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ARCHIVE -- JUNE 2000 (I)


June 9-11 -- "Look for the Kiwi label".  Our editor's newest Reason column takes a skeptical look at the "anti-sweatshop" movement, which is quickly acquiring a large litigation component along with its substantial campus-activist presence.  Also takes up the curious question of why Notre Dame, at the behest of its anti-sweatshop working group, banned the manufacture of its licensed products in New Zealand, not exactly known as a hellhole of oppressive industrial employment.  (July). 

June 9-11 -- Risky?  Who'da thunk it?  A jury last month awarded $111.5 million, which will reach $164 million with interest, to a wealthy horse breeder and Bahamas resident who bought on margin $6.5 billion in foreign currency futures through Bear Stearns and sued the investment firm after sustaining severe losses.  The jury found Bear Stearns negligent in not keeping client Henryk de Kwiatkowski, 76, on a shorter leash and not warning him more carefully about the risks.  Bear argued that de Kwiatkowski was a sophisticated client eager to gamble who'd sustained $100 million currency speculation losses on two previous occasions.  The judgment would amount to almost a quarter of the firm's profits last year.  (Colleen DeBaise, "Investor Awarded $111.5 Million In Trading Case Against Bear Stearns", DowJones.com, May 16; "Bear Stearns Must Pay Added $52.5 Million To Investor Who Sued", DowJones.com, Jun. 7).  de Kwiatkowski said he'd been led astray by relying on the expressed bullishness about the dollar's prospects of Bear economist Wayne Angell, a former federal reserve governor; instead the dollar sank.  According to Bloomberg News, Bear chief executive James Cayne, on the stand, countered that economists are right only 35 percent to 40 percent of the time -- "They don't really have a good record as far as predicting the future" -- and that the role of the firm's economist was in his view "entertainment".  ("Bear Stearns economist painted as entertainer; judge doesn't buy it", Bloomberg/St. Paul Pioneer Planet, June 3) (see also Dec. 6). 

June 9-11 -- Don't cooperate.  In Fairfield Center, Maine, attorneys representing 19 people claiming injury from the toxic effects of papermaking wastes are advising their clients not to cooperate with a public health survey intended to assess residents' health concerns, because the results might be used against their cause.  The 19 are suing Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Sappi Fine Paper North America.  (Doug Harlow, "Attorneys fight local health poll", CentralMaine.com (Kennebec Journal/Waterville Morning Sentinel), May 10). 

June 9-11 -- Have some coffee.  "Attorney Arnold Levine -- known for his in-your-face style that clearly some take literally -- has sued opposing counsel Jonathan Alpert, charging Alpert threw a [lukewarm] cup of coffee at Levine" during a recent mediation session.  "Alpert said the allegation is not accurate, and called Levine's lawsuit 'a stunt.'"  Levine is representing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the lawsuit, in which Alpert is suing "on behalf of season ticket holders who believe they were shortchanged by the football team".  (AP/Miami Herald, "Lawyer drenches foe with coffee; grounds for another suit", Jun. 7). 

June 9-11 -- Jeff MacNelly, RIP.  The nation's finest political cartoonist has succumbed to lymphoma at age 52. He continued to turn out terrific work until very nearly the end, as with the Microsoft-themed entries of April 4, April 27, and May 5.  (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune obits; MacNelly.com). 

June 9-11 -- Customer offense.  The Michigan Court of Appeals is considering a disability-rights claim by supermarket bagger Karl Petzold, who has Tourette's Syndrome and was dismissed by the Farmer Jack chain after his coprolalia (involuntary utterance of obscenities and racial slurs) offended blacks and women who were present.  The store believes Petzold's utterances might subject it to liability under fast-spreading "customer hostile environment" doctrines.  ("Court to decide if bagger is disabled", Detroit News, May 1). 

June 8 -- Judge cracks wish bone.  Microsoft's refusal to agree that it had done anything wrong helped seal its fate.  (Final Judgment, at DoJ site; Lisa M. Bowman, "Judge: Break Microsoft in two", ZDNet News, June 7; ZDNet roundup; Reason "Breaking Issues"). 

