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Ted Frank

Today is the last day for class members to object in the Classmates.com class action settlement —$117 thousand for the class, $1.05 million for the attorneys. For more details on how to file, see my post at the Center for Class Action Fairness (which is not affiliated with Overlawyered).

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After appearing on a television program with him a couple of months ago, I received an invitation to Mark Lanier’s Christmas party (special guest Sting):
Mark Lanier Christmas party ferris wheel invitation

The non-transferable invitation consists of a booklet with a password; and, most strikingly, a metal wind-up toy Ferris wheel, about seven inches in diameter. (I have not investigated whether the Ferris wheel is CPSIA-compliant.)

Should I go? I’m charmed by the hospitality, but I don’t have a date, and, moreover, it’s kind of blood Christmas cheer. (On the other hand, in the words of a former CCAF attorney, “Think of it as a modest tort tax refund.”)

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As a connoisseur of hot-coffee cases, I’m always excited to see a court get one right. The Abnormal Use blog points us to Colbert v. Sonic Restaurants, No. 09-1423, 2010 WL 3769131 (W.D. La. Sept. 21, 2010). The plaintiff made the usual gamut of “design defect” and “failure to warn” claims, but the court wasn’t buying it. Note that the plaintiff claimed to be injured by the coffee at Sonic Restaurants, yet another refutation of the trial-lawyer claim that Stella Liebeck’s McDonald’s coffee was unusually hot.

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Update: Branham v. Ford

by Ted Frank on August 19, 2010

In 2006, I wrote:

In May 2001, Cheryl Jane Hale was driving four children to a sleepover in her 1987 Ford Bronco. She didn’t bother to have the children wear their seat belts, so, when she took her eyes off the road to argue with the backseat passengers, and thus drove off the road and flipped the car, 12-year-old Jesse Branham was thrown from the car and suffered brain damage. A jury in Hampton County, South Carolina (the second jury to be impaneled—the first one was dismissed in a mistrial when it was discovered after two weeks of trial that five of the jurors were former clients of Branham’s lawyers) decided that this was only 45% Hale’s fault, held Ford 55% responsible, which puts Ford entirely on the hook for $31 million in damages.

On Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed because of prejudicial closing arguments that relied heavily on inadmissible evidence. More importantly for lawyers practicing in South Carolina, the Court adopted “the risk-utility test with its requirement of showing a feasible alternative design.”

How bad of a judicial hellhole is Hampton County? Though Hale was a co-defendant, she cooperated with the plaintiffs throughout the trial in their case against Ford, even sitting at the plaintiffs’ table; but because the judge classified Hale as a co-defendant, it meant that Hale got half of the peremptory challenges of the “defense.” More from Comer; no press coverage that I’ve seen yet. (cross-posted from Point of Law)

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It’s the 2010 Ted Frank law-school-speaking tour!

September 9: Louisiana State
September 15: New York University
September 16: Columbia
October 6: Texas Wesleyan
October 7: St. Mary’s (San Antonio)
November 9: Ohio State
November 10: Toledo

It’s not too late to get on the calendar if your school’s Federalist Society is interested.

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The Center for Class Action Fairness filed an amicus brief yesterday on behalf of consumers in the Supreme Court case of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion; Public Citizen brought a suit successfully striking an arbitration provision in a cell-phone contract as “unconscionable” because it did not provide for bringing class actions—even though consumers as a whole would be better off with the generous arbitration provision than with opportunity for the class action. Of course, then trial lawyers lose out. More at Point of Law; and Public Citizen’s page on the case has other briefs and links to (generally pro-trial-lawyer) blog commentary.

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Years ago I promised myself that I’d stop wading into comments sections, but my breach of that promise today in a trial-lawyer blog attacking me for pointing out the truth about the bogus Toyota sudden acceleration claims might amuse some readers, and I might as well get a post out of it.

“Are not companies obligated to make the safest vehicle possible?”

The safest vehicle possible is a Sherman tank with a restrictor plate preventing it from exceeding 1 mph, so the answer to your question is “no”—though certainly trial lawyers have an interest in asking you to think manufacturers are doing something wrong when they don’t.

