January 2001 archives, part 3


January 31-February 1 – “All you can drink” winner sues over fall. John Remley won an “all you can drink” contest at Super Bowl time a year ago and proceeded to pack away so much liquor that he fell and hurt his head. He’s suing for a sum in excess of $1 million, saying the bar should have seen he was drunk and cut him off. (Kimball Perry, “Man drinks his way into $1 million lawsuit”, Cincinnati Post, Jan. 24).

January 31-February 1 – “A No-Win Numbers Game”. Colleges cut men’s sports teams, and cut, and cut, trying to achieve the artificial “proportionality” pressed for by the federal Title IX law. Then they get sued anyway. “Last year, in pursuit of ‘gender equity’, the University of Miami eliminated the men’s swimming and diving program that produced Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis. Brigham Young University eliminated its top ten ranked men’s gymnastic team and its top 25 ranked wrestling team. The University of New Mexico slashed three men’s teams. Miami University in Ohio eliminated 30 wrestlers, 25 men’s soccer players and 10 men’s tennis players — not just to save money (the men shared a total of eight scholarships among them) but to get the numbers right.” (Jessica Gavora, Washington Post, Jan. 14) (more).

January 31-February 1 – Unfairness of mandatory IOLTA. Such a clever idea: scoop up the interest on lawyers’ trust accounts (“IOLTA”) and use it to finance lawyering for the poor. However, the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that the interest in the trust accounts rightfully belongs to the lawyers’ clients and can’t be hijacked for the benefit of others without compensation. The sums at stake are too small to “really” matter to clients, say proponents. “But mandatory IOLTA programs also violate client First Amendment rights,” argues George Kraw. “Individual legal consumers aid programs arguing public positions that some oppose.” (“A Matter of Principle”, The Recorder (San Francisco), Jan. 26).

January 31-February 1 – An anything-but-civil juror. Five days into jury deliberations in the two-month trial of a highly publicized suit by the Manville asbestos-plaintiff trust demanding that tobacco companies pay for the contribution of cigarette smoking to asbestos workers’ lung maladies, federal judge Jack Weinstein declared a mistrial after he was sent a handwritten note: “Juror has made threat against other juror to kill” if they have to be “here much longer.” (Tom Hays, “Tobacco-Asbestos Mistrial Declared”, Yahoo/AP, Jan. 25).

January 31-February 1 – Batch of readers’ letters. Our correspondents take issue with our handling of Holocaust reparations litigation, update the saga of antitobacco professor Richard Daynard and the conflicts he didn’t disclose in the British Medical Journal, and recount one man’s experience of being solicited by lawyers after a car crash.

January 30 – By reader acclaim: patented PB&J. Orrville, Ohio-based jam magnates J.M. Smucker have managed to patent the venerable peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or at least a particular crustless version of same. So discovered Albie’s, a food manufacturer and restaurant in Gaylord and Grayling, Mich., best known for its version of Michigan’s most famous delicacy, pasties. Albie’s started making crustless PB&Js for their customers last summer but have now been hit with a cease and desist letter saying that they are infringing on a patent # 6,004,596 issued in December 1999, to a Smucker unit for the “sealed crustless sandwich.” The Smucker people say the crimped edge makes all the difference. (Crystal Harmon, “Food company hopes to resolve jam over crustless sandwiches”, Bay City (Mich.) Times, Jan. 20; “Smucker protects peanut butter-jelly sandwich patent”, Reuters/FindLaw, Jan. 25) (& see letter to the editor, Feb. 12). Update: Albie’s prevails (Apr. 9 and May 31, 2005)

January 30 – Annals of zero tolerance: fateful fiction. Leading lights of the Canadian literary establishment are lending their moral support to the latest youngster to run afoul of zero-tolerance policies: “Within days of performing for his 11th-grade drama class a monologue he had written about a harassed student preparing to blow up his school, the young author, from a village near Cornwall, Ontario, was arrested, strip-searched, and incarcerated. His detention lasted 34 days — through his 16th birthday as well as the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He’s out of jail on $2,500 bail now, but has become a cause célèbre here.” (Ruth Walker, “Writers rally for Canadian boy jailed for tale”, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 26).