June 8 -- Latest wrongful-birth case.   Last month (May 9) we reported on a Phoenix trial where Mom was suing doctors for the cost of raising her unwanted son because they hadn't identified her pregnancy fast enough for her to have a convenient abortion.  Yesterday's Boston Globe reports on a case from suburban Revere in which Jennifer Mosher is suing her obstetrician over a sterilization effort that fell short, leaving her with a healthy but unwanted toddler named Samantha; she's now suing for the cost of raising the child, including tuition at a private college. (Raja Mishra, "Malpractice suit weighs Revere girl's worth", June 7). 

June 8 -- From our mail sack: poetry corner.   Reader Paul W. Green of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona writes to say that Smith & Wesson's recent "settlement of" (capitulation to) the siege of its business by lawyers sent him back to reread Rudyard Kipling's poem "Dane-geld", inspiring him to pen this updated version which he entitles "Lawyer-loot". 

It is currently a temptation for those skilled in litigation 
To address a certain industry and shout: 
"Your products are much hated and have been at length berated; 
Unless you settle, we shall clean you out!" 

And that is called demanding lawyer-loot, 
And the creatures that seek it will swear, 
That you've only to pay 'em the lawyer-loot, 
And from suits they will henceforth forbear. 

It is currently a temptation for those slapped with litigation 
To back off and decline to take a stand: 
"Though you are not in the right, it would cost too much to fight. 
We will therefore settle for what you demand." 

And that is called paying the lawyer-loot, 
But the unvarnished fact must be faced, 
That once you agree to pay lawyer-loot, 
You won't see the end of the case. 

For litigious devolution is a covert revolution, 
To make supreme the power of the bar. 
So when they file a suit and seek obscene amounts of loot, 
To respond thus is the better course by far: 

"We reject your extortion of lawyer-loot, 
You dapper-clad robbers of cash, 
We'll deny you your stake as the people awake, 
And they soon will settle your hash!" 

June 8 -- Bulletin board discussions.   Participants on the Anandtech Forums are currently discussing the Massachusetts golf club case mentioned here yesterday.  A few of the other bulletin board mentions this site has had lately: Motley Fool, Professional Pilots Rumour Network, Free Republic, BladeForums

June 8 -- "Dear Dr. Laura..."   "Dr. Laura is a talk show host. She knows a great deal about God's will, so one listener wrote in for some advice: ...'I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?'" (author unknown, reprinted at AndrewTobias.com). 

June 7 -- Update: Massachusetts golf club case.   Last fall a Boston jury returned a whopping $1.9 million judgment in a sex discrimination case brought by discontented women who said the Haverhill Golf and Country Club wasn't allowing them prime tee times, full memberships, and other privileges (see October 30-31).  Presiding judge John C. Cratsley, among other dictates, mandated that the members of the club's board enroll in six hours of gender-sensitivity training. Now the atmosphere at the club is icy in the extreme, with both the litigants and their husbands shunned as fairway partners.  "We thought [the lawsuit] would make it better," says one of the women who sued. "But it made the atmosphere worse."  Was this really supposed to have come as a surprise?  (Lynn Rosellini, "'Those women' vs. the 'Neanderthals'", U.S. News & World Report, June 12). 

June 7 -- Dangers of linking.  "Linking is getting dangerous, as I've learned firsthand. In March, I wrote an article called 'What Cyber Patrol doesn't want you to see' about a program that reveals the zany secret blacklist of off-limits websites maintained by Cyber Patrol, a blocking program sold by toy-maker Mattel. Cyber Patrol doesn't just block porn: student organizations at Carnegie Mellon University and Usenet discussions such as alt.journalism, soc.feminism, and, inexplicably, fj.rec.food, were also verboten. In my article, I linked to the blacklist-viewing program, and quickly found out that Mattel didn't like being criticized. In response I received a copy of a temporary restraining order and a subpoena from Mattel telling me I had violated U.S. copyright laws."   (Declan McCullagh, "Who's Next?", The New Republic Online, May 23; and see Eric J. Sinrod, Jeffery W. Reyna and Barak D. Jolish, "Linking Down the Wrong Path", Upside, Jan. 18).  Plus: commentary on Dialectizer case (see May 18-21) (Julia Lipman, "The big price of having a little fun on the Web", Boston.com digitalMass, May 24). 

June 7 -- "Foreman Who Slept on Job Wins Reinstatement".   "Douglas County District Judge Gerald Moran has ruled that John Hauschild should get his job back because the city did not properly disclose the evidence against him before a pre-termination hearing.  Hauschild was fired last June [from his job as foreman at the city of Omaha's wastewater treatment plant] after being caught taking naps at work by a tiny camera that was secretly installed in his computer. In 15 days, the city alleged, the camera caught him sleeping during part of every day."  Hauschild appealed the firing to the city's personnel board, saying he had a sleeping disorder, and then to court when he lost before the board.  (Angie Brunkow, Omaha World-Herald, June 6). 

June 7 -- Sooner get rich.  Oklahoma isn't an especially big state, but lawyers who represented it in the multistate tobacco litigation are set to waltz off with a remarkable $250 million fee award, not an unsubstantial sum alongside the estimated $2 billion that the state itself expects eventually to receive under the national settlement.  The lawyers argued to the arbitration panel that their efforts on behalf of the Sooner State were really distinctive, really unusual, really productive, and so forth.  Six national law firms, including the much-fee'd Mississippi firm of Richard Scruggs which also represented many other states, will share the bounty with four local firms: Riggs, Abbey, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis of Tulsa and Oklahoma City; John Norman and Associates of Oklahoma City; Pray Walker Jackson Williamson & Marlar of Tulsa; and Preston Trimble of Norman.  ("Tobacco Settlement: Four state-based law firms share in $250 million award", Tulsa World, May 18; Aileen Gallagher, "Oklahoma Tobacco Lawyers Earn $250 Million", American Lawyer Media, May 18). 

June 7 -- Welcome Montreal Gazette readers.  Doug Camilli's column, June 5, mentioned our recent deer item from Texas

June 6 -- Sudden deceleration.  Score another sharp setback for the notion, still dear to some trial lawyers and TV newsmagazines, that cars experience "sudden acceleration", taking off on their own though their owners are pressing hard on the brakes.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has flatly denied a request that it reopen a probe of such reports, and the stinging language of its recent 34-page memo to that effect, prepared by its Office of Defects Investigation, raises the question of why the American legal system continues to generate unending litigation against carmakers on a theory that by now evokes barely concealed derision from the government's own safety experts. 

In 1986, sales of the Audi 5000 collapsed after CBS "60 Minutes" aired a sensational show charging the German-made car with sudden acceleration.  In that case, as in those that came later, studies by NHTSA and by safety agencies in other countries found no defect in the car and instead assigned the blame to "pedal misapplication" -- put more plainly, drivers' tendency to hit the gas pedal when they think they're hitting the brake.   Theories that seek to blame mechanical defects for sudden acceleration face the difficulty of positing that something has gone wrong simultaneously with a car's brake system as well as its power (since regular foot pressure on the brake can readily overpower a gas pedal stuck at full throttle) while in both cases leaving no trace behind of a distinctive "failure state" for later investigators to discover. 

But alarmism over the issue simply will not die -- not so long as expert witnesses hired by trial lawyers keep developing new theories to take to juries.  In February of last year a segment on NBC's "Dateline" gave extensive, highly sympathetic coverage to the contentions of a plaintiff's expert named Sam Sero, who blames sudden acceleration on malfunctions in the electronics in cars' cruise control systems.   A few months later Little Rock, Ark. attorney Sandy S. McMath, representing plaintiffs in a sudden acceleration case against Ford, filed the petition with NHTSA asking that it take another look at the phenomenon in light of Sero's theories. 

Bad move.  In its response to the petition, NHTSA could hardly have been more scathing.  The proponents of the theory, it said, "have never produced credible evidence" that it has led to a single incident of sudden acceleration.  "The theory propounded by Mr. Sero, and others, has never been published nor is there any literature in the automotive engineering field supporting it".  The evidence for the pedal misapplication finding remains "compelling".   In an unusual swipe at Mr. Sero, a licensed electrical engineer formerly with the Allegheny Power Company, the agency said he "has no professional experience in the auto industry and no human factors training".   McMath, the lawyer who petitioned for the probe, admits being stunned by the vigor of the agency's response. 

