February 2002 archives, part 1


February 8-10 – Crumbs from the table. “A Las Vegas jury has found that two attorneys committed malpractice in their representation of a brain-damaged man in a personal injury suit. It awarded the man, Jason Nault, $3.3 million. The lawyers had reached a $17 million settlement that gave Nault only $2.5 million — compared with $6.6 million to his wife, from whom he’s now divorced, and $6.8 million to the lawyers.” Attorney W. Randall Mainor of Las Vegas’ Mainor Harris, who with partner Richard Harris was found liable, “insists that the ruling throws a wrench in attorneys’ personal injury work.” However, attorney Gary Logan, who represented Nault on the malpractice claim, “said of Mainor and Harris, ‘This kind of conduct is the reason people hate lawyers.’ … Among the breaches in professional conduct that Logan alleged — some of which were raised at trial and some that were barred — were that another attorney, Joe Rolston, received a $2.2 million referral fee without ever receiving consent of his brain-damaged client, Nault.” Mainor “said that the fee paid to Rolston was an association fee, not a contingency fee.” Nault’s parents began caring for him in 1997. (Elizabeth Amon, “Malpractice Suit Tags Las Vegas Attorneys”, National Law Journal, Feb. 6). Update Jan. 1, 2005: Nevada Supreme Court reverses jury verdict.

February 8-10 – Overlawyered film sets. According to intellectual property expert Larry Lessig, moviemakers “must now ‘clear’ every image that appears in their films, obtaining permission even for minor items like posters in a dorm room, the advertisement on a passing truck, or a can of Coke in someone’s hands. It used to be, Lessig reports, you only had to do this if the item was immediately recognizable; now you have to do it if it shows up in a single stop-motion frame. Even the designers of buildings and furniture included in movie scenes are trying to claim the right to stop films that contain images of their products without permission.” (Glenn Reynolds, “Rights and wrongs”, TechCentralStation.com, Feb. 6).

February 8-10 – “Judge orders God to break up into smaller Deities”. The Onion on antitrust law, and very funny, too (Jan. 30). While we’re at it: James V. DeLong of the Competitive Enterprise Institute comments on the proposed Microsoft settlement (Jan. 25).

February 8-10 – 2,000,000 + pages served on Overlawyered.com. Exact figures are not available because the more comprehensive of our counter programs has gone on the fritz, but we think our tally passed two million pages late last year and now stands above two and a quarter million. Thanks for your support!

February 6-7 – Vandal’s dad sues store over blaze. “The father of a teen who helped spark the fatal Father’s Day blaze has filed a $2 million lawsuit against the store where the fire started.” Silverio Moreno’s “son and another boy tipped over a loose-lidded gallon of gasoline while spraying graffiti behind the store.” According to columnist Andrea Peyser, the younger child “told investigators that when Moreno came looking for his son, and saw what the boys did, he said: ‘Don’t say anything about it.’ Now dad “is suing the elderly owner of Long Island General Supply Co. for $2 million – claiming the store ‘carelessly and negligently permitted the building to explode,’ causing Moreno permanent injuries.” The suit has raised the ire of some widows of NYC firefighters killed in the blaze, although they themselves, it should be noted, “plan to file negligence suits against the hardware store in the future and they have not ruled out taking action against the city, said their lawyer, Michael Block.” (Jessie Graham, “Outrage at Suit By Firestarter’s Dad”, New York Post, Feb. 1; Andrea Peyser, “Of All the Gall! His Kid Is a Vandal — And He’s Suing?”, New York Post, Feb. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-7 – Chickens are next. In the latest stage of its campaign to use litigation to do an end run around what it considers overly permissive federal environmental agencies, the Sierra Club is targeting Kentucky farmers who raise chicken under contract with Tyson Foods (see Dec. 7, 2000, on hog farming). The suit contends that broiler operations should be counted as industrial emitters of ammonia gas because the individual chickens … well, it’s too indelicate to explain. (James Bruggers, “Sierra Club vows suit over chicken farms and dust they produce”, Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 5).

February 6-7 – Your home, their right to enter. Suburban Naperville, Ill. has emerged as the latest target in disabled rights activists’ campaign to require newly built private houses to be wheelchair-accessible — and if you’re a new homebuyer who doesn’t care for the cost and design trade-offs implicit in that, tough, you shouldn’t consider the house yours just because you’re the one paying for it (see Dec. 4, 2001, on Santa Monica) (Karen Mellen, “Making all new houses ‘visitable'”, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 5)(& see update Mar. 6)(& letter to the editor, Apr. 11).

February 6-7 – “Every Man a Cyber Crook”. “Shortly after it enacted the federal computer crime law, Congress amended it to allow victims to sue their attackers in federal court for damages. It is now proving to be a costly mistake. … in practice, private litigants have rarely used the civil provisions to pursue computer hackers, who, after all, usually don’t have very deep pockets. Instead, unfettered by the Department of Justice’s interpretation of federal law, litigants have used the computer crime laws to go after computer hardware manufacturers for product liability, Internet companies for software design, spammers and protesters for commercial and other protected First Amendment speech, and website operators for the installation and tracking of computer cookies.