January 29 – Getting around small-aircraft lawsuit reform. “The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) immunized makers of GA aircraft against lawsuits for defects in products older than 18 years and is credited — along with a strong economy — for breathing new life into non-commercial aviation in the U.S. But, if manufacturers are no longer liable, who is? … If you’re a pilot, an owner or a parts manufacturer, you may not like the answer.” Moreover, the ever-inventive Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in California has “carved a hole in GARA by ruling that an aircraft’s flight manual is a part of the aircraft. Thus, any post-sale revisions or deletions to an aircraft manual may restart the 18-year clock each time they are made.” (Phillip J. Kolczynski, “GARA: A Status Report”, AvWeb).

January 29 – Homemade cookie menace averted. Rachel Wray vowed to be the kind of mom who prepares home-baked goodies for her kids to take to school, but discovered the district had a policy: “No treat can be distributed to children on school grounds unless it’s sealed in packaging from a grocery store or retail bakery.” (“I wanted to be a mother who bakes”, Salon, Jan. 2). And the Washington Post reports that officials in Loudoun County, Virginia, are insisting that all bakers and canners take a food safety course before selling their homemade pies and jams at small town fairs. “They’re taking the country out of country” complains the director of the Lucketts Fair. (Christine B. Whelan, “Home Cooks Gag on Rules for Fairs in Loudoun”, Washington Post, Sept. 15 (fee-based archive — search on “Lucketts Fair”)) (via Max Schulz, CEI Update, Oct./Nov.) See “Pie Menace Averted”, Dec. 13, 1999.

January 26-28 – “The litigation machine”. Business Week‘s cover story explores some of the methods by which mass litigation gets ever more effective at extracting money from its targets. Among them: mass production of claims, sophisticated document-sharing, and financing arrangements by private firms that now finance actions in exchange for a slice of the proceeds. (Jan. 29).

January 26-28 – Anorexia as disability. Keri Krissik is suing Stonehill College in Massachusetts “for refusing to let her register on the grounds of her anorexia,” in violation, she says, of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Miss Krissik stands 5-feet-six-inches and weighs less than 100 pounds.” (“Anorexia as a disability?”, Washington Times (editorial), Jan. 18).

January 26-28 – Solomon’s child. “In Victoria[, B.C. in December], a seven-year-old boy was at the centre of a legal battle after his father refused written consent for a three-week car trip to Arizona and Disneyland. Jason Arsenault, the 28-year-old father, was prepared to deny his son this experience because Elizabeth Howse, his 27-year-old former common-law wife, wouldn’t agree to refrain from smoking in the car. … There is something worse than growing up in a household where your parents are constantly at each other’s throats — spending your childhood in a legal war zone, torn between adults whose petty courtroom battles never end.” (Donna LaFramboise, “Courts often encourage parents to keep bickering”, National Post (Canada), Dec. 19).

January 26-28 – Digital serfs? Contrary to what some commentators seem to imagine, the “vast majority of high-tech workers are not independent contractors or agency temps, and those who are overwhelmingly prefer their status, according to a new analysis by the Employment Policy Foundation of government data. ” Moreover, according to EPF, the average annual income of high-tech independent contractors and agency temps “is just over $51,000 — a figure not significantly different from high-tech professionals who are regular, traditional employees.” (“High Tech Independent Contractors and Agency Temps: Who They Are and How They Work” (PDF document), Jan. 23).

January 24-25 – Philadelphia juries pummel doctors. Southeastern Pennsylvania’s medical community is still reeling from a $118 million jury award last fall against St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. That topped verdicts of $55 million and $49.6 million in other malpractice cases within the same three-month span, the latter awarded to a client of Shanin Specter, one of the city’s most successful personal-injury lawyers. Specter also won a $158 million product-liability case against Ford Motor in 1998, as well as huge verdicts in cases involving motorcycle helmets and swimming pools; he happens to be the son of U.S. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican who often breaks from his party on issues of litigation reform. (Karl Stark, “In Phila., malpractice awards have ‘gone haywire'”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 10; Hudson Sangree, “Jury Slams Ford with $153 Million Verdict for death of 3-year-old boy”, Lawyers Weekly USA, Jan. 11, 1999, reprinted at Kline & Specter site).

January 24-25 – Perils of regulatory discretion. “Flexible” rules, regulatory arrangements based on “reasonableness” — what could be better as a way of handling an issue like building permits? But actually it’s an invitation to whimsical delay, as one New Englander discovers when his quest to enlarge a house turns into a months-long ordeal: “the bureaucrats had plenty of discretion and were very reasonable, yet we were worse off than if what we wanted to do were simply forbidden. In that case we just wouldn’t have purchased the property. Instead, we had months of uncertainty after the purchase.” Prescription: clear rules, mechanically applied. (Gene Callahan, “Shaky ground”, Reason, Jan.).