You'd think "Dateline", of all programs, would tread gingerly in cases where there's a danger it might get sold a bill of goods on issues of auto safety (our take on the "exploding GM truck" scandal: Washington Post, National Review).  But aside from the embarrassment of having lent its credibility to sudden acceleration alarmism, the network perpetrated a specific additional unfairness that deserves to be noted for the record.  At the time "Dateline" produced its segment, a sudden-acceleration case called Manigault v. Ford Motor Co. was working its way through the Ohio courts, and going very badly indeed for Ford: Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Anthony O. Calabrese Jr. had just issued -- as "Dateline" described it -- "a blistering ruling, saying Ford had 'perpetrated a fraud upon the court' and may have 'misled the government.' 'In ordering a new trial,' he wrote: 'it seems certain, that further death and injury is likely to occur unless and until the truth about the causes of sudden acceleration events becomes public knowledge.'" 

Strong stuff, and hugely damaging to Ford's public image, which is why the automaker must have cast a sigh of relief when in June, four months after NBC aired its show, an appeals court in a 24-page opinion completely reversed Judge Calabrese, ruling that Ford had adequately informed the court of what it knew on sudden acceleration.  No "fraud on the court", no "certain[ty] that further death and injury is likely to occur", no new trial, no nothing. 

At this point NBC could still argue plausibly that it hadn't erred by giving such dramatic play to Judge Calabrese's findings against the carmaker; a ruling may later be overturned on appeal, but that doesn't mean it wasn't newsworthy when it happened.  But the least a network could do in those circumstances would be to let its viewers know that the ruling was overturned -- right?  Since Ford's victory on appeal in Manigault, company spokesman Jim Cain says the automaker has repeatedly asked "Dateline" to run an update informing viewers of the appeals court's having thrown out the earlier, "blistering" ruling charging it with fraudulent concealment of safety hazards.   Nearly a year later, Cain says the show has run not one word to correct or update viewers' misimpressions.  Meanwhile, MSNBC's website continues to run the original "Dateline" story, again with nary a hint of a correction or update.  (Harry Stoffer, "NHTSA: No sudden-acceleration probe", Automotive News, May 15; "Vehicles that take off on their own?", NBC News/MSNBC, Feb. 10, 1999; "Appeals court rules in favor of Ford in cruise control suit", AP/Auto.com, Jun. 21, 1999; Ford protest letter to NBC before broadcast of its show, reprinted at Brill's Content site; NHTSA report, issued April 6 under File # DP99-004 and published in Federal Register Apr. 28). Update Dec. 30, 2002: Ohio Supreme Court orders new trial.  (DURABLE LINK)

June 6 -- Predestination made him do it.  "The man who is serving a life sentence for the shooting of Pope John Paul II is requesting clemency, following the Pope's revelation that the third secret of Fatima was a prophetic vision of his assassination attempt.  Mehmet Ali Agca argues that since his crime was "preordained," he should be absolved of all responsibility."  Experts in both canon law and Italian criminal law are skeptical about the 43-year-old Turk's claim.  (Marina Jimenez, "Assailant asks Pope's clemency, cites Fatima", National Post (Canada)/Reuters, May 30). 

