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MICRA, approved by California voters in 1974, limits noneconomic damage payouts in medical malpractice cases and has been the main reason medical liability insurance rates in the state are only in the middle of the pack nationally despite the state’s long-earned reputation as one of the most litigious in general. Focus-group research led trial lawyer advocates to tack on a provision prescribing drug testing for doctors to improve the measure’s chances [James Hay, San Diego Union-Tribune; Legal NewsLine and more; ABA Journal] Some predict that the impending lawyers-vs.-doctors battle, with various allies brought in on both sides, will be the most expensively fought ballot measure in history. Earlier coverage of MICRA here.

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on July 9, 2014

  • Congress responds to Veterans Administration health care scandal by throwing huge new sums at care [Nicole Kaeding, Chris Edwards, Cato] “Every Senior V.A. Executive Was Rated ‘Fully Successful’ or Better Over 4 Years.” [NYT via Instapundit] “VA Hospitals aren’t included on the federal government’s Hospital Compare web site” [White Coat]
  • Canadian judge quashes as vexatious suit over non-admission to medical school [Winnipeg Free Press]
  • Brain-damaged child cases: “14.5 Million Reasons Physicians Practice Defensive Medicine” [White Coat, Cleveland] “North Carolina Jury Deadlocks in John Edwards’ Malpractice Trial Against Doctor” [Insurance Journal, emergency medicine]
  • “Medical Licensing in the States: Some Room for Agreement — and Reform” [Charles Hughes, Cato]
  • “NY Launches Statewide Med Mal Settlement Program” [NYDN via TortsProf]
  • “Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking” [John Steddon and David Boaz, Cato program] Here’s the long-awaited segue to complete prohibition: British Medical Association recommends banning tobacco permanently for persons born after 2000 [WaPo]
  • Sneaky: California ballot language undoing MICRA liability limits “buried in an initiative titled The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014.” [Yul Ejnes, KevinMD]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on February 10, 2014

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on August 22, 2013

  • No, ma’am, I’m not going to diagnose your kids with PTSD after your low-speed auto accident, but I’m sure some other doc will [White Coat]
  • In time to avert catastrophe? “FDA reboot of antibiotic development” [David Shlaes] Role of price controls in shortages of sterile injectables [ACSH]
  • Trial lawyers launch campaign to roll back MICRA, law that has limited California med-mal payouts [KPBS, L.A. Times]
  • DNA panopticon beckons: “Mississippi law requires cord blood from some teen moms” [Emily Wagster Pettus, AP, earlier]
  • Dear N.Y. Times: please make up your mind whether it’s OK to break health privacy laws [SmarterTimes]
  • Committee of AMA decides on schedules by which doctors are paid. And you were expecting it to be done how? [Arnold Kling]
  • “The more your doctor worries about getting sued, the more you’ll end up spending on medical tests” [MarketWatch on Michelle Mello study in Health Affairs] Oklahoma high court used strained rationale to strike down certificate of merit law [Bill of Health]

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November 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 18, 2009

  • “Common sense makes a comeback” against zero tolerance in the classroom [USA Today]
  • Slip at Massachusetts antiques show leads to lawsuit [Wicked Local Marion]
  • Update: Washington Supreme Court takes up horn-honking case [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • MICRA as model: “California’s Schwarzenegger stumps for medical liability reform” [American Medical News]
  • “Inventing a better patent system” [Pozen, NYT]
  • Google Books settlement narrowed to countries with “common legal heritage” [Sag, ConcurOp]
  • One way to make ends meet: cash-strapped Detroit cops are seizing a lot more stuff [Detroit News via Business Insider]
  • What temperatures are hot coffee actually served at? Torts buffs (including our Ted Frank) want to know [TortsProf exchange with Michael Rustad and followup, more and yet more]

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Longtime reader P.W. writes:

I’ve been biting my fist while I read the recent series of guest posts on tort reform and medicine on andrewsullivan.com, such as this one. Lots of readers breezily asserting that there’s no problem, pretty much a fact-free debate. I’ve emailed them myself, but no luck so far….

P.S. More or less relatedly, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel sees medical liability reform as the possible pivot of a health care deal [Real Clear Politics]

P.P.S. Sullivan’s guestblogger Patrick Appel has now posted good emails from one reader dismantling some of the trial bar talking points that had figured prominently in earlier posts:

Easily disprovable lie #1: Texas malpractice insurance rates have declined every year since tort reform was enacted. Here’s a link to TMLT, the largest insurer in Texas…

[#3:] …the inflation-adjusted decrease in overall indemnity payments is due precisely to tort reform, primarily in the country’s largest economy, California, where MICRA was established in 1974. In non-tort reform states, indemnity payments have steadily increased. In Illinois, which only adopted tort reform in 2007, the average (pdf, page 15) indemnity payment increased from $70,000 in 1980 to $630,000 in 2008. If you adjust for inflation, those 1980 dollars would only be $182,943.81 in 2009. Clearly, this is not a decrease. …

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Not your usual AG candidate

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2006

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown is overwhelmingly favored to become the state’s next attorney general, but don’t assume he’ll necessarily follow in the footsteps of Bill Lockyer:

“I’m going to take a very practical, common-sense approach as attorney general,” Brown said in a recent interview. “I’m someone who’s acutely aware of the fact that we as a state have added 25,000 laws since I was governor. I think we ought to give people some space to live their lives.” …

And don’t assume that he will agree completely with Lockyer’s decisions. Asked about the global-warming lawsuit, Brown said he’d have to “take a good look at it.”

“I think there’s an issue of causation there,” he said, adding that California needs to consider automakers’ “imploding” financial situation. …

“He was the first politician to turn litigation into a press release [as California Secretary of State, elected in 1970],” said Hiestand, the former Brown aide [Fred Hiestand, now prominent in California litigation-reform circles].

In post-Watergate 1974, the reform-minded Brown was swept into the governor’s office. One year later, Brown and the Legislature were besieged with pleas from doctors facing skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs. Brown called a special session that would eventually lead to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, California’s law capping pain and suffering awards at $250,000.

Hiestand remembers philosophical discussions with Brown on the best ways to compensate malpractice victims. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1964, Brown clerked for state Supreme Court Justice Mathew Tobriner, a contemporary of tort expert and future chief justice Roger Traynor. Brown, Hiestand said, recalled Traynor’s critical dissent in a 1962 case where a woman injured on a bus was awarded $134,000 for non-economic damages. Traynor said such awards were troubling because they are tied to subjective amounts of pain and suffering.

“At one point Jerry looks at me and says, ‘Money is a false god. If you’re in pain, you should turn to religion, sex or drugs,’” Hiestand said.

(Cheryl Miller, “Former Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Runs for State Attorney General”, The Recorder/Law.com, Oct. 16)(cross-posted from Point of Law’s Featured Discussion on the election, which is still going great guns).

Loads of coverage of health matters in recent weeks over at our sister website, including: liability fears and emergency room admissions; New Jersey bans “retaliating” against expert witnesses over testimony they give, no matter how untrue it may be; Ted on one lawprof’s grossly misleading use of med-mal statistics, and a second round of the same; pain medication in nursing homes (and more on nursing homes); two doctors pick up stakes; Australian med-mal rates fall after reform; same thing in Texas; HHS introduces a distinctive “early offers” program for medical malpractice claims involving its clients; please don’t let him grow up to be an M.D.; Pennsylvania hospitals’ bill; MICRA and Prop 103; the March of Dimes wants Bendectin back; federal judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan throws out a major Dickie Scruggs case against the non-profit health sector; and a must-read article on defensive medicine. To explore all this and much more, follow the links provided or visit the site’s topical page on medicine and law.

Plaintiff’s attorney Bruce Fagel, MD, JD, a malpractice specialist in Los Angeles, spoke with Medical Economics for a cover-story interview in their last-but-one issue (“How I pick the doctors I’ll sue”, Aug. 20). The whole thing is worth a look; here are two snippets.

On how juries decide:

When doctors are cross-examined in a deposition or during trial, they often try to avoid responsibility for their actions. In fact, some defense attorneys encourage this attitude, instructing their clients not to answer even reasonable questions. As a result, jurors may ultimately be convinced of a doctor’s negligence not by the nature of his actions in the case, but by what looks like intentional evasion of responsibility when explaining why something went wrong.

The real value of our jury system in medical malpractice cases has little to do with the jurors’ ability to understand the medical facts and issues in the case. In fact, it’s widely accepted that they don’t understand much of the clinical information presented to them. What they do understand is when a witness is telling the truth. Doctors would do well to remember that.

And on tort reform:

I don’t think the idea of a cap on noneconomic damages is unreasonable, since it’s so difficult to put a dollar value on pain and suffering. What’s unreasonable is the fact that MICRA [the California medical liability law] was passed in 1975, and the $250,000 limit wasn’t tied to inflation. As a result, each year plaintiffs here are really getting less money. Today that $250,000 is worth less than $75,000 in 1975 dollars. So it’s a real problem for plaintiffs with legitimate claims for pain and suffering.

