May 2003 archives


May 9-11 — Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback. “Senators working on a tax bill Thursday stripped a proposal that would have forced attorneys in a landmark tobacco lawsuit to give $9 billion in fees back to the states they represented.” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had proposed requiring plaintiff’s lawyers in the tobacco affair to return to their state-government clients fees in excess of $2,500/hour or thereabouts. “But Democrats, led by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and joined by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon, won a 12-8 vote to strike the language. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that if Congress can change the terms of the tobacco settlement, there is nothing to stop it from telling every business in America to change the way they pay their executives.” It’s almost as if Sen. Kerry doesn’t realize that 1) a host of federal laws already on the books, notably tax provisions, do purposely shape the way businesses compensate their executives; 2) lawyers, unlike business execs, practice under professional ethical codes which are supposed to bar them specifically from charging excessive fees; 3) lawyers who claim to represent the government (and thus the public) come under some of the most stringent ethical constraints of all. (“Senate Democrats Strike Proposal to Limit Fees for Lawyers in Tobacco Case”, AP/Tampa Bay Online, May 8; Stephen Moore, “Targeting lawyers who got rich off tobacco trials”, Scripps Howard/Nando Times, May 2) (& welcome Law.com readers). (DURABLE LINK)

May 9-11 — Update: “U.S. is sued for deaths of crossers”. “The families of 14 illegal entrants who died crossing the desert east of Yuma in May 2001 have filed a $42 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior.” As we reported a year ago when the cases were at an earlier procedural stage, “The suit charges the government with failing to authorize the placement of water stations intended for use by unlawful visitors, though it knew smugglers of immigrants were active in the desert area.” (Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), May 8). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 — “No Crueler Tyrannies”. Dorothy Rabinowitz’s long-awaited book on the mass-child-abuse accusation frenzy of the 1980s and 1990s is now available at this link. It collects and extends the widely acclaimed Wall Street Journal reporting that prepared the way for the author’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize (review by Carol Iannone, Commentary, May; C-SPAN “Booknotes” interview with Brian Lamb, May 4; Suzanne Fields, “A cruel tyranny at home”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 3; other reviews at Amazon site). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 — More on Edwards’ law-firm donations. Washington periodical The Hill digs deeper into the curiously uniform $2,000 contributions Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign got from so many receptionists, paralegals and other low-level staffers at plaintiff’s law firms. The $2,000 donors include many employees who had not given to candidates or even voted in the past, and others who are listed on the voting rolls as Republicans. Many spouses and relatives of the staffers likewise contributed the maximum. Some of the munificent staffers have recently gone through the kind of personal financial reverses — bankruptcy filings, for example — which would not seem to correlate in the natural order of things with having a large available checkbook for political donations. “In many instances, all the checks from a given firm arrived on the same day — from partners, attorneys, and other support staff.” Employees denied that their law-firm employers had signaled any willingness to reimburse the donations, which would constitute a violation of federal law. (Sam Dealey, “Donations to Sen. Edwards questioned”, The Hill, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 — Mississippi investigation heats up. Per the Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), the “net may be widening” in the FBI’s previously reported investigation of improper ties between Mississippi judges and well-known trial lawyers (see Oct. 9-10 and 11-13, 2002). “Sources said this week as many as 25 indictments could be issued …While reports of the investigation have focused on the Gulf Coast, sources said the probe now includes campaign contributions from trial lawyers connected to Southwest Mississippi,” renowned as the center of intense litigation against pharmaceutical companies. (“Bob Pittman, “FBI widening its investigation of campaign funding”, Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), May 5. See also “Diaz’s dad testifies before grand jury”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Apr. 12; Jerry Mitchell, “Judicial probe intensifying”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 2).

“Meanwhile,” the Hattiesburg paper continues, “four trial lawyers who have been active in lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers are named as defendants in a growing number of court actions in Jefferson County. In at least four suits filed to date, trial lawyers Dennis Sweet, Shane Langston, Richard Freese and Richard Schwartz, all of Jackson, have been named as defendants in cases in which it is alleged that the four either withheld settlement money from clients or failed to pay hired ‘runners’ who were employed to enroll plaintiffs in cases which the lawyers filed in several different counties in Mississippi, including Jasper County.” (May 5 article, cited above). See also Bob Pittman, “Judge asked to step aside in trial lawyer suit”, May 1; Bob Pittman, “Suit alleges lawyer used ‘fake clients'”, May 1. (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 — Jury selection in Britain. Notwithstanding the understandable outcry over a recent case in which a British judge excluded prospective jurors from a politically sensitive trial based on their religion, the general rule in the English system is for jurors to be drawn from a near-universal pool and selection to be made at random. “English lawyers are not pestered by jury consultants: they do not exist here. We do not have days of jury selection before a trial starts, as I have seen for myself several times in the United States, with prospective jurors questioned in depth and sometimes with aggression by lawyers anxious to explore possible prejudices. Defense barristers in England used to have the right of seven (then whittled down to three) peremptory challenges without any need for courtroom interrogation….But Parliament abolished peremptory challenges by the defense in 1989, and although not technically abolished, ‘standing by for the Crown’ [the equivalent for the prosecution] now seldom occurs.” For-cause challenges are rare as well. (Fenton Bresler, “Picking juries — or not”, National Law Journal, Mar. 17, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 — “Robber sues clerk who shot him during holdup”. Muncie, Ind.: “A convicted robber is suing the convenience store clerk who shot him as he fled after a holdup. Willie Brown, 44, claimed the clerk acted ‘maliciously and sadistically’ in firing five shots as Brown ran out of Zipps Deli with money from the store’s cash register.” Brown, who was struck by bullets in the back and side, pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison. His earlier convictions included one for robbery and two for burglary. (AP/Indianapolis Star, Apr. 18). And in Great Britain, “Government lawyers trying to keep the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin behind bars will tell a High Court judge tomorrow that burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders.” (Robert Verkaik, “Government lawyers say burglars ‘need protection'”, The Independent (UK), May 5). Plus: in Bentonville, Ark., inmate Kenneth J. Lewis II is suing Nina Baugh for $140,000 in damages; according to affidavits, Lewis was shot by Baugh after he attempted to burglarize her family’s pawn shop and another business. Lewis was sentenced in January to 12 years’ imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to commercial burglary and aggravated assault (Tracy M. Neal, “Convicted burglar sues woman who shot him during crime”, Benton County Daily Record, Apr. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 — Year’s most injudicious judges. The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of misbehavior on the bench includes jurists alleged to have slept with litigants, offered to fix cases, set new records for rudeness, and run a Ponzi scheme from chambers, not to mention the jurist who is said to have referred to himself as “God”. (Gail Diane Cox, “The Injudicious: Judges who crossed the line — or erased it”, May 5). (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 — Friends in high places, cont’d. A bill expanding wrongful death damages — a top priority of the state’s trial lawyer association — is moving quickly through the GOP-controlled New York state senate; it happens that the “head of the Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the bill is big-time trial lawyer John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). It’s not just Democrats like Assembly Speaker (and trial lawyer) Shelly Silver who are in the lawyer lobby’s pocket.” (“Lawyer leeches would bleed N.Y.C.” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 18)(more on bill, Business Council of New York State)(see Dec. 13-15, 2002, Oct. 4, 2000). And in Kansas, “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius used her first veto to reject a bill designed to promote rural tourism. Specifically, the bill would shield from lawsuits farmers and ranchers who, for a fee, let people watch and take part in some farm activities. … The strongest opposition to the bill came from the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, which employed Sebelius as executive director before her election to the House in 1986.” (Steve Painter, “Sebelius vetoes farmer liability shield”, Wichita Eagle, Apr. 16). While with the KTLA Sebelius “worked closely with the Legislature as a lobbyist” (bio) and then went on to attract widespread notice as her state’s insurance commissioner before running for governor. (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 — Prospering despite reform. Some observers thought the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 law “was aimed at putting [class action firm] Milberg Weiss — and especially partner William Lerach, the lawyer many corporate executives love to hate — out of business. … Instead, according to a new study by Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research, Milberg Weiss is doing better than ever.” (Tamara Loomis, “Milberg Weiss Stronger Than Ever Despite Reform Act”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 24). An analysis for the Cato Institute by Adam S. Pritchard of the University of Michigan Law School concludes that the law has, as intended, worked to raise the average quality of securities suits and weed out those with least merit. (“Should Congress Repeal Securities Class Action Reform?”, Cato Policy Analysis, Feb. 27 (executive summary, full text in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 — “Streets Strewn With Glass, Gold”. Don’t miss this profile of D.C.’s subculture of “accident investigators” who solicit participants in car crashes to file lawsuits, often bombarding their phones with evening and early-morning calls for days. “The lawyer who introduced him to the business was killed by a car while standing on an exit ramp, apparently talking with accident victims, [“personal injury specialist” Warren] Johnson says.” (Libby Copeland, Washington Post, May 1). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 — By reader acclaim: “Student sues over top title”. “A Moorestown [N.J.] High School senior, contending that the district superintendent is engineering new rules that would force her to share the title of valedictorian with another student, sued school officials yesterday. Blair L. Hornstine, 18, who aspires to be a lawyer, asked a federal judge to prevent the school from declaring valedictorian anyone other than the student with the highest GPA.” (John Shiffman, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2; Tanya Barrientos, “Student’s lawsuit shows lack of class”, May 3). Update May 13: Hornstine wins suit (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 — It ain’t heavy to him, he’s my brother. In September, according to the National Law Journal‘s “Verdicts and Settlements” column (Oct. 7, 2002, not online) a Texas jury awarded $134,000 to Jennifer Grobe, an employee of the Granite & Iron Store in Fredericksburg. “According to Grobe, she suffered two herniated lumbar discs when she lifted one of two 100- to 125-pound granite tables that the store’s owners had left in the entrance”. Why Grobe’s claim went to a jury in the form of a lawsuit, rather than to the workers’ comp system, is not clear from the context.

The bit in the NLJ‘s report that drew our attention was the following: Grobe’s suit alleged that her employer was negligent “for placing the tables in the entrance and for failing to comply with store policy by not having two male employees available.” Perhaps we’re missing something, but wouldn’t the employer have faced likely liability exposure if it had enforced a policy of “having two male employees available” to handle heavy deliveries? As any self-respecting sex-discrimination litigator would point out, such a policy closes off some work opportunities to women and trades on impermissible (no matter how generally accurate) stereotypes of men as wielding greater upper-body strength. (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 — Those litigious Americans. “An ad for Dutch brewer Heineken NV depicts lawsuit-happy Americans suing each other over spilled beer…The idea is that Heineken is so good it makes Americans abandon their litigious natures.” (Erin White, “National Lampoon: U.K. Ads Satirize American Demeanor”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)


May 20 — Suing ’til the cows come home. From a Forbes article on why the city of Fresno, Calif. and its surrounding Central Valley are so economically depressed: “Then there is the assault from the greenies. In Fresno’s surrounding counties, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment [a unit of the federally funded California Rural Legal Assistance — ed.] has used lawsuits to halt 125 new and expanded dairy projects since 1998, projects that would have increased the state’s milk cow population by a third.” (Lynn J. Cook, “Economic Death Valley”, Forbes, May 26). See also Larry Serpa, “Dairies can coexist with environment”, Visalia Times-Delta, Nov. 3-4, 2001; Michael Boccadoro, “Activist groups do more to cause poverty than cure it”, Dairy Business, Feb. 2002, both reprinted at DairyCares site. (DURABLE LINK)

May 20 — “A Grand Façade”. “[Few Americans] have any idea about what the grand jury is supposed to do and its day-to-day operation. That ignorance largely explains how some over-reaching prosecutors have been able to pervert the grand jury, whose original purpose was to check prosecutorial power, into an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of government and now runs roughshod over the constitutional rights of citizens.” (W. Thomas Dillard, Stephen R. Johnson, and Timothy Lynch, “A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by Government”, Cato Institute Policy Analysis #476, May 13 (executive summary; full paper in PDF format)) (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — Sauce for the gander dept. Texas: “A major criticism of class-action lawsuits is that the public often gets nothing but coupons while their lawyers wind up with millions of dollars. If a proposed law makes it through the Legislature, the lawyers may be getting coupons, too. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is proposing that lawyers who win class-action suits get the same thing that their clients get. If half the award to the clients is in coupons and discounts, the lawyers will get half their fees in coupons and discounts, too.” (Terry Maxon, “Bill would give attorneys same class-action payout as clients”, Dallas Morning News, May 5)(via Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse). (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — “Lawyers spoil fun”. Georgia: “Families and kids who found summertime fun and enjoyment each year at the Krystal River Water Park in Evans will have to find somewhere else to cool off in the months ahead. The park is closing up shop because its liability insurance costs jumped from $8,000 a month to a whopping $58,000 a month. Customers couldn’t possibly afford to pay the higher admission price park owner Ken Edwards would have to charge to offset the 700-percent premium increase.” (Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, May 11). (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — “Law firms in tobacco suit seek $1.2b more”. Massachusetts: “As Beacon Hill grapples with a fiscal crisis, the lawyers who worked on the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry are demanding the state now pay them an additional $1.25 billion in legal fees. In recent court filings, four law firms, led by Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels of Boston, asked a Superior Court judge to enforce a contract that called for the lawyers to be given 25 percent of whatever proceeds Massachusetts received in the case. … The lawyers’ push to obtain more of the tobacco funds [on top of the $775 million they have already been awarded] has roiled the legal community in Massachusetts and nationally, with some worrying that the case will reinforce an image of avarice that dogs trial lawyers.” (Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, May 4)(see Jan. 2-3, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — Go ahead and have your Oreos (for now). The San Francisco lawyer who announced that he was suing Kraft/Nabisco (see May 13) now says he’s dropping the action and “only wanted to get the word out about the dangers of unlabeled fats contained in the popular black and white cookies. …[‘]Now everybody knows about trans fat.’ He expressed no remorse for using California courts as a publicity tool.” (Ron Harris, “SF lawyer says he’s dropping suit against Oreo cookies”, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, May 14). Bloggers Brian Peterson (May 13) and Timothy Sandefur (May 14) have their doubts about whether it’s actually consistent with legal ethics to file lawsuits in search of free publicity for causes, while George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, an old friend and collaborator of ours who’s just launched his own law blog, notes that (like it or not) lawsuits are often extraordinarily effective as bids for attention (May 15, archives busted, scroll down). Meanwhile the New York Times, which ran an “Editorial Observer” commentary favorable to the McDonald’s obesity suit (see Feb. 19), chimes in with an article presenting the Oreo affair exclusively from the plaintiff’s point of view, with not a syllable of dissent or skepticism about the suit’s merits (Marian Burros, “A Suit Seeks to Bar Oreos as a Health Risk”, New York Times, May 14). On the other hand, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown rejoices that he’s “found a way to finance my children’s college education. … I don’t intend to quit until I’ve eaten all 45 cookies in the package.” (“In search of the lethal dose of Oreo cookies”, May 14). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — After California bounty-hunting scandal, lawyers win again. When people talk about the trial lawyers’ controlling the California legislature, this is the sort of thing they have in mind. For several months editorial and public opinion in the state has registered outrage at lawyers’ use of the state’s broad unfair-competition law to extort cash settlements from thousands of small-business owners (see Jan. 15, Mar. 3). But “The attorneys, to the utter surprise of no one, emerged as victors in a showdown hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Voting largely along party lines, in what was clearly a scripted scenario, the committee killed three bills that would have imposed some reforms on the unfair competition law — UCL, as it’s called — and approved a lawyer-backed substitute that contains only superficial changes and, if enacted, would actually make it easier to collect money in UCL cases.” The committee passed “a measure written by the personal injury attorneys lobby, Consumer Attorneys of California, [which] in conjunction with another lawyer-written measure in the Senate, would impose very mild new requirements on attorneys filing UCL suits, but it would also add a provision, called ‘disgorgement,’ that would allow more money to be obtained from UCL defendants and thus increase plaintiffs’ leverage. Recent state Supreme Court decisions had barred ‘disgorgement’ in UCL suits.” (Dan Walters: “Democrats side with lawyers over small-business owners”, Sacramento Bee, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — “Suit Seeks to Keep Elephant at L.A. Zoo”. “A woman has filed suit to stop the Los Angeles Zoo from sending its female African elephant, Ruby, to the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, a move she said would break a longtime bond between the animal and a female Asian elephant, Gita.” (Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times, May 15) (see also SoCalLaw) (DURABLE LINK)