“These unintended uses of the computer crime statute, and the court’s permitting the suits to proceed in many cases, creates a genuine risk that ordinary business activity and protected speech will be deemed to rise to the level of a computer crime, subject to federal prosecution.” (Mark Rasch, SecurityFocus.com, Jan. 7).

February 4-5 – “‘Let’s Roll’ Trademark Battle Is On”. Why’d she have to hire that lawyer? No sooner does the widow of Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer set up a foundation to honor his memory than its lawyer announces that he’s having it apply for a trademark on the now-famous phrase “Let’s Roll”, so that anyone who wants to use the words on hats or t-shirts will have to fork over a royalty. Since September 11 numerous other individuals have also sought to copyright the phrase, although it was in common use before that date. (AP/Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 1).

February 4-5 – Element in $290,000 award: failure to meet Messiah in person. Dateline Salt Lake City: “A jury awarded $290,000 to two women who said they were deceived by a fundamentalist church whose leaders promised to produce Jesus Christ in the flesh. The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints of the Last Days was ordered Monday to pay $270,000 to Kaziah Hancock and more than $20,000 to Cindy Stewart for fraud, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” In exchange for substantial financial contributions from Hancock and Stewart, church founder Jim Harmston had allegedly promised the women various benefits including “membership in heaven’s elite and the chance to meet Christ on earth”. (AP/Boston Globe, Jan. 30)(see June 6, 2001).

February 4-5 – Stop, they said. An assistant professor of political science at the University of Manitoba is reportedly “fighting a $40 traffic ticket in provincial court by launching a constitutional challenge of stop signs — claiming the message they convey is too vague. In what may be one of the strangest legal arguments ever heard in the halls of the downtown Law Courts, Rod Yellon is seeking to prove the word ‘STOP’ isn’t a sufficient warning to motorists.” (excerpt said to be from the Winnipeg Free Press; quoted in Fresh Hell blog, Jan. 5).

February 4-5 – Reparations madness: gypsy survivors sue IBM. Representatives of European gypsies orphaned in the Holocaust want money and an apology from IBM because one of its German subsidiaries, taken over by the Nazi government before World War II, sold punch-card machines used to administer the concentration camp system. (“Gypsies Sue IBM, Claiming Machines Helped Nazis”, AP/Law.com, Feb. 1).

February 1-3 – “Aborigines claim kangaroo copyright”. “In Australia, a group of Aborigines has lodged a high court writ, seeking to stop the government from using the kangaroo and the emu on the national coat of arms. The Aboriginal activists say the representation of the animals — which they regard as sacred totems — is a breach of copyright.” They accuse the Commonwealth of Australia of cultural theft. (BBC, Jan. 29).

February 1-3 – Suicide plane crash blamed on acne drug. When a Florida 15-year-old crashed a plane into a Tampa skyscraper, press accounts were quick to link the incident to the boy’s prescription for the drug Accutane. “As only a handful of media outlets bothered to report a week later, an autopsy showed no trace of the drug in the boy’s system. … If you go to a Web site with an innocuous-sounding name like http://www.accutane_suicide_help.com/ you’ll find you’ve actually come across a lawyer-referral service.” (Michael Fumento, “Bumps in the Night”, Reason Online, Jan. 23; “Tampa Crash Pilot Had Acne Drug Prescription”, AP/Washington Post, Jan. 9). “Rep. [Bart] Stupak’s [D-Mich.] hearings and the recent press stories have all left out one set of voices: the millions of Accutane users who have benefited from the drug.” (Jaime Sneider, “Skin Deep”, Jan. 23) Update Apr. 18: family sues.

February 1-3 – King Cake figurine menace averted. Columnist James Lileks recalls how things used to be with the famous King Cake baked in New Orleans for Mardi Gras: “Since they were the Real Thing, brought directly from N’Awlins, they had small plastic baby Jesuses (Jesii?) embedded in their doughy redoubts. Whoever cracked a molar on the extruded holy infant was obliged to buy the next King Cake. In these litigious days, the store-bought cakes cannot hide the child lest someone choke and sue, so the package explains the tradition, says that a coin can be substituted for the plastic baby — and the coin is sitting ON TOP of the cake, meaning no one will be stupid enough to take that piece.” (“The Bleat”, Lileks.com, Jan. 29).

February 1-3 – International tobacco suits: not quite such easy pickings. U.S. judges have so far not been particularly inclined to loot and expropriate the nation’s tobacco industry for the benefit of such foreign governments as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Ecuador, which with help from some entrepreneurial-sounding U.S.-based lawyers have sought to duplicate the 1998 feat of the state attorneys general. (Matthew Haggman, “Brazilian City Joins List of Foreign Entities Suing U.S. Cigarette Makers”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jan. 11). For details on the suit filed by that very needy and deserving claimant, the government of Saudi Arabia, see Nov. 16, 2000 and Dec. 10, 2001.