slowly develop a cough and breathing difficulty. More than a third of people with silicosis have phlegm production and cough. Chronic bronchitis-like symptoms may occur, and the lungs have additional sounds called wheezes and crackles. As extensive scarring progresses over time, you may see signs of chronic lung disease such as leg swelling, increased breathing rate, and bluish discoloration of the lips.
Patients with silicosis have an increased risk of other problems, such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.
In 2012 a law firm certified a class action on behalf of Allied workers alleging that Allied did not take adequate precautions to protect their employees against the risks from silica dust. After three years of legal negotiations, the company that purchased Allied (a German company called Benecke) agreed to pay a settlement of $375 million. The law firm received $85 million of the settlement, leaving $290 million to cover the members of the class.
You have been chosen by the class action administrator to craft the rules to determine which members of the class will get what portion of the settlement. Lawyers representing individual employees have threatened individual action, but the judges handling the matter have indicated that they will refer all cases to this compensation rubric. The relevant details are:
1. Severity of exposure (rated by a doctor on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being most severe)
2. Prior medical expenses paid related to silicosis
3. Smoker or non-smoker
4. Years on the job at Allied
There are 5300 registered members of the class. 50 class members (about 1%) have passed away since 2010 with symptoms indicating that silicosis may have been a factor. 5% report having chronic silicosis (severity 80-100), 25% report having acute silicosis (severity 50-79), 40% report mild silicosis (severity 1-49), and 29% have some early symptoms but have not developed diagnosable silicosis. The average medical expenses for class members related to the condition is $2500, with the number going up along with the severity of diagnosis. Smoking makes silicosis symptoms worse, and approximately 35% of the class members are smokers.
The Excel spreadsheet is available here.
Here are some slides introducing individual members of the class: