ARCHIVE -- MARCH 2003
March 20 -- Kids'
art on walls ruled a fire hazard. In what might be a bit
of an overreaction to the recent deadly nightclub blaze in West Warwick,
R.I., the Fire Department and building inspector of Attleboro, Mass. "sent
word this month to the public schools:
From now on, zero tolerance for breaking fire codes. Those bright-colored
handprints and cheery stick figures have got to come down from the walls."
School board member Richard Correia "wonders, in this cautionary age, what
might be next to go. 'What do we do about our children who hang their coats
in those little closets?' Correia said. 'Are they fire retardant?'" (Joanna
Weiss, "Does future of art ed hang on safety", Boston Globe, Mar.
12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 20 -- Florida:
"New clout of trial lawyers unnerves legislators". Trial
lawyers have built a position of powerful influence in the Florida legislature,
in particular by "[s]upporting Republicans who have shown an appreciation
for the civil justice system", as a trial lawyer official puts it.
In what Gov. Jeb Bush called "kind of a breath-taking example of their
power", the president of the state senate couldn't even get a hearing in
his own chamber for one of his major priorities, a bill to limit pain-and-suffering
damages in fast-growing litigation against nursing homes (see Mar.
19). Limits on medical malpractice
suits may be doomed in the state as well (Alisa Ulferts and Michael
Sandler, St. Petersburg Times, Mar.
17). (DURABLE LINK)
March 19 -- Jury
clears Bayer in cholesterol-drug case. In perhaps the
most widely watched product liability
trial of the year so far, the New York Times may have bought
the plaintiff's lawyers' case, but a Corpus Christi jury didn't, and
awarded $0.00 instead of the requested $560 million. Just another
8,400 plaintiffs to go, of whom the "vast majority", according to Bayer's
lawyer, are not in fact injured ("Jury Clears Bayer of Liability in Baycol
Suit", AP/Quicken, Mar. 18; "Bayer lawyer: Most Baycol plaintiffs not injured",
Mar. 18) (DURABLE
March 19 -- $12,000
a bed. "Nursing homes [in some states] now pay close to
$12,000 per bed annually on liability insurance, according to [a new] report
[by AON Risk Consultants]." Nationally, liability costs per bed grew
from an average of $300 annually a decade ago to $1,120 in 1997 and $2,880
in 2002, according to the study. Defenders of rising litigation say
it provides long-overdue recourse
against bad care, but the former administrator of the recently closed Gadsden
Nursing Home in Quincy. Florida, doesn't buy the idea that only poorly
run homes can expect to be sued. "'We were ranked 51st out of 668
homes in the state the day we closed. If you're ranked in the top 7.5%,
you're not a bad home,' he said." (Reuters Health, "Legal liability
costs surge for US nursing homes", Mar.
14). (DURABLE LINK)
March 18 -- Would
you go into medicine again? "Then there is the issue of
so-called malpractice -- a rapidly
growing income-transfer system from doctors to lawyers that, quite apart
from its toll on doctors, gives injured parties ever-diminishing shares
of the proceeds. ... [T]here must be a system for removing from practice
those physicians who are guilty of multiple errors. (As I know from my
service on the D.C. Medical Society's disciplinary committee, this is now,
ironically, made exceedingly difficult by the threat of suit from those
under scrutiny.)" (Devra Marcus, "I'm a Doctor, Not an Adversarial Unit
of the Health Care Industry", Washington Post, Mar.
16). (DURABLE LINK)
March 18 -- "Runaway
asbestos litigation -- why it's a medical problem".
One doctor's view of the morass
(Lawrence Martin, M.D., MtSinai.org, Nov.
18, 2002. The site relates to Cleveland's former Mt. Sinai hospital,
not the one in New York). (DURABLE LINK)
March 17 -- Australian
roundup. Sued if you do, sued if you don't dept.:
"A netball star banned from playing because she was pregnant was awarded
$6750 yesterday for hurt, humiliation and loss of match payments. ... Netball
Australia excluded any pregnant women from playing because of fears of
legal action over injuries to mothers or unborn babies." (Ellen Connolly,
"Banned pregnant netballer wins damages for discrimination", AAP/Sydney
14). "A woman whose little finger was cut while working on a
processing line at a doughnut factory has been awarded damages of [A]$467,000".
(Leonie Lamont, "Cut little finger reaps $467,000 damages", Sydney Morning
12). "Non-lawyers are constantly baffled by legal decisions that
seem to have little to do with reality, let alone justice," opines commentator
Evan Whitton, offering some examples from the Down Under legal scene ("The
law of diminishing reality", Sydney Morning Herald, Dec.