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“A new look at X-rays used to help win billions of dollars for asbestos victims detected abnormalities in only 4.5 percent of the X-rays — not in 96 percent, as medical experts intitially testified. The study by Johns Hopkins University radiologists found that medical experts who testified on behalf of plaintiffs in asbestos suits almost always found something suspicious on their X-rays, whether it was asbestos dust or a likely malignant tumor.” The study appeared in this week’s Academic Radiology, a scientific journal. (Bill Scanlan, Rocky Mountain News (Denver), Aug. 5; Reed Abelson, “Study Raises Questions of Witnesses”, New York Times, Aug. 4). See, among many other entries on this site, Jan. 21. More: the journal Nature weighs in (Emma Marris, “Asbestos study suggests bias in experts”, Aug. 5). Yet more: GeekPress, MichMedMal.

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Texas’s giant legal reform“, Jun. 18-19, 2003.

Malpractice suit crisis, 2003:Letter to the editor“, Jun. 20-22; “Docs leaving their hometowns“, Jun. 12-15; “Juggling the stats“, Jun. 4-5; “Malpractice studies“, May 12; “Public Citizen’s bogus numbers“, Apr. 10-13; “Malpractice crisis hits sports-team docs” (& general roundup), Apr. 7-8; “Would you go into medicine again?“, Mar. 18; “‘Public deceit protects lawsuit abuse’“, Mar. 15-16; “One solution to the malpractice crunch“, Feb. 19; “Feinstein set to back Bush malpractice plan“, Feb. 12; “State of the Union“, Jan. 29; “Malpractice-cost trends“, Jan. 24-26; “ATLA’s hidden influence“, Jan. 21-22; “Playing chicken on malpractice reform“, Jan. 9; “‘Doctors strike over malpractice costs’” (W.Va., Pa.), Jan. 3-6.  2002:Campaign roundup“, Nov. 4-5; “Pennsylvania House votes to curb venue-shopping“, Oct. 11-13; “Rumblings in Mississippi“, Oct. 9-10 (& Sept. 9-10); “Let ‘em become CPAs“, Oct. 7-8; “Tour of the blogs“, Sept. 24; “You mean I’m suing that nice doctor?“, Aug. 1; “‘Bush urges malpractice damage limits’“, Jul. 29; “‘Trauma center reopens doors’“, Jul. 18; “Malpractice crisis latest” (Pa., Tex.), Jun. 11-12; “Sick in Mississippi?  Keep driving“, Jun. 3-4 (& Apr. 5-7); “‘Rocketing liability rates squeeze medical schools’“, May 28-29; “‘The trials of John Edwards’“, May 20-21; “Ob/gyns warn of withdrawal“, May 17-19; “‘The Tort Mess’” (Forbes, etc.), May 13; “Texas doctors’ work stoppage“, Apr. 11 (& Mar. 15-17); “No more ANZAC Day marches?” (Australia), Apr. 1-2; “Scenes from a malpractice crisis“, Mar. 5; “Med-mal: should doctors strike?“, Jan. 21-22.  2001:  “Soaring medical malpractice awards: now they tell us“, Sept. 11; “‘Valley doctors caught in “lawsuit war zone”‘“, May 3; “Pennsylvania MDs drop work today“, Apr. 24; “Philadelphia juries pummel doctors“, Jan. 24-25.  2000:Trial lawyers’ clout in Albany“, Oct. 4; “Malpractice outlays on rise in Canada“, Oct. 2. 

Ob/gyn, 2003:Juggling the stats“, Jun. 4-5; “Malpractice studies“, May 12; “‘Edwards doesn’t tell whole story’“, Mar. 4 (& letter to the editor, Mar. 31); “‘Delivering Justice’“, Feb. 27.  2002:Ob/gyns warn of withdrawal“, May 17-19 (& see Jun. 11-12); “‘Support case hinges on failed sterilization’” (Ind.), Apr. 26-28; “Med-mal: should doctors strike?“, Jan. 21-22.  2001:Fleeing obstetrics, again“, Dec. 21-23; “‘Wrongful life’ comes to France“, Dec. 11 (& updates Jan. 9-10, May 20-21, Jul. 1-2, 2002); “Meet the ‘wrongful-birth’ bar“, Aug. 22-23 (& letter to the editor, Sept. 3; more on wrongful birth/life: Nov. 22-23, Sept. 8-10, June 8, May 9, Jan. 8-9, 2000); “Pennsylvania MDs drop work today“, April 24; “Caesarean rate headed back up“, Feb. 5.  2000:Birth cameras not wanted“, Oct. 18; “Plastic surgeons must weigh patients’ state of mind, court says” (roundup: anti-abortion suits), Aug. 15.  1999:‘Trial lawyers on trial’” (Norplant, etc.), Dec. 23-26; “‘Your perfect birth control…blocked?’“, Aug. 11 (Norplant) (& update Aug. 27; company to settle 36,000 suits); “Yes, this drug is missed” (hospital admissions for hyperemesis tripled after lawyers drove Bendectin off market), Jul. 21. 

Malpractice studies“, May 12, 2003; “Radiologists: sue them enough and they’ll go away“, Nov. 2, 2000 (& see Sept. 24, 2002).

Nursing homes, geriatrics, 2003:Florida: ‘New clout of trial lawyers unnerves legislators’“, Mar. 20; “$12,000 a bed“, Mar. 19.  2001:Soaring medical malpractice awards: now they tell us“, Sept. 11; “‘Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine’“, Jun. 15-17; “‘Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers’“, Mar. 13-14.  2000:‘Litigation grows in ailing nursing home industry’“, Jun. 20 (& see Mar. 2-4, 2001). 

Incoming link of the day“, Mar. 5-7, 2003.

Emergency medicine:‘Trauma centers warn lives could be at risk’” (Orlando), Feb. 28-Mar. 2, 2003; “Ambulances, paramedics sued more“, Oct. 28-29, 2002; “Let ‘em become CPAs“, Oct. 7-8; “Avoid having a medical emergency in Mississippi“, Apr. 5-7; “Scenes from a malpractice crisis” (closure of trauma centers), Mar. 5, 2002  (& see Jun. 11-12); “That’ll teach ‘em” (Chicago EMS), Dec. 26-28, 2000; “Highway responsibility” (ambulance, hospital sued in Derrick Thomas crash), Nov. 28, 2000. 

The jury pool he faced“, Feb. 25, 2003.

Take care of myself?  That’s the doc’s job“, Feb. 14-16, 2003; “Claim: docs should have done more to help woman quit smoking and lose weight” (Pa.), Sept. 18-19, 2002.

“Medical mistakes” estimates, 2001:  “Report: ‘medical errors’ study overblown“, July 27-29.  2000:‘Report on medical errors called erroneous’“, July 11; “Medical mistakes, continued“, March 7; “‘Medical errors’ study“, Feb. 28; “Against medical advice” (Clinton proposals), Feb. 22 (& see malpractice law section below). 

Mercury in dental fillings“, Jul. 16-17, 2002 (& Nov. 4-5, 2002). 

Psychiatry and allied fields, 2002:‘Mom who drugged kids’ ice cream sues’“, Nov. 1-3; “‘Patient sues hospital for letting him out on night he killed’” (Australia, psychiatric case), Oct. 16-17; “‘After stabbing son, mom sues doctors’“, May 31-June 2; “Counseling center may face closure” (Okla.), May 24-26.  2000:Killed his mother, now suing his psychiatrists“, Oct. 2; “Not my fault, I” (woman who murdered daughter sues psychiatrists), May 17; “Legal ethics meet medical ethics” (lawyers advise schizophrenic murder defendant to go off his medication for trial), Feb. 26-27 (update, Mar. 2: he’s reported to have punched a social worker twice since going off medication; Mar. 29: jury convicts him anyway); “Latest excuse syndromes” (“Internet intoxication”, etc.), Jan. 13-14; “Warn and be sued” (clinical psychologist loses confidentiality suit after warning of patient’s dangerousness), Jan. 12.  1999:Doctor sues insurer, claims sex addiction“, Oct. 13; see also personal responsibility

Artificial hearts experimental? Who knew?“, Oct. 23, 2002.

U.K.: ‘Dr. Botch’ sues hospital for wrongful dismissal“, Oct. 18-20, 2002; “Let them sue us!” (hospitals get sued if they withdraw privileges from questionable doctors), Mar. 23, 2000. 

Lawyers fret about bad image” (lawyers’ own poll finds public has much more confidence in doctors than in lawyers), Oct. 3, 2002.

‘Patient pays price for suing over cold’” (U.K.), Sept. 20-22, 2002.

‘Doctors hope fines will curb frivolous lawsuits’“, Sept. 6-8, 2002; “The doctor strikes back” (neurosurgeon countersues), June 14-15, 2000; “‘Truly egregious’ conduct” (court cites misconduct by attorney Geoffrey Fieger in suit against cardiologist), Sept. 14, 1999. 

“Accident medicine”, 2002:‘How to spot a personal injury mill’“, Aug. 19.  2001:Lawyers (and docs) block cleanup of Gotham crash fraud“, April 2.  2000:‘How do you fit 12 people in a 1983 Honda?’“, Aug. 23-25; “His wayward clients“, May 25; “Less suing = less suffering” (NEJM whiplash study), Apr. 24 (& update Jun. 26). 

‘The NFL vs. Everyone’” (medical privacy laws could restrict sports teams from commenting on players’ injuries), Jun. 13, 2002; “Promising areas for suits” (sports medicine), Dec. 7, 2000; “Doctor cleared in Lewis cardiac case“, May 15, 2000. 

‘Remove child before folding’” (AEI-Brookings study on defensive medicine), Jun. 5, 2002. 

Managed care/HMOs, 2002:‘Bad movie, bad public policy’” (John Q), Mar. 19; “Washington Post blasts HMO class actions“, Jan. 30-31.  2001:Managed care bill: Do as we say…“, Sept. 7-9 (& Dec. 6, 1999); “Contrarian view on PBR“, Aug. 17-19; “Chapman, Broder, Kinsley on patients’ rights“, June 28; “Managed care debate“, June 26; “Columnist-fest” (Morton Kondracke), June 22-24; “Docs and Dems“, June 19; “Roundup“, May 21.  2000:Patients’ Bill of Wrongs” (Richard Epstein), Oct. 27-29; “Fortune on Lerach“, Aug. 16-17; “Arm yourself for managed care debate“, April 20; “Employer-based health coverage in retreat?“, March 31-April 2.  1999: Weekend reading: columnist-fest” (John McCarron), Dec. 11-12; “Actions without class” (Wash. Post editorial: “extortion racket”), Dec. 2; “Who’s afraid of Dickie Scruggs?“, Dec. 2; “Aetna chairman disrespects Scruggs“, Nov. 18-19; “World according to Ron Motley” (world’s richest lawyer plans to sue HMOs, nursing homes, drugmakers), Nov. 1; “Deal with us or we’ll tank your stock” (managed care stock prices plunge), Oct. 21; “‘Health care horror stories are compelling but one-sided’“, Oct. 16-17; “After the HMO barbecue“, Oct. 12; “Power attracts power” (Boies joins anti-HMO effort), Sept. 30; “Impending assault on HMOs“,  Sept. 30; “Rude questions to ask your doctor” (why are you helping trial lawyers make it easier to sue health plans?), Sept. 4-6; From the fourth branch, an ultimatum” (leading trial lawyer vows to “dismantle” managed care), July 16

Hospital rapist sues hospital“, May 22-23, 2002 (& Mar. 5-7, 2003: court dismisses case). 

Bush’s big mistake on mental health coverage“, May 13, 2002. 

‘Big government ruined my long weekend’” (tide-over weekend prescribing), May 7, 2002. 

Lawyers stage sham trial aimed at inculpating third party“, Mar. 22-24, 2002. 

All things sentimental and recoverable” (veterinarians), Jan. 30-31, 2002. 

Public health follies:Infectious disease conquered, CDC now chases sprawl“, Nov. 9-11, 2001; “Letter to the editor” (activist doctors vs. gun ownership), May 18, 2001; “‘P.C., M.D.’“, Feb. 23-25, 2001. 

Bioterrorism preparedness” (laws hobble hospitals), Oct. 30, 2001. 

Letter to the editor“, Sept. 3, 2001 (can/should doctors avoid lawyers as patients?) (responses, Oct. 22). 

Clinical trials besieged“, Aug. 27-28, 2001; “Bioethicist as defendant” (Arthur Caplan, Jesse Gelsinger case), Oct. 6-9, 2000. 

‘Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine’“, Jun. 15-17, 2001. 

The unconflicted Prof. Daynard” (British Medical Journal and tobacco lawyer), April 21-23, 2000 (& update: letters, Jan. 2001, June 2001). 

To destroy a doctor” (lawyer’s campaign against laparoscopic surgeons), June 6, 2001. 

Mommy, can I grow up to be an informant?“, July 30, 2001; “A case of meta-False Claims” (overzealous prosecution of hospitals), Sept. 9, 1999. 

Updates” (Lawyers’ cameras in trauma ward), Dec. 26-28, 2000 (& Oct. 18). 

Promising areas for suits” (laser eye surgery), Dec. 7, 2000. 

Plastic surgery:Plastic surgeons must weigh patients’ state of mind, court says“, Aug. 15, 2000 (& June 11, 2001: she loses); “Strippers in court“, Jan. 28, 2000; “No spotlight on me, thanks” (leading breast-implant lawyer obtains gag order against lawyers for dissatisfied clients), August 4, 1999; “Never saying you’re sorry” (implants), July 2, 1999. 

Turn of the screw” (pedicle screw lawsuits), Oct. 24, 2000. 

Disabled rights roundup” (obligatory sign interpreters at doctor’s offices), Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2000; “From our mail sack: ADA enforcement vignettes” (interpreters, guide dog allergy case), May 31, 2000. 

Embarrassing Lawsuit Hall of Fame” (intimate injury; misdiagnosis charge), Aug. 14, 2000. 

Senator Lieberman: a sampler” (cost of defensive medicine), Aug. 8-9, 2000. 

And don’t say ‘I’m sorry’” (nurse’s first-person account), June 21, 2000. 

Can’t sue over affair with doctor” (court rules it was consensual), June 13, 2000. 

Jumped ahead, by court order” (residency), May 31, 2000.

‘Case’s outcome may spur more lawsuits’” (Mississippi fen-phen trial), Dec. 10, 1999; “‘Dieters still want fen-phen’“, August 18, 1999. 

Rhode Island A.G.: let’s do latex gloves next“, Oct. 26, 1999. 

Michigan high court upholds malpractice reform“, August 6, 1999. 


Other resources on medicine and litigation:

Good general links pages on health law are provided by the St. Louis University Center for Health Law Studies and by the whimsically named but highly useful Health Hippo

The Litigation Explosion, the 1991 book by Overlawyered.com editor Walter Olson, was excerpted in two parts by Medical Economics [part one] [part two

Marc Arkin, “Products Liability and the Threat to Contraception” (Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo, February 1999). 

L. William Luria, M.D., and Dennis G. Agliano, M.D., “Abusive Medical Testimony: Toward Peer Review“, describes efforts under way in Hillsborough County, Florida, to apply principles of peer review to the control of irresponsible or unqualified forensic testimony by medical professionals. 

Walter Olson, “Lawyers with Stethoscopes: Clients Beware” (Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo, 1996) (abusive litigation is also bad for the medical prognosis of claimants) 

Breast implants: see separate page

Vaccines: 

Health Hippo vaccines section. 

Peter Huber, “Dan Quayle, the Lawyers and the AIDS Babies“, Forbes, October 28, 1991 (liability and an AIDS vaccine). 

Peter Huber, “Health, Death, and Economics“, Forbes, May 10, 1993 (“investment in vaccines remains far lower than it should be, given the huge benefits that vaccines provide”) 

Walter Olson, “California Counts the Costs of Lawsuit Mania“, Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1992 (liability slowing research on AIDS vaccine). 

Malpractice law:

Daniel Kessler and Mark McClellan of Stanford won the Kenneth Arrow Award in Health Economics in 1997 for their article “Do Doctors Practice Defensive Medicine?”, which “found that when states reformed malpractice laws to put caps on damages for pain and suffering, or to eliminate punitive damages, hospital expenditures for heart disease patients were reduced by about 5 percent, yet did not leave the patients with worse health outcomes.” 

Richard Anderson, M.D., “An ‘Epidemic’ of Medical Malpractice?  A Commentary on the Harvard Medical Practice Study“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo, July 1996 (shortcomings of famous study of medical care in New York hospitals). 

Forbes columns by Peter Huber on the issue include “Malpractice Law: A Defective Product” (1990) and “Rx: Radical Lawyerectomy” and “Easy Lawsuits Make Bad Medicine” (1997). 

Walter Olson, “A Story That Doesn?t Have a Leg To Stand On,” Wall Street Journal, March 27, 1995 (the famous “wrong-leg amputation” case). 

In 1993, in a paper given at the annual meeting of the Association for Health Services Research, Daniel Mendelson and Robert Rubin estimated that defensive medicine practices in three areas alone — pre-surgical testing, fetal monitoring and skull x-rays — probably exceeded $2 billion a year, and estimated likely savings from “aggressive malpractice reform” at more than twice that amount.  Perhaps in contrast (or perhaps not), a 1995 study of obstetrics in Washington state by L. Baldwin et al found no differences in practice between doctors who had been named in suits and those who had not. And Mark Hauser et al, “Fear of Malpractice Liability and its Role in Clinical Decision-Making” studied doctors’ reaction to hypothetical cases in which a patient’s file did or did not reveal a history of having sued physicians.  They found that in cases where an earlier suit had been reported the doctors were modestly more likely to call in other doctors, to recommend hospital admission, to document a case “by the book” rather than rely on judgment, and to predict a bad outcome.  Surprisingly, they did not order more tests or withdraw from cases more often when informed that a patient had a record of suing.  The Hauser paper notes one possible cost of an over-hasty resort to hospitalization: “In psychiatry a defensive response might include a needlessly low threshold for involuntary hospitalization, where the patient’s liberty and autonomy are, in essence, sacrificed in favor of conservative practice for the sake of self-protection.” 

The Michigan law firm of Garan, Lucow, Miller & Seward, P.C., which has a specialty in medical malpractice defense, maintains a comprehensive links page of resources in the field. 

Among reform groups, the Health Care Liability Alliance is a nationwide advocacy group whose website offers a variety of useful materials on the case for lawsuit reform. Californians Allied for Patient Protection defends the Golden State’s MICRA limits on malpractice liability.  CLYSIS is a Minnesota group working for medical liability reform.  State medical societies, such as the Medical Society of the State of New York, often maintain law-related information at their websites.


June 10-11 – New Orleans cleanup continues. “It was bad enough that New Orleans personal injury attorney Curtis Coney Jr. was illegally paying ‘runners’ to solicit accident victims, paying them $500 for each ambulance-chasing referral. When his secretary was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, Coney compounded his problems by urging her to lie about the payments, even though she was the one who usually doled them out. … In a plea agreement unveiled in federal court Wednesday, Coney, 58, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of ‘structuring’ referral payments to hide them from the state and federal governments, one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice for pressuring [the secretary] to lie. As part of the deal, lead prosecutor Irene Gonzalez recommended a 33-month jail sentence for Coney.” The lawyer’s guilty plea is among the fruits of “a 4-year federal investigation of personal injury attorneys, a quietly unfolding case that has resulted in more than 20 convictions”. Targeted along with attorneys and “runners” are “medical providers who exaggerated or falsified injury claims in order to secure lucrative insurance settlements.” (Michael Perlstein, “Lawyer guilty in referral scheme”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 10-11 – Bounty-hunting in New Jersey. The administration of Gov. Jim McGreevey has retained a flamboyant private plaintiff’s lawyer to pursue claims seeking to hold businesses legally liable for wastes left over from the state’s industrial past. Although Allen Kanner is initially donating his services for free, it is expected that he will take a contingency stake in some or many of the state’s financial recoveries. Also being hired is a politically well-connected law firm named Lynch Martin Kroll, associated with one of the state’s Democratic power brokers. Together, Kanner and the Lynch firm “are scouring state files for possible ‘natural resource damage’ claims. Such claims — little used in the state’s past — require polluters to go far beyond simple cleanups by making them pay the public for things such as lost fishing time, lost tap water, injured wildlife and soiled scenery.” (Alexander Lane, “State retains enviro-lawyer who gets polluters’ attention”, Newark Star-Ledger, May 11). More: PointOfLaw.com, Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

June 10-11 – The Rule of Lawyers reviewed. In the June Commentary, Washington attorney and Findlaw columnist Barton Aronson contributes a very generous appraisal of our editor’s latest book. (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – “Silver’s wreck”. Our editor has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Post on the impending demise of auto leasing in New York state, wrecked by the state’s archaic “vicarious liability” law whose chief defenders include the state trial lawyers’ association and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (Walter Olson, New York Post, Jun. 9). Our earlier coverage of the issue is here. More: Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – “Families of teens killed in crash after rave sue U.S. government”. “Family members of five teens who died when their car careened off a cliff after an all-night rave party have filed a suit against the U.S. government for issuing the event’s permit. ‘If you knowingly allow use of your land for a drug party and people get killed, we allege you are partially responsible,’ said Andrew Spielberger, a West Hollywood-based attorney representing the families.” (AP/Sacramento Bee, Jun. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – The intimidation tactics of Madison County. Four business groups held a press event in Madison County, Ill., last week to unveil the latest report depicting the county’s courts as a paradise for plaintiff’s lawyers (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “The Rogue Courts of Madison County” (PDF)). What happened next? Local plaintiff’s attorney Bradley M. Lakin promptly slapped them with a subpoena demanding that their executives testify in a would-be class action case against Ford Motor on alleged paint defects. “Subpoenas are for witnesses who know something about the case,” said Victor E. Schwartz, general counsel of the American Tort Reform Association. “In this situation, ATRA knows nothing. It is clear the subpoena power is being used to squelch ATRA from speaking out about Madison County and its inequities as one of the leading ‘judicial hellholes’ in the United States.” Last year ATRA published a report entitled “Justice for Sale: The Judges of Madison County“. (“ATRA Says Subpoena Power Should Not Be Used To Squelch First Amendment Rights”, ATRA press release, Jun. 6; Illinois Civil Justice League, which was one of the subpoenaed groups along with ATRA and the national and Illinois Chambers of Commerce, has links). Updates Jul. 12: subpoenas dropped and Jul. 26: sanctions motions dropped.

And St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan turns the spotlight on a recent Madison County class action settlement involving Sears tires: “If you have a receipt showing you purchased an AccuBalance from a Sears auto center between 1989 and 1994 and are willing to take the time to request a claims form and fill it out and send it in, you could get $2.50 for each tire, up to a total of $10. Of course, who keeps receipts from 1989? You still might be eligible for $1.25 a tire, up to a total of $5. If Sears does not have a record of your purchase, you will be eligible only for a $3 Sears coupon. Of course, there will be forms to fill out under threat of perjury. Things are a little better for the lawyers who ‘represented’ you. The settlement says that their legal fees cannot exceed $2.45 million.” McClellan is bold to tackle this subject, since when he criticized lawyers from the same class-action firm in 1999 they came after him with a lawsuit, later dropped (see Nov. 4, 1999)(Bill McClellan, “Just like your tires, wheels of justice may be out of balance”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – New legal ethics weblog. David Giacalone, formerly of PrairieLaw, has started a new weblog, ethicalEsq?, specializing in “client-centered legal ethics”. He’s already posted on several issues of interest, including Common Good’s early-offers proposal (May 30 and Jun. 3), the case for requiring lawyers to disclose more fully to clients the circumstances of their representation (Jun. 3), and (citing this website) the still-unfolding battle in a New York courtroom over whether Judge Charles Ramos has authority to review and correct outrageous tobacco fees (May 31; on tobacco fees, see Daniel Wise, “Judge’s Power to Review $625M Tobacco Fee Award Challenged”, New York Law Journal, May 28). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – Claims consciousness in Utah. To promote a contemplated April Fool’s Day festival, Mayor Gerald R. Sherratt of Cedar City, Utah, published in local papers a tall tale about how wandering Vikings had left precious ancient artifacts in a local cave. Most residents seem to have gotten the joke, but various readers in the nearby town of St. George stepped forward to lay claim to the supposed treasure found in the cave, several of them saying “their ancestors had been part of the settlement and had owned some of the artifacts. …When Sherratt explained the whole story was made up to promote the festival, the St. George residents accused him and other officials of a cover-up.” (Paul Rolly and JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, “Ad Flap Is Stranger Than Fiction”, Salt Lake Tribune, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – Hiker cuts off use of his name. Equipped to Survive, a wilderness gear site, recommended a pocket-sized emergency beacon by referring to a recent survival story that received worldwide publicity: “Your survival should not require you to amputate your own arm, as Aron Ralston was recently forced to do in order to escape being trapped by an 800-lb. boulder.” Before long the site’s proprietor received this cease and desist letter (PDF format) dated June 5 from Ralston’s lawyer demanding that the reference be removed as in violation of the hiker’s “right of publicity” under state statutes. There followed this rude reply from the website proprietor, inviting the lawyer to “stick your ridiculous cease and desist demand where the sun don’t shine”. Now cut that out, boys, there’s no reason we can’t be polite. (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Blaming murder on flat tire. A 19-year-old woman, having stopped to change a flat tire at the side of the road, is taken away and murdered by a local man. According to a lawyer for her family, the Ford Motor Co. and tiremaker Bridgestone/Firestone should be made to pay for the murder. A court dismissed the case against the two companies on grounds that they could not have found harm of this sort foreseeable enough to trigger a legal duty of care, but the family’s lawyer, Richard Rensch, is appealing to the Nebraska Supreme Court. (AP/KETV, Jun. 3; “Murder victim’s parents say flat set off tragic events”, Fremont (Neb.) Tribune, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Fox News “The Big Story”. Our editor was interviewed on screen for a piece that Fox News’s “The Big Story” is preparing on the search for deep pockets in litigation. It’s tentatively scheduled to run Wednesday, but these things are always subject to change. Update: it did run Wednesday, Jun. 4. (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Malpractice: juggling the stats. In the course of an otherwise standard feature package on the medical malpractice crisis (Daniel Eisenberg and Maggie Sieger, “The Doctor is Out”, Time, Jun. 9, and sidebars) Time gives credence to a newly issued report asserting that doctors’ malpractice premiums are actually rising fastest in states without damage caps (Jyoti Thottam, “A Chastened Insurer”, Jun. 1). Very curiously, the new report (from Weiss Ratings, “an independent insurance-rating agency in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.”) is described as compiling figures for median premiums and payouts (the numbers compared with which half of the data points are higher and half lower) rather than averages, even though this is a field where the outliers (giant awards, unusually litigious specialties) drive the debate and the dollar figures. CalPundit (Jun. 2) spots this anomaly and opines: “this is so obviously the wrong statistic to use in this case that there must be some kind of axe to grind here” (via Jonathan Adler, NR Corner).

A table laying out the (very large) differences between malpractice premiums between Los Angeles (where doctors practice under California’s MICRA damages cap) and three litigious jurisdictions elsewhere in the country (Miami, Long Island, Detroit) indicates that MICRA confers its greatest benefit by far on the most litigation-prone specialties: for example, the average savings from MICRA for a neurosurgeon is $ 145,813 and for an ob/gyn $ 88,593, but it’s only $24,599 for an internist and $15,639 for a dermatologist (“2003 Malpractice Premium Comparison“, California Physician (California Medical Association)) (PDF format)(CMA’s MICRA Resource Center). For a more reliable reading of the crisis and its relation to damage caps and the insurance market, check out the report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this spring (“Addressing the New Health Care Crisis: Reforming the Medical Litigation System to Improve the Quality of Health Care”, Mar. 3; Senate testimony by Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen, Mar. 13).

How big an impact do the “outlier” cases have, the small number of gigantic verdicts that almost vanish from the calculation when per-case outlays are calculated as a median? Among recent examples are the $78.5-million verdict against an Orlando hospital for failing to figure out that a woman visiting its emergency room was suffering from a bizarre undiagnosed tumor; thought to be the largest medical malpractice award in Florida history, it has “become the symbol of juries run amok” in the view of critics of the system. (William R. Levesque, “Tremors still felt from whopping jury award”, St. Petersburg Times, Jun. 2). And in a result vocally criticized by appeals judges even as they felt obliged to uphold it, a Manhattan jury’s $40 million malpractice award against one of the city’s premier hospitals, New York-Presbyterian, has been blown up to $140 million by a law mandating that annual interest of 4 percent be added to awards “even if the jury has already adjusted the annual amount for inflation. Critics say that means a double adjustment for inflation in some cases, like this one.” (Richard Perez-Pena, “New York Hospitals Fearing Malpractice Crisis”, New York Times, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – “Rape defendant asks $20,000; found fly in mashed potatoes”. “If convicted later this year of raping a 16-year-old girl, [Kenneth] Williams could be sentenced to 112 years to life in prison. It would be his third, and last, trip to state prison, authorities say.” What has upset Williams recently, however, is the insect impurity he says he found in his prison dinner. He “is seeking $20,000 to ease the ‘mental stress and anguish’ he said finding the fly inflicted upon him. ‘It’s been almost a month since this occurred,’ Williams wrote last week in the claim, ‘and I still only pick at my food …. I’m losing weight and am unable to eat properly.’” The sum demanded was fair, according to his complaint, since public venting of the allegations “would cost the county ‘a great deal more both financially and in bad publicity.’” (J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 3 – An important litigation skill. From Gail Diane Cox’s “Voir Dire” column in the National Law Journal, Nov. 4, 2002 (scroll down to “Jargon Watch”): “Blamestorming: Variant of brainstorming. Sitting around in a group discussing a mistake and how to make someone responsible for it, preferably a deep-pocket defendant. Synonym: Litigation initiation.” Maybe a session of this sort was responsible for the naming of Shell Oil as a defendant in the Rhode Island nightclub fire (see May 30-Jun. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

June 3 – “Resumé spam saddles employers”. It’s common these days for employers to receive hundreds, thousands or even milllions of resumés via email from hopeful job-seekers. Federal regulations on the books since the 1970s, however, require most larger companies to preserve records of all job applications, the most important reason being to furnish evidence in case they are someday investigated for possible discrimination. Under the strictest interpretation of the rules, companies with more than fifteen employees must keep on file any resumé sent to them — even if “the applicant misspells the company’s name, applies for a job not listed or is simply not qualified.” The result: a large and ever-growing paperwork/compliance burden on American business. (Bill Atkinson, “Resume spam saddles employers”, Baltimore Sun, May 22; Michelle Martinez, “Who Really Is An Applicant When Recruiting Online?”, PeopleClick.com, undated). See Shirleen Holt, “Résumé spam is tiring those hiring”, Seattle Times, Jan. 19; Katherine Harding, “The new scourge: Résumé spam”, GlobeTechnology.com (Globe & Mail, Canada), Jan. 8 (“Companies that advertise jobs on-line are finding their e-mail boxes crammed with irrelevant responses”, some from applicants who blast out responses to every job listed on a posting board). (DURABLE LINK)

June 2 – Updates. Further developments in cases we’ve covered:

* Citing its recent jurisprudence bringing constitutional due process limits to bear on punitive damages, the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed lower courts to reduce a $290 million award against Ford Motor in the Romo case; the case arose from a Bronco rollover in central California, and we’ve had quite a bit to say about it over the four years since it went to trial (see Oct. 24, 2002 and links from there) (David Kravets, “High Court Reduces Damages in Car Crash”, AP/Yahoo, May 19; Bob Egelko, “Key ruling on punitive damages”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 19);

* The Los Angeles Zoo has transferred Ruby, its female African elephant, to a Tennessee zoo notwithstanding a pending lawsuit (see May 16-18) complaining that the move would disrupt Ruby’s bond with her elephant “best friend”; an attorney who had gone to court seeking a temporary restraining order against splitting the two elephants complained that zoo authorities had acted “like thieves in the middle of the night”. (Carla Hall, “Despite Protests, L.A. Zoo Sends Elephant to Tennessee”, Los Angeles Times, May 27) (via SoCalLaw, May 27);

* The Supreme Court of Hawaii has reversed a jury’s award of $2 million to an auto service manager fired over what his employer considered credible charges of sexual harassment (see Mar. 10-12, 2000) (Gonsalves v. Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, Ltd., Supreme Court of Hawaii, Nov. 27, 2002; see Jeffrey Harris, “Law Watch: Preventing Harassment Trumps Keeping Promises”, Hawaii Business, Feb. 20);

* In a humiliating defeat for backers of anti-gun litigation, a federal “advisory” jury in Brooklyn has refused to hold manufacturers liable for inner-city gun crime in the much-publicized case brought by the NAACP before judge Jack Weinstein. “The panel of 12 jurors issued a finding of no liability for 45 of the defendants and was unable to reach a verdict for the remaining 23 manufacturers or gun dealers”. (Mark Hamblett, “Federal Advisory Jury Declines to Find Gun Industry Liable”, New York Law Journal, May 15; Katherine Mangu-Ward, “No Smoking Gun”, WeeklyStandard.com, May 8). Update Jul. 20: judge dismisses lawsuit entirely. (DURABLE LINK)


April 10-13 – Posting slowdown. Updates will be sparse for a while as our editor responds to a family emergency. See you, most likely, early next week. (DURABLE LINK)

April 10-13 – Public Citizen’s bogus numbers. The supposed consumer group now concedes that it put out erroneous numbers which made Pennsylvania doctors look artificially bad (“Watchdog group backs off claim that Pa. doctors top nation’s repeat malpractice payouts”, AP/Scranton Times, Apr. 2; see our Mar. 15-16 report). In January, in a move timed to undercut President Bush’s Scranton speech calling for malpractice reform, Public Citizen claimed that 10.6 percent of Keystone State doctors had paid out on more than one malpractice allegation; it now admits it can verify only a figure of 5.4 percent. The false numbers were widely reported in the press, and the AP last week published an unusual correction (AP/Kansas City Star, Apr. 4). Pennsylvania Medical Society spokesman Chuck Moran called for Public Citizen to apologize: “It’s ironic that they initiated a report called ‘Medical Misdiagnosis: challenging the malpractice claims of the doctor’s lobby’, when, in fact, they are the ones that misdiagnosed the situation.” The accuracy of the group’s figures have also been challenged in Colorado (“Monitoring malpractice” (editorial), Denver Post, Mar. 10).

There is at any rate a more fundamental problem with the litigation lobby’s contention that the current crisis is caused by a small number of bad doctors who attract most malpractice suits and should simply be driven out of practice. As Binghamton, N.Y. neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Riben points out, the number of malpractice lawsuits doctors face often have less to do with their competence than with their specialty and geographic location. “If you look around at physicians that get sued a lot, they tend to be highly prestigious names, people who get difficult cases in difficult specialties where the results are predestined not to be as good as those of people who handle simpler cases, Riben said. ‘Those are the people who have litigation. So it you want to eliminate those people with multiple suits, you would have to eliminate all of our neurosurgeons, all of our orthopedic surgeons, all of our obstetricians, anybody working in an emergency room and everybody reading mammograms,’ he said. ‘I think you would agree if we eliminated those specialties we would not improve health care.’” (Eric Durr, “Docs, public interest groups battle over malpractice issues”, Albany Business Review, Mar. 14). (DURABLE LINK)

April 10-13 – Employers liable for not filtering raunchy spam? At least if workers have complained, employers may be at risk of liability under sexual harassment law if they fail to install blocking software on email inboxes, say various legal experts. Quotes our editor (Declan McCullagh, “Por nspam: Are employers liable?”, CNET News, Apr. 7) (DURABLE LINK)

April 10-13 – Best and worst state courts for business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce releases the results of a detailed Harris poll of business respondents. The “top five states today as evaluated by corporate America at doing the best job at creating a fair and reasonable litigation environment are: Delaware, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Indiana whereas in 2002 Delaware, Virginia, Washington, Kansas, and Iowa were listed as the top 5. The worst perceived states today are: Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, exactly the same as in 2002.” California scores low marks for punitive damages and treatment of class actions; Hawaii is criticized for onerous discovery and the difficulty of getting weak cases thrown out quickly; New York and Minnesota win plaudits for their handling of scientific and technical evidence. Where does your state rank? (overview) (press release in PDF format) (poll results as Word document) (press conference) (DURABLE LINK)

April 9 – Schools roundup. In Camden, N.J., second grade teacher Eileen Blau has sued student Daniel Allen for running into her in a school hallway at an “excessive rate of speed”, thus inflicting “severe and multiple injuries, some of which are permanent in nature,” according to her suit. Young Allen, who at the time of the incident was 11 and weighed about 90 pounds, didn’t know his family was the target of a claim until the sheriff’s deputy showed up at the door. “He didn’t understand why someone would want to do this to him,” said his mother. “He said ‘Why does she hate me? Why is she doing this. I said I was sorry.’” (Bill Duhart, “Teacher sues student over hall collision”, Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, Mar. 29). The American Bar Association Journal presents an overview of suits arising when girls aren’t picked for the cheerleading squad (Stephanie Francis Cahill, “Bring It On”, Apr. 4; see Jun. 4, 2001). And “[a] group of attorneys who sued Mississippi schools for millions of dollars on behalf of custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers has turned to Alabama, filing more than 60 similar lawsuits”. (Scott Parrott, “Local school systems sued”, Tuscaloosa News, Apr. 4). More on the Jackson, Miss.-based School Litigation Group, which according to one of its principals, former congressman and secretary of agriculture Mike Espy, “takes a contingency fee of between 40 percent and 50 percent, depending on the complexity of the case”: Gary Young, “Overtime Suits 101″, National Law Journal, Mar. 19. (DURABLE LINK)

April 7-8 – Bag of treasures. Cornell Curry, 57 and homeless in New York City, says the Partnership for the Homeless’s drop-in center on W. 23rd St. negligently lost a duffel bag of his belongings last fall; he had been unable to stop by to retrieve the belongings because he was spending three weeks in jail after being arrested for public urination. The shelter “admits it did toss one of Curry’s bags in the garbage, but said that one contained only three soiled pieces of clothing.” Au contraire, says Curry in his lawsuit: he avers that the contents of the lost duffel bag included “an $18,000 star sapphire ring, a $4,000 gold watch, $200 in cash and ‘extremely valuable’ photographs, including his parents’ 1937 wedding photo”, entitling him to $2 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages. Last month Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Rosalyn Richter denied a motion to throw out the claim: “It is simply too early to resolve whether the plaintiff did, in fact, leave the bag in the defendant’s possession and whether the plaintiff also shares some responsibility for the alleged loss,” Richter said. (Helen Peterson, “Homeless, or Mister money bag?”, New York Daily News, Mar. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

April 7-8 – Malpractice crisis hits sports-team docs. Some of organized sports’ most memorable highlights have come when athletes played through pain and injury, but increasingly the result is to create a risk of litigation against team physicians, who are exposed to monetary damages that are potentially enormous given their patients’ potential loss of earning power. Some doctors are withdrawing from the care of professional athletes, and organized football is discussing schemes to indemnify team doctors for their escalating insurance bills. (Jason Cole, “With malpractice rates skyrocketing, many doctors are hesitant to care for professional athletes”, Miami Herald, Apr. 2). Our editor’s Feb. 27 Wall Street Journal piece on lawsuits blaming obstetricians for cerebral palsy is now online, thanks to the folks at Texans for Lawsuit Reform. And welcome readers from Sydney Smith’s excellent medical weblog MedPundit, which has run posts in recent weeks on California’s MICRA and insurance rates, what happens to patients who win awards (plus North Carolina crisis notes), the problem with physician “report cards”, Public Citizen, and a link to this Tallahassee Democrat op-ed (Mar. 3) on how Florida’s malpractice crisis is harming its medical schools. (DURABLE LINK)

April 7-8 – Edwards leads in fund-raising. The North Carolina senator aces his Democratic rivals in the White House money race: “The key to Edwards’ success may have come from trial lawyers, a group of which Edwards is a part and from whom he received 80 percent of political action committee money in recent years.” (“Dem Presidential Hopefuls Compete for Cash”, FoxNews.com, Apr. 2; Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “With $7 Million in Donations, Kerry Trails Democratic Rival”, New York Times, Apr. 3). However, a January poll conducted for the Raleigh News & Observer found the senator none too popular in his home state: “The poll found that 47 percent of active Tar Heel voters disapprove of Edwards’ decision to seek the presidency, while 37 percent approve”. (“Poll: Edwards wouldn’t beat Bush in North Carolina”, AP/Charlotte Observer, Jan. 18) (via “Robert Musil“). (DURABLE LINK)

April 7-8 – U.K.: “Killer wrongly sacked for axe attack”. “A convicted murderer who tried to attack a colleague with an axe was wrongly sacked from his job, an employment tribunal ruled yesterday.” The tribunal in the British Midlands ruled that Preston city council was wrong to fire James Robertson, 50, without notice from his health inspector post after he “brandished the [axe] in an Indian restaurant in Preston after an argument”. However, the tribunal ordered the council to pay only “two weeks’ wages, or £807, for breach of contract,” rejecting a plea for more extensive compensation by Robertson, who “gave evidence while handcuffed to a prison guard.” The council “had employed him when he was released from jail on licence after being convicted of kicking a man to death in Glasgow in 1971.” (Daily Telegraph, Apr. 3) (& welcome Dave Barry readers — the great humorist generously calls us “the always fascinating Overlawyered.com” (archives not working, Apr. 7)). (DURABLE LINK)

April 4-6 – Gun lawsuit preemption moves forward. On Wednesday a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 1036, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which would “prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others.” Our editor testified in favor of the measure (his prepared statement). The proceedings were televised live on C-SPAN III and rebroadcast overnight on C-SPAN II (schedule, Apr. 2). Yesterday the full House Judiciary Committee gave its approval to the legislation, with Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher joining all panel Republicans in support of the measure. John Tierney’s New York Times account (“A New Push to Grant Gun Industry Immunity From Suits”, Apr. 4) quotes our editor on the subject and mentions The Rule of Lawyers (see second page of article). (DURABLE LINK)

April 4-6 – C-SPAN again. Speaking of C-SPAN II, the network’s “BookTV” feature will be rebroadcasting our editor’s Manhattan Institute speech on The Rule of Lawyers at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, April 5. (DURABLE LINK)

April 4-6 – A bond too far. Even the editorialists of the New York Times agree that it’s “absurd” and “the kind of ruling that erodes the credibility of our legal system” to require Philip Morris to post a ruinous $12 billion bond before it can appeal the class action ruling of a judge in plaintiff-friendly Madison County, Ill. (“Too Costly an Appeal”, New York Times, Apr. 4)(see Wednesday’s post; more). “As for Judge [Nicholas] Byron, it’s difficult to divine if he was playing jurist or friendly croupier. He sought to sweeten the pot by awarding the State of Illinois $3 billion in punitive damages, out of the total $10.1 billion judgment.” (“A Madison County jackpot”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 2). Perhaps influenced by the prospect that the state will be thrown this slice of the booty, the Illinois Senate is refusing (for now) to lift a finger to reduce the bonding requirement (“Panel nixes bill to help Philip Morris”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 4)(Update Apr. 30: judge agrees to reduce bond somewhat). (DURABLE LINK)

April 2-3 – Appeals bonds, again. Once again the business end of an otherwise outlandish mega-verdict turns out to be the requirement that a defendant post a bond before it can appeal: Philip Morris says it is unable to put up the requisite $12 billion needed to appeal the recent Madison County, Ill, verdict against it (see Mar. 24). Officials of the fifty states are running around in near-hysteria: they’re bothered not by the possible injustice or community-and-investor disruption involved in bankrupting the giant company, whose holdings include Kraft Foods and Oscar Mayer, but instead by the prospect that an insolvency will jeopardize the flow of billions of dollars into their own coffers under the tobacco settlement. So the AGs, supposedly second to none in their loathing of the tobacco companies, are making noises about intervening to try to get the appeals bond requirement lowered. This is the second time around (at least) for this issue: state governments also mobilized after the Engle tobacco case in Florida threatened bonding requirements high enough to destroy the industry. See also the Loewen case (Ameet Sachdev, “States line up against smoking case bond”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 1; Neil Buckley, “Philip Morris ‘cannot afford’ $12bn bond”, Financial Times, Apr. 1; “Philip Morris woes hurt stock”, AP/Seattle Times, Apr. 1; “Appeals bond a symptom of need for tort reform”, Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, Apr. 1; related). (DURABLE LINK)

April 2-3 – After the R.I. club fire. “Ignoring calls from peers to hold off on lawsuits for now, a Providence lawyer [earlier this month] fired the second salvo in what is expected to become a barrage of litigation resulting from the fire at The Station. The lawsuit was filed in Providence Superior Court on behalf of Lisa Kelly of Swansea, a 27-year-old single mom who was among the 99 people killed in the Feb. 20 blaze at the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub. The lawsuit was filed by Ronald Kingsley, the father of Kelly’s daughter, Zoe Jean Kingsley. Kelly’s mother, Barbara Nagle of Attleboro, yesterday said she knew nothing about the suit and that Kingsley hadn’t had any contact with his daughter in three years as far as she knew….

“The latest lawsuit names 19 individuals and companies as defendants, including the St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch Inc., whose Budweiser brand accompanied some advertising for the ill-fated show. Anheuser-Busch Inc. yesterday denied any role in promoting or sponsoring the concert in a statement sent to the Herald. ‘The company that distributes Anheuser-Busch Inc. products in Rhode Island is an independent business that has the right to use our beer brand name in its advertising,’ wrote Stephen Lambright, a company lawyer.” (Thomas Caywood, “Second suit filed over fire at Station”, Boston Herald, Mar. 11)(see Mar. 10-11). See also Roger Parloff; “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire”, Fortune, Mar. 19; Deroy Murdock, “Lawyers turn tragedy to farce”, Scripps Howard/Naples, Fla. Daily News, Mar. 28. (DURABLE LINK)

April 2-3 – “Mayor: WTC Personal Injury Suits Could Bankrupt NYC”. “New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday warned that personal injury lawsuits filed by people who claim their long-term health was damaged by the clean-up of the World Trade Center site could bankrupt the city in the next 20 years.” (Reuters/Yahoo, Mar. 31). See also Paul Howard (Manhattan Institute), “A 9/11 Tort-Fest”, New York Post, Aug. 10, 2002, and New York Law Journal coverage: Mark Hamblett, “9/11 Victims’ Suits Flood Court to Meet One-Year Time Limit”, Sept. 11; Tom Perrotta, “New York City Creates Unit for Suits From Sept. 11″, Sept. 12; Daniel Wise, “Sept. 11 Fund Master Found to Give ‘Fair Compensation’”, Oct. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

April 1 – Maybe crime pays dept.: not an April Fool’s joke. Gerald Skoning’s annual National Law Journal roundup of the year’s weirdest cases in labor and employment law includes the following gem: “Richard N. Shick — while employed as a caseworker in the Illinois Department of Public Aid — robbed a convenience store in Joliet, Ill., armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Afterward, he sued the department, claiming that he was discriminated against because of his disabilities and his sex, the trauma of which caused him to commit the robbery. The jury awarded him $5 million in damages and $166,700 in back pay. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois partially vacated and dismissed the judgment, but awarded $303,830 in front pay, even while he serves a 10-year sentence. Thankfully, the 7th Circuit reversed.” (“Legal Weirdness at Work”, Mar. 26; Gail Diane Cox, “Here’s the tort reform poster boy for 2002″, National Law Journal, Oct. 28). Also on Skoning’s list: voodoo signs ruled not an unfair labor practice; employer dodges harassment charge after conduct is ruled “even-handedly offensive” rather than discriminatory; hemorrhoids not a protected disability under ADA. (DURABLE LINK)


February 20 – Start that movie on time, or else. Lawyers filed suit Tuesday “against movie theaters that claim in their ads they’ll show movies at a certain time, but, instead, show on-screen commercials at the advertised time, delaying the movie’s start. Theaters are committing consumer fraud when they claim in advertising that a movie starts at a certain time but it really starts a few minutes later because of the ads, said Mark Weinberg, a Chicago attorney who filed the two suits.” But a lawyer in China (of all places) got there first, as we reported Jan. 10. (Dave Newbart, “Pre-movie ads rip off theatergoers, suits claim”, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 19; Eric Krol, “If you don’t like commercials at movies, why not sue?”, Daily Herald (Chicago suburban), Feb. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

February 20 – Reforming punitive damages. “The best and most practical reform is to let the jury vote up or down on punitive damages, then have judges set the amount,” argues Douglas McCollam, Washington correspondent of the American Lawyer. Since punitive damages partake of the nature of civil fines, they should also be paid into a public fund, and plaintiff’s lawyers should not be allowed to capture a percentage share of them; instead they should be “paid for their time and reimbursed for their costs, with amounts determined at a fee-award hearing.” (“Damaging Justice”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2002, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform). (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 – They’ll be back for seconds. Syndicated columnist Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune explains why we haven’t heard the last of the lawsuits trying to make food companies pay for obesity. Quotes our editor (“A fast track for fast-food lawsuits?”, Feb. 13). The New York Times‘s “Editorial Observer” is oh-so-impressed with the suits’ logic (Adam Cohen, “The McNugget of Truth in the Fast-Food Lawsuits”, Feb. 3). But Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) says he plans to introduce legislation in the U.S. Congress to cut off obesity suits against food companies; the AP quotes the Association of Trial Lawyers of America as opposing any such move (Mike Schneider, “Bill would outlaw lawsuits blaming restaurants for obesity”, AP/Naples Daily News, Jan. 28) (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 – “Pass-the-parcel” accounting liability. One company’s newsworthy firing of its CFO may signal that Sarbanes-Oxley is already having perverse effects on the interactions of accounting firms with their corporate clients, according to Asymmetrical Information’s pseudonymous “Mindles H. Dreck” (Feb. 17, and comments). Michael Fox at Employers’ Lawyer (Feb. 16) also has some thoughts. (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 – One solution to the malpractice crunch. “A New York doctor is commuting 1,220 miles to work to avoid the city’s high medical malpractice insurance rates. Dr David Abraham, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist from Long Island, leaves his family twice a month to travel to Minnesota.” According to the New York Post, Dr. Abraham had been paying $70,000 to insure his solo practice and can save up to $40,000 a year with the new arrangement. (“Doctor travels 1,220 miles to work”, Ananova, Feb. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

February 18 – It’s all for the clients. MedPundit Sydney Smith (Feb. 3) says next time you hear the trial lawyers’ association saying that litigation is about protecting the public, rather than about making money, you should keep in mind this page. (DURABLE LINK)

February 18 – “Namibian tribe sues Germany for genocide”. “A Namibian tribe that came close to being exterminated by Germany’s colonial forces nearly a century ago is suing the German government and two companies for £2.6 billion.” The forces of Kaiser Wilhelm committed atrocities against the Herero people in the then-German colony of South-West Africa between 1904 and 1907, as reprisals against the killing of white settlers. Rights activists and lawyers plan to sue the German government and German companies for compensation in — natürlich! — American courts. (Christopher Munnion, Daily Telegraph (U.K.), Jan. 31). (DURABLE LINK)

February 18 – My lawyer says I’m the valedictorian. Outside Boston: “The family of a student who could be denied valedictorian honors at Hull High School, even though she has the best grades, has sued the school district, arguing the top slot should be hers.” The suit filed by Sharisse Kanet’s family “seeks to enjoin Hull from naming any valedictorian until the matter is resolved.” (“Would-Be Valedictorian Sues to Ensure Top Rank”, WHDH Boston, Feb. 16) (DURABLE LINK)

February 17 – Pet custody as legal practice area. Everything you could want to know about the rapid rise of who-gets-Fluffy litigation, including the tale of a San Diego woman’s $146,000 (in fees incurred) courtroom battle to get custody of Gigi, a greyhound-pointer mix: “At trial, the court entertained a ‘day-in-the-life of Gigi’ video proffered by the wife’s divorce attorney, which showed Gigi sleeping under the wife’s desk while at work, walking in the park, and playing on the beach.” (Quentin Letts, “Fur better or fur worse”, Daily Telegraph (U.K.), Feb. 16; law firm of Blumberg Lorber Nelson LLP, “Who Gets Fido? Pet Custody in Divorce Cases”, undated; PetCustody.com). (DURABLE LINK)