June 5 -- Sunday's Times on Fred Baron.  New York Times reporter Barry Meier profiles the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's incoming president, whose career "has mirrored the transition of many trial lawyers from scrappy advocates for workers and consumers to wealthy businessmen eager to influence policies and politics."  A leading Gore fundraiser, "Mr. Baron, who was also a major contributor to President Clinton, plays golf with the president and dines several times a year at the White House," as well as hosting a big annual bash for the Democratic National Committee at his second home in Aspen, Colo.  But he "remains haunted" by the disclosure of the now-celebrated secret memo advising Baron & Budd clients what to remember and what not to about their exposure to asbestos; the piece quotes this site's editor who says that for ATLA to elect Mr. Baron president given the ethical questions raised by the coaching memo "suggests a boldness on their part or an imperviousness to public criticism" (but the Times misspells our editor's name-- ouch).  Mr. Baron has "struck back at his accusers with zeal," using legal charges and the threat thereof as part of his armory.  "To defend himself he has hired legal troubleshooters like Abbe Lowell, the chief investigative counsel for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton."  (Barry Meier, "Fund-Raiser May Be Achilles' Heel for Gore", June 4 (online version bears the date June 3)).  For our account of the memo episode, see "Thanks for the Memories", Reason, June 1998; also see August 1998 coverage in the alt-weekly Dallas Observer, "Toxic Justice" and "The Control Freak", the sidebar, "Hey, No Coaching", to another Baron profile, Alison Frankel, "Traitor to his Class", American Lawyer, January 6; and our March 23 commentary and links there. 

June 5 -- Jarring discord.  The Audubon String Quartet is in the throes of a messy public divorce that began in February when three members of the chamber music ensemble sought to oust the fourth for undisclosed reasons.  A judge issued a temporary order that first violinist David Ehrlich be readmitted pending further consideration of his claim that the dismissal violated his rights; the other three say he was an employee at will and that it's crucial that a string quartet be permitted freedom of association given the intimacy with which it must operate.  The high point of unpleasantness so far came with a motion by Ehrlich's attorney that cellist Tom Shaw, violist Doris Lederer and second violinist Akemi Takayama be "fined and imprisoned" for allegedly flouting a court order prohibiting them from playing previously scheduled engagements without him.  As the dispute grinds on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., where the ensemble has been in residence for 15 years, has severed its ties to the group.  (Roanoke Times coverage March 22 and other coverage (fee-based archive)).  Updates June 14, 2001: new rounds of litigation in the case alarm musical community; Nov. 13, 2001: judge awards Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages. 

June 5 -- Year's most injudicious judges.  National Law Journal's third annual compendium of bad bench behavior includes 10 judges stripped of their robes after such doings as racial and ethnic slurs, emailing off-color material including a video clip of naked skydivers, reducing all fines to a token $1 in order to punish town officials for not picking up the judge's health insurance, and switching price tags in a store.  Also includes the sad sagas of the New Hampshire Supreme Court's Stephen Thayer (see April 5) and Washington state's Grant L. Anderson (see January 19).  (Gail Diane Cox, "How Could They Do It?", April 26). 

June 5 -- Unwanted medical duties.  Teachers and school officials are upset that special-ed laws are being interpreted to require them to perform intimate nursing tasks such as tube-feeding, mucus-clearing and colostomy-bag-emptying as part of disabled students' right to classroom accommodation.  "More than 500 staff members and every bus driver in the 28,000-student Loudoun County, Va., district recently learned to administer glucose injections after [a diabetic] girl's family won that right through the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR)."  "The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, the two largest teachers unions, strongly oppose teachers tending to student health needs. 'They're fearful they will hurt a child by doing something incorrectly or be held personally liable,' [the NEA's Dennis] Friel says. 'They feel they are being asked to do things they didn't think would be part of their career selection.'" (Linda Temple, "Disputed duties: Teaching the disabled", USA Today, Feb. 15). 

June 2-4 -- "More lawyers than we really need"?  As lawyers descend on the town of Walkerton, Ontario, in anticipation of the chance to sue over a deadly E. coli outbreak, Ralph Pohlman in today's (June 2) Toronto Sun gets a queasy feeling about the way things are headed with the profession, and recommends reading this website to "feel a whole lot better" (link likely to disappear soon). 