12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 17 -- Steering
the evidence: an update. Forbes follows up on the
episode described in our May 23 and
26, 2000 posts: "In June 2000 a judge found that three Texas lawyers
(or someone they hired) had tampered with evidence in a $2 billion suit
blaming Chrysler for a deadly car crash. The judge slapped the San Antonio
lawyers with nearly $1 million in sanctions -- one of the largest such
penalties in memory. Last August an appellate court called the lawyers'
conduct 'an egregious example of the worst kind of abuse of the legal system.'
And now the FBI is investigating the trio's actions.
"What's happened to the lawyers? Not much. Two are still practicing
in Texas and the third moved out of the country. Only $289,000 of the penalty
has been paid to Chrysler." (Joann Muller, "Crass Actions", Forbes,
31).(& update Jun.
March 15-16 --
"Public deceit protects lawsuit abuse". The Pennsylvania
Medical Society excoriates Nader's
Public Citizen for putting out a report on the Keystone state malpractice
situation that the physicians say was marred by such basic errors as double
and triple counting (legislative testimony, society president Edward H.
Dench, Jr., MD, Mar.
5; press release, U.S. Newswire/ Boston.com, Mar. 5). We regret
to inform the good docs that it seems to be a hopeless task -- you can
expose Public Citizen's output as shoddy as frequently as you like, but
much of the media will go right on treating it as gospel. And Radley
Balko looks at the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups -- which cooperate
with the rest of the Nader empire in fighting litigation reform -- reminding
us of just how disreputably the PIRGs get their money ("Public Shakedown
Artist", TechCentralStation.com, Mar.
3). Mickey Kaus also comments (scroll
to Mar. 13). Update: more flak for the PIRGs' New York affiliate,
NYPIRG (David E. Seidemann, "Scrutinizing the Nader Legacy", Health Facts
& Fears (American Council on Science and Health), Mar.
2, 2004) (via Megan
McArdle). (DURABLE LINK)
March 15-16 --
Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant's side.
Eyebrows arch as mass-tort lawyer Joe Rice, best known for the tobacco
caper, cuts a deal in which Swiss-owned asbestos
defendant ABB agrees to pay him $20 million personally for settling his
clients' pending claims against ABB subsidiary Combustion Engineering;
Rice will also, of course, receive a contingency share of what the clients
get (Alex Berenson, "Class-Action Lawyer's Fee Under Scrutiny", New York
March 12-14 --
"Automakers may stop leasing vehicles in N.Y." Major
automakers and lenders are pulling out of the auto-lease business in New
York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where laws allow leasing companies
to be sued (in their role as titular owners) after a driver of one of their
cars gets into an accident. (Kenn Peters, Syracuse Post-Standard,
11). "General Motors Acceptance Corp. notified dealers [in January]
that it will quit buying leases in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island
later this year unless those states change their 'vicarious liability'
laws, which is unlikely." (Jim Henry, "GMAC may end leases in three
states", Automotive News, Jan.
15). New York's state senate has passed a bill repealing the
doctrine, but it is given little chance of success in the trial-lawyer-dominated
Assembly. Already many lease providers have hiked consumer fees by
$600 or so in the high-liability states, a change that affects a large
number of consumers, since around a third of cars sold are leased.
Trial lawyers are the main power defending the vicarious laws. See
also "Repeal sought of 18th-century doctrine affecting car leasing", AP/Stanford
10; Amy Forliti, "Lender's pullout hurts R.I. leasing business", AP/Boston
25. For our earlier coverage, see Aug.
26, 2002. (& see update May 21:
Honda, GM, Ford, Chase all announce pullouts)
In another ambitious application of vicarious liability, the city of
Detroit has argued -- and a Michigan appeals court has agreed -- that it
can go after Ford Credit in court to collect unpaid parking tickets
of drivers who lease through Ford; the ruling does however require case-by-case
hearings on who was in control of the vehicles at the time of the infractions
("Appeals Court OKs Hearings Over $1M Unpaid Parking Tickets From Ford
Credit Leased Vehicles", Detroit News/Automotive Digest,
7; Robert Lane, "Ford Can Be Held Vicariously Responsible For Parking
Fines", Blue Oval News, Feb.
4) (via WSJ Best of the Web, Feb.
4). (DURABLE LINK)
March 12-14 --
Sports mascots litigation. ESPN does a roundup, noting
that the giant stuffed animals and other mascots "spend an inordinate amount
of time in the courtroom" (Patrick Hruby, "Page Two: The seedier side of
fur and fun" -- see "Mascot Court Report" sidebar, Feb.
12). (DURABLE LINK)