February 17 – Inmate entitled to disability payments. “A Beverly Hills lawyer doing time for sinking his yacht to collect the insurance money won a judgment against two insurance companies that canceled his monthly disability payments because they suspected him of committing fraud. … The companies stopped paying [Rex K.] DeGeorge his $8,200-a-month disability payments in 1999, saying he faked his ailments and continued to work as a lawyer. DeGeorge filed the claims in 1990, saying he was disabled because of a heart condition and brain damage caused by an auto accident. … The jury also found DeGeorge remains disabled, forcing Equitable to continue paying him $4,700 a month for the rest of his life. … DeGeorge was sentenced last year to 7 1/2 years in federal prison for sinking his 76-foot yacht off the Italian coast to collect on his $3.5 million insurance policy, which prosecutors said was inflated through a series of phony sales transactions. He is appealing his conviction.” (“California Inmate Wins Disability Case”, AP/ABC News, Feb. 15) (DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 — Tried to outrun Coast Guard in chase. Last month a Cuban smuggling boat tried to outrun a pursuit by the U.S. Coast Guard and instead capsized; the 34 persons aboard were rescued and most were repatriated to Cuba. Now a lawyer for relatives of the Cubans is suggesting that the Coast Guard may have been overly aggressive in pursuit of the boat and thus responsible for its capsizing. A spokesman for the Coast Guard begs to differ: the boat “was grossly overloaded … and being captained by criminals with a ruthless intent.” (Elaine DeValle, “Video on Cubans’ boat that capsized sought by lawyer”, Miami Herald, Jan. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 – Take care of myself? That’s the doc’s job. “Physicians, lawyers, insurers, juries — all absorb criticism for the rising cost of medical premiums, a surge that has provoked the cry for tort reform. Meanwhile, patients remain generally blind to their own culpability in the crisis.” The story of how one Ohio man’s bad habits contributed to his demise, and how his widow then prevailed in a $4.7 million suit against the physician who treated him for prostate cancer but did not push him to seek a cardiologist’s help as well. Quotes our editor (Martin Kuz, “Cash Diet”, Cleveland Scene, Feb. 12) (see Sept. 18-19, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 – Politico’s law associate suspended over “runner” use. “Louisiana’s highest court has suspended a former law associate of a since-disbarred and imprisoned state senate president for her role in the use of ‘runners’ to solicit personal injury clients for the senator’s law firm.” An official with the state bar says he has seen a sharp increase in offenses involving the use of “runners”, who drum up injury cases. (“Louisiana Cracks Down on Client Solicitation”, National Law Journal, Feb. 13). “At the former O’Keefe law firm, more than $1 million was paid annually to ‘runners’ who hustled car accident cases. One runner, caught on hidden camera, explains how the scheme worked. ‘Say look, you ain’t say you hurt, if you say no, ain’t nothing there for you, understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t collect nothing if you ain’t hurt, you understand? If anyone say they ain’t hurt ain’t gonna make no more money,’ he said. [Attorney Stephen] Bernstein ran the day-to-day business for attorney Michael O’Keefe, who bankrolled the entire operation and fronted the money to pay the runners, [reporter Richard] Angelico said. O’Keefe is serving 19 and-a-half years in federal prison on other charges. Although O’Keefe never performed any legal work, one lawyer who worked at the firm said that 60 percent of all legal fees flowed into O’Keefe’s pocket.” (“Feds Charge ‘Canal Street Cartel’ Lawyer, The New Orleans Channel, Oct. 16, 2000). “O’Keefe served in the state Senate from 1960-84, the last 12 years as president.” He was convicted for his role in a scheme that skimmed millions of dollars from an ailing medical malpractice insurer. (Joe Gyan Jr., “Ex-legislator O’Keefe appeals conviction, argues witness lied”, Baton Rouge Advocate, Aug. 21, 2002) (see Sept. 13, 1999, July 31, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 – “Florida Jury Awards $100M for Pool Accident”. A case summarized by one of our readers thusly: “And the money goes to: the parents who left a 2 year old alone by the pool.” The plaintiff’s attorneys, in mock trials, “were careful about the composition of the jury. They were cautious of young, new parents who might be too critical of the father’s inattention”. (Dee McAree, National Law Journal, Feb. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 – ABA endorses asbestos litigation reform. What next — a blue moon, a month of Sundays, the freezing over of Hell? The nation’s largest lawyers’ group, the American Bar Association, can no longer be counted among consistent opponents of limits on litigation now that it’s voted to back restrictions on asbestos suits; it may also endorse measures to require that nationwide class actions be heard in federal rather than state court. Read, and rub your eyes: “ABA leaders argued that lawyers should accept blame for a crisis in courts overwhelmed with 600,000 asbestos claims, as well as the bankruptcies of dozens of companies that were sued. ‘This is not tort reform, it’s scandal reform,’ said Terrence Lavin, a Chicago plaintiffs’ attorney,” whom this site hereby nominates our Man of the Week. “‘I have watched helplessly as some, but not all, members of the asbestos bar have made a mockery of our civil justice system and inflicted financial ruin on corporate America.’” (Gina Holland, “Lawyer group wants to restrict asbestos suits “, AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 12). And over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan Non-Volokh catches out National Public Radio in a very funny bit of reportorial inconsistency — at the least — relating to asbestos litigation and this nation’s Public Enemy #1. (Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 – “Illegal art”. An exhibit of artwork that could land its owners or creators in court, mostly consisting of parodies or adaptations vulnerable to attack by intellectual property owners. (via Jesse Walker, Reason “Hit and Run”, Dec. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 – Feinstein set to back Bush malpractice plan. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, often at odds with the Bush administration, has emerged as an unexpected ally of the President on the issue of medical malpractice and plans to introduce a federal bill mirroring the provisions of MICRA, the California law. “Feinstein said she agreed with much of Bush’s speech. ‘There is no question about malpractice,’ she said. ‘Before 1975, California had one of the highest malpractice insurance rates in the country.’ In 1975, the state enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act that capped pain-and-suffering judgments at $250,000. … Cases filed in California are also subject to caps on legal fees. The percentage of jury awards allowed for attorney fees decreases as the settlement increases, with lawyers collecting only 15 percent of any award of $600,000 or more. According to the California Medical Association, the state law has kept physician insurance rates considerably lower than in most other states.” (David Whitney, “Bush likes California medical suit law”, Sacramento Bee, Jan. 17; Feinstein press release, Jan. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 – Most overrated American judge ever? Aaron Haspel at God of the Machine levels pretty much that charge against Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Feb. 9). “Robert Musil” comments. (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 – “Grieve for Fido, but don’t litigate”. A bill pending in the Colorado legislature “would allow dog and cat owners to sue animal abusers and veterinarians and seek damage awards for ‘loss of companionship’ of up to $100,000. … [W]hatever the emotional distress of losing a dog or cat, we don’t think the courts should treat it the same way it treats injury to or death of, say, a child, a best friend, or a nonmarital partner. … would spur the statewide growth of the ‘pet lawyer’ industry, and we would soon see its ads in newspapers everywhere: ‘Have you lost a pet lately?’” (Rocky Mountain News (editorial), Feb. 11) (DURABLE LINK)

February 11 – By reader acclaim: “Sisters Suing Southwest Over ‘Racist Rhyme’”. “A judge has set a trial date in a discrimination lawsuit filed against Southwest Airlines by two black passengers who were upset when a flight attendant recited a version of a rhyme with a racist history. … [F]light attendant Jennifer Cundiff, trying to get passengers to sit down, said over the intercom, ‘Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we gotta go.’” (AP/Fox News, Feb. 10; Robert A. Cronkleton, “Rhyme at center of lawsuit against Southwest Airlines”, Kansas City Star, Feb. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

February 11 – Welcome The Lawyer (U.K.) readers. Great Britain’s leading legal periodical, The Lawyer, in its Jan. 20 issue (not online, alas) accords generous coverage to “the rather wonderful US website overlawyered.com, which chronicles the excesses of litigation culture on the other side of the Atlantic” as well as our editor’s new book The Rule of Lawyers (“picking up rave reviews …delivers a withering attack on lawyer greed … a full-blooded attack on the massive class action culture that pervades US society”).

“The most popular section of the vast overlawyered.com site is the ‘Whatever happened to personal responsibility‘ section. A few headlines offer a flavour of the kind of stories posted there: ‘Patient sues hospital for letting him out on the night he killed‘; ‘Rough divorce predisposed him to hire hitman‘; and ‘Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat‘. Before we get too smug, though, there is an increasing contribution from the UK, such as ‘Stop clowning around, clowns told‘, which came from The Times last year. It tells the sorry tale of UK clowns terrified that unappreciative patrons would sue them over injuries from thrown pies and water-squirting. Does it worry Olson that overlawyered.com is read as a comic site as opposed to a platform for his more earnest law reforming? Not at all. “I try to make sure it’s humorous. Otherwise, frankly, you’d just cry,” he says.”

In other recent publicity, TechCentralStation columnist Duane Freese reviews The Rule of Lawyers together with Catherine Crier’s The Case Against Lawyers, emphasizing our proposal that the litigation business be required to submit to more disclosure and transparency (“Legal Tyrannies”, Feb. 6). And in the New York Post, William Tucker flays Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for the way Spitzer has gone to court to defend the exorbitant fees being collected by tobacco lawyers representing New York state (“Spitzer vs. N.Y.”, Feb. 4). (DURABLE LINK)