January 24-25 – “Suicide-Attempt Survivor Sues”. “A former Suffolk deputy police inspector who tried to kill himself has filed a $45-million federal lawsuit, blaming the county for giving him back his service pistol, one day after stripping him of the weapon, fearing he might hurt himself or others.” Dominick Steo of Holbrook shot himself in the head in 1999. (Rick Brand, Newsday, Jan. 6).

January 24-25 – “Sex shop is fined because its videos are ‘too tame'”. Consumer protection authorities in York, England, have fined a sex shop owner £5,826 for selling as “hard-core” videos that were actually quite tame, such as a comedy starring Sixties sexpot Ursula Andress. Irate buyers “felt cheated”. (Sally Pook, Daily Telegraph (UK), Jan. 19).

January 22-23 – Metric martyr goes on trial. In a Sunderland, England, magistrates’ court, trial has begun for the greengrocer accused of selling bananas in pounds and ounces instead of Euro-directed measurements, in the first such prosecution for metric noncompliance (see “Don’t Give an Inch”, Nov. 13). The opposition Conservative Party registered sympathy with defendant Steven Thoburn by sending its shadow trade and industry minister to take him to lunch during a leave from the courtroom, provocatively sitting down to a McDonald’s “Quarter Pounder”. (David Graves, “Case of Metric Martyr ‘echoes trial of witches'”, Daily Telegraph (London), Jan. 17; “Quarterpounder adds to troubles”, Jan. 17; “Sunderland Metric Martyrs” website. Plus: James Bond parody of undercover metric enforcement (best detail: “Miss Moneycent”): Tom Utley, “An honest man is charged while criminals are freed,” Daily Telegraph, Jan. 17. Update: Thoburn convicted (April 11, 2001)

January 22-23 – “Firms mum on troubled workers”. You might hope companies would warn each other about employees like Michael McDermott, the man police say murdered seven co-workers last month at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, Mass. But the reality, the Boston Globe finds, is that human resource managers tend to keep mum about even serious problems with former personnel, rather than risk getting sued. ”Silence is golden,” says law professor Markita Cooper. ”Silence is protection.” Although most states have passed laws protecting reference-givers, and very few cases have ultimately gone against them, facing suit is itself perceived as the punishment, win or lose. Edgewater itself says that when other companies call to ask for references on its ex-workers, it goes no farther than verifying employment: ‘there are a number of sticky laws in place about what a company can and can’t say,” says a spokesman. (Michael Rosenwald, “Firms mum on troubled workers”, Boston Globe, Jan. 9).

January 22-23 – Someone might get confused. “Just when you think the battle over domain names and trademarks can get no more ridiculous, Pillsbury goes and ups the ante. Universities and companies as large as Sun Microsystems received cease-and-desist letters this week ordering engineers to stop holding what the [giant flour maker] considers illegal ‘bake-offs.’ But it’s not as if the engineers are huddling together around the oven trading stolen recipes — in techie lingo, a ‘bake-off’ is a get-together in which software programmers test their creations against network protocols to see if they will work correctly. … No matter: The geeks are infringing on Pillsbury’s ‘bake-off trademark,’ the letters argued.” (Damien Cave, “Pillsbury Doughboy mauls techies”, Salon, Jan. 20)(Slashdot thread).

January 22-23 – CBS among asbestos litigation targets. “Viacom, which became one of the largest media companies in the world with its acquisition of CBS Inc. in May, is facing 140,872 unresolved asbestos-related claims from discontinued operations of Westinghouse Electric Corp. as of Sept. 30. Westinghouse Electric purchased CBS in 1995 and took on the name CBS Corp.” On the other hand, Warren Buffett has been buying up stocks of some besieged companies, perhaps betting that Congress will attempt to resolve the issue. (Gregory Zuckerman, “Specter of Costly Asbestos Litigation Haunts Old Economy Companies”, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 27 (sub)). An exec with auto parts maker Federal-Mogul “said 90% of [its asbestos] claims are now paid to people who show no serious ill effects. Still, Federal-Mogul expects to make payments of $350 million this year and a further $550 million by 2004.” (Paul M. Sherer, “Federal-Mogul Gets New Credit Lines, Plans to Fight Against Asbestos Litigation”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4) (sub).