“Until Toyota can identify the exact cause of these accidents (besides the too-convenient driver error) anything and everything is in question and must be investigated.”

I look forward to you writing NHTSA and demanding they investigate if invisible vampires are causing elderly drivers to hit the wrong pedal. After all, anything and everything is in question, and you reject Occam’s Razor when it comes to an alleged electronic defect that simultaneously causes three separate systems to malfunction six times more often for elderly drivers than non-elderly drivers, so why not demand an investigation of the equally unlikely invisible-vampire problem as long as you’re rejecting science?

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WSJ (h/t C.W.):

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

In other words, driver error, except in the one-in-a-million instances when a gas pedal was trapped by a poorly-installed floor mat. Will plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been conspiracy-theorizing about a non-existent electronic defect withdraw their class actions and product-liability suits, much less apologize? How about AP and the news media? Don’t count on it. Earlier from me and from Walter.

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Brooklyn mother Villona Maryash spills tea on her five-month-old infant, infant burned, sues Starbucks. But the complaint is not that the beverage was too hot, but that Starbucks should’ve served it on a tray and with a sleeve. Of course, protective sleeves are in ready reach of customers at every Starbucks I’ve been in, and it’s likely that Starbucks doesn’t insert the cups in sleeves automatically for environmental reasons. [NY Post; Gothamist commenters are not impressed]

Taxpayers are paying former police officer Dave Orlowski $53,063 a year of tax-free disability payments, though he’s fit enough to compete in several triathlons a year. An old court decision permits Orlowski to refuse desk work after since he injured his shoulder in 1999. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (h/t W.J.)]

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By popular demand, we note the existence of the case of Zeynep Inanli v. Starbucks Corp et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 105767-2010, where Ms. Inanli has alleged second-degree burns from tea that was “unreasonably hot, in containers which were not safe.”

You will recall that part of the trial lawyer defense of the McDonald’s hot coffee case are the factually false claims that (1) only McDonald’s sold beverages hot enough to cause burns and (2) after Stella Liebeck won her suit, hot-beverage vendors everywhere reduced their temperatures to a “safe” level. Of course, the Reuters account fails to indicate sufficient facts to determine whether Ms. Inanli’s scenario reflects injuries from a spill that was her own fault or the fault of Starbucks.

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Chicago-area readers may be interested in attending a 12:15 pm lunchtime debate sponsored by the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society between me and Tom Geoghegan about tort reform and the role (or non-role) of Republican deregulation in the litigation explosion—a debate I’ve previously engaged in in print.

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Legal secretary Nancy Topolski acknowledges that she couldn’t handle the workload assigned to her by law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, and that she suffered panic attacks as a result that prevented her from doing the work. But, she says, this just means that the law firm violated discrimination laws when it fired her. (Karen Sloan, National Law Journal, Mar. 24).

I have an op-ed about the pending Ninth Circuit nomination, which the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider tomorrow. If some of the language sounds vaguely familiar, it stems from an earlier Ted, and it especially amused me how much more appropriate Senator Kennedy’s words were for Professor Liu than for Judge Bork.

See also The Heritage Foundation’s discussion.

Update: and Ed Whelan’s NRO piece. And Ilya Shapiro and Evan Turgeon in the Daily Caller.

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The defendant wasn’t at trial and didn’t have a lawyer, and plans to appeal; the judgment might as well be for $73 gazillion, as the ex-husband is already in contempt of court for failure to pay spousal support. (Greensboro News-Record March 18 and March 17 via Volokh). We’ve been covering the issue for years, as a click on the tags will reveal.

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All four have completed their sentences and don’t seem to have it so bad, judging by a March 19 Bloomberg story. William Lerach is going to teach at a law school and work for a “progressive think-tank.” And for the Milberg law firm itself? “Over the past couple of years, while everybody has been laying off lawyers and cutting pay, we’ve been giving lawyers raises and extra bonuses.”

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I’ll be speaking at Duke Law Monday about the Grand Theft Auto and other class action settlements. Come say hi.

Bruce Nye has a photo of a pointless new warning McDonald’s has posted in California stores to avoid litigation. The warning seems to have a side safety benefit: by the time you finish reading it, your coffee won’t be hot any more.

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