June 2-4 -- "Victim of the century"?  The Washington Post reports that the state of Virginia lost a nearly 10-year battle over disability payments with Anthony M. Rizzo, Jr., a former high school principal in Fairfax, "who contends that he has a permanent 'psychosexual disorder' that makes him unable to supervise women without trying to coerce them into having sex with him. He sought disability benefits after he was fired in 1989 from his job as principal of Edison High School for sexually harassing female teachers."  Two juries have hung so far on rape allegations against Rizzo, who declines psychiatric evaluation related to the disability claim because of the ongoing criminal proceedings.  State officials initially denied his application for benefits on the grounds that the disability program should not reward "reprehensible" behavior, but "lost on a technicality in 1998 when the state Supreme Court said they missed a deadline for making a decision on his claim."  More recently they cited his refusal to cooperate with psychiatric evaluation as reason to cut off his benefits, but he's now sued to get the payments reinstated. (Patricia Davis, "DNA Tested in Sex Abuse Case Against Ex-Fairfax Principal", Washington Post, May 31; Timothy Noah, "Victim of the Century", Slate, May 31). 

June 2-4 -- Another Mr. Civility nominee.   Wall Street Journal news side recently profiled husband-and-wife litigators Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, currently angling for punitive damages in a much-publicized tobacco trial in which they purportedly represent the class of all sick Florida smokers (see July 8, 1999), and before that best-known for settling a class action against tobacco companies on behalf of flight attendants in a deal that "has yet to yield any tangible benefits for the Rosenblatts' clients, while netting the Rosenblatts $49 million in fees and expenses" (see Sept. 28, 1999).  "After the fee was received, one associate who had worked for the Rosenblatts for 13 years asked for a bonus.  She was abruptly fired and has hired a lawyer to sue the Rosenblatts, who have been quietly negotiating a severance package while preparing for the punitive phase of their tobacco case."  A prominent figure in pro-litigation circles, Alan Morrison of Public Citizen Litigation Center, intervened trying to block the settlement of the flight attendant case. "'You are scum.  You are absolute scum. You are dreck,' Mr. Rosenblatt told Mr. Morrison before the start of a court hearing over the deal's fairness, according to Mr. Morrison."  Mr. Morrison now forgivingly calls Rosenblatt "a fabulous thorn in the side of the tobacco industry" and says "His methods are different from mine, but I probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as [far as] he's gotten". (Milo Geyelin, "Suing Tobacco, Florida Firm Takes Own Path", Wall Street Journal, May 15, fee-based archive). 

June 2-4 -- The forbidden cookout.  In Flint, Mich., Whittier Middle School teacher Lamar Davis was suspended for two weeks and given a written reprimand for inviting students to a barbecue at his home without first clearing the action with administrators.  (Matt Bach, "Teacher vows to hold barbecue after return from suspension", Flint Journal, May 23) (via Reason Express, Progressive Review). 

June 2-4 -- Testimony "not credible", gets $192K anyway.   A New York Court of Claims judge has ordered the state to pay $192,464 to a construction worker injured in a 1991 roof fall even though she found his testimony to be not credible in significant respects.  Bogdan Wielgosz was working as a roofing assistant for a construction company at the Manhattan Children's Psychiatric Center when he fell and suffered back and wrist injuries.  At trial, presiding judge Susan Phillips Read found Wielgosz's testimony "dubious" regarding some of the long-term practical effects of his injuries as well as regarding his reported earnings before the incident, reports the New York Law Journal.  For instance?  "The claimant said he had not driven since 1994 because of injuries suffered in the accident, but was then confronted with an accident report in which he claimed back, neck and head injuries stemming from an incident in 1995."  Judge Read's decision took pains to "emphasize" at the outset that she "did not consider claimant to be a credible witness: the frank inconsistencies and discrepancies in his testimony were too numerous to chalk up entirely to lapses in memory or nuances of language lost or misapprehended in translation.'"  However, she ruled that objective evidence of Wielgosz's injuries, combined with an earlier finding of liability on the part of the state, nonetheless warranted an award of $32,881 for past medical expenses, $9,583 for lost income and household services, and $150,000 for past pain and suffering, to which was added 9 percent interest.  (John Caher, "State Must Pay Injured Construction Worker", New York Law Journal, Feb. 16). 

June 1 -- Welcome CEO Express readers.  The premier desktop portal for busy decisionmakers names us as today's Great Site of the Day, as do its associated sites JournalistExpress and MDExpress

June 1 -- Somebody to sue.  Four case studies in creative defendant selection, with apologies to Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane: 

Don't you want somebody to sue ... After the 1996 crash near Dubrovnik, Croatia, that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 34 others, lawyers representing victim families faced an obstacle in the form of various laws sharply restricting the filing of actions against many of the more obvious candidate defendants: the U.S. government and its employees, military contractors such as planemaker Boeing, the government of Croatia, and so forth.  But never despair: in a recently filed suit, lawyers for survivors announce they've found the real culprit in the crash, namely Denver-based Jeppesen Sanderson Inc., publisher of aeronautical charts which they say were confusing and understated the dangers of flying into the Dubrovnik airport.  The map publisher "denies any wrongdoing and says it merely publishes approach data provided by civil aviation authorities around the world." ("Suit Alleges Jeppesen Charts Contributed To Air Force Crash", AVweb, March 2000 ("Briefs...")). 

Don't you need somebody to sue...  The Cincinnati Enquirer, in its retrospective on the catastrophic Beverly Hills Supper Club fire of 1977, reports that then-obscure injury lawyer Stanley Chesley, representing victim families, came up with the idea of suing not just the owners of the ill-fated nightclub but scores of companies that made such items as carpets and paneling, upholstery and plastic pipes within it, on the grounds that all their products, by burning, contributed to smoke and flame. "'In all fires, they sue those people now, but it was novel then,' said William O. Bertelsman, the victims' co-counsel until becoming a federal judge. ...Victims' lawyers could not prove who made which aluminum wire or plastic furnishing, so they sued every manufacturer in each industry on the assumption anyone might have supplied the materials. ...'The big innovation,' complained attorney Jacob Stein, who opposed Mr. Chesley in Beverly Hills and since, 'was that they sued a huge number of people who had no liability and were willing to pay you several hundred thousand dollars to make you go away.'"  Chesley went on to become a wealthy political kingmaker (see March 30) and "Master of Disaster" (Ben L. Kaufman, "Litigation Bulldozed Traditional Legal Routes"; "The Master of Disaster", part of Cincinnati Enquirer special series). 

Wouldn't you love somebody to sue...  Having already bankrupted at least 22 companies that mined or sold asbestos or asbestos-containing products in past decades, lawyers are now suing a further estimated 2,400 companies that might in some way have exposed workers and others to the once ubiquitous insulation material, including Campbell Soup and Colgate-Palmolive (workers "handled or worked near equipment that contained asbestos"); Gallo Winery and Gerber Products; Ford and GM (brake linings); Alcoa (sued because its aluminum brake linings "allegedly cut into asbestos insulation, releasing fibers into the air"; and hospitals, colleges and other institutions that used ceiling tiles or insulation of which the naturally occurring mineral was an ingredient.  "You have to look under every stone", says New York plaintiff's lawyer James Early.   According to the Wall Street Journal's news side, "[t]he bulk of new cases involve plaintiffs who aren't ill but have some scarring that they fear will lead to future problems."  The Allwood Door Co. is named in half a dozen lawsuits filed by construction workers "because it sold fire-barrier doors made by another company in the 1960s and 1970s".  The doors in question were wood-sheathed, but contained asbestos in their mineral core; company president Bob Howell says he didn't know the substance was even present within the doors.  (Susan Warren, "Asbestos Suits Target Makers Of Wine, Cars, Soups, Soaps", Wall Street Journal, April 12, fee-based subscriber archives). 

...You better find somebody to sue.   After Robert Longoria's car collided with a deer along a semirural stretch of road in Brazoria County, Texas, his lawyer, Robert Kwok, sent a demand letter seeking money for his back injury and whiplash to a local subdivision association, alleging that some of its homeowners had taken to feeding the deer and could therefore be held legally responsible for their presence in the area.  The residents resisted and Kwok's firm has announced that it will not pursue the claim against them "at this time".  (Steven Long, "Buck Off", Houston Press, April 27) (via Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston). (DURABLE LINK)

June 1 -- 500,000 pages served on Overlawyered.com.  Eleven months after we started, it's clear someone's reading us... why not pass the word to a friend and help us reach a million even faster?  Thanks for your support! 


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