May 15 — Judge kicks class-action lawyers off case. “It was a stunning ruling by a federal judge exposing what she saw as lawyers trying to settle a big class-action lawsuit for their own benefit and with little regard for their clients. U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo last month booted six Chicago-area lawyers off a national class-action suit that accused H&R Block Inc. of cheating customers who took out tax-refund loans. In her ruling, she chastised the lawyers for doing little spadework to prove their case. The settlement fund was to be capped at $25 million for a potential class of 17 million people. The lawyers, whom she described as ‘inadequate,’ would have received $4.25 million.” (Ameet Sachdev, “Class-action reform pushed into spotlight”, Chicago Tribune, May 1; “Federal Judge in Illinois Rejects Settlement In Suit Against H&R Block Over Refund Loans”, BNA Class Action Litigation Report, Apr. 2; Mark Tatge, “A Pox on Both Houses”, Forbes, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

May 14 — NTSB blames pilot error, but airport told to pay $10 million. “A Cook County jury awarded $10.45 million to the family of a pilot killed in 1996 when the executive jet he was at the controls of slid off the runway and burned at Palwaukee Municipal Airport. The pilot, Martin Koppie, 53, had been accused in earlier lawsuits of causing the crash that killed three other people.” The new verdict, on the other hand, throws $9.9 million worth of blame onto the municipalities of Wheeling and Prospect Heights, which own and operate the airport, for allegedly locating a drainage ditch too close to the runway. “In a 1998 report, the National Transportation Safety Board faulted Koppie for not aborting the takeoff and co-pilot Whitener for not taking ‘sufficient remedial action.’ In 2001, a Cook County jury awarded $18.9 million to Whitener’s family, who had argued that Koppie caused the crash and Chicago-based Aon Corp. was responsible as his employer.” (Michael Higgins, “$10 million award in ’96 plane crash”, Chicago Tribune, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)

May 14 — “Prosecutor had ordeal as defendant”. An assistant Massachusetts attorney general gets caught up in charges of sexual harassment that mushroom into criminal charges before eventually collapsing, not before turning his life and reputation upside down. “Exculpatory evidence that surfaced during [Michael] Atleson’s trial, prosecutors now say, cast serious doubt on the credibility of his accusers.” Despite Atleson’s acquittal and the withdrawal of other charges against him, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley has no apologies: “The system worked for Mr. Atleson”, he claims. Read the story and see whether you agree (Ralph Ranalli, Boston Globe, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)

May 13 — Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids. “Oreo cookies should be banned from sale to children in California, according to a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco attorney who claims that trans fat — the stuff that makes the chocolate cookies crisp and their filling creamy — is so dangerous children shouldn’t eat it. Stephen Joseph, who filed the suit against Nabisco last week in Marin County Superior Court,… [is a “public interest lawyer” who has also] formed a nonprofit corporation called BanTransFats.com, Inc.” (Kim Severson, “Lawsuit seeks to ban sale of Oreos to children in California”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 12). “Fast food restaurants are facing claims that hamburgers can be as addictive as heroin in the next twist to the obesity lawsuits that threaten McDonald’s and Burger King. John Banzhaf, the self-styled ‘legal terrorist’ who pioneered tobacco litigation in the 1960s,” contends that studies suggest that fat-laden food can produce the same sorts of changes in the brain as powerful drugs. (Simon English, “Burgers are ‘as bad as heroin’, activist claims”, Daily Telegraph (UK), May 9). More: Lance Gay, “Food industry balks at mandatory labeling”, Scripps Howard/Bremerton, Wash. Sun, May 9; “A Twinkie Tax”, CBS News, May 12. (& update May 16-18: suit dropped) (DURABLE LINK)

May 13 — Update: court installs valedictorian. “A high school student won sole rights to Moorestown High School’s valedictorian title Thursday when a judge ruled that she should not have to share the honor with two other students.” (see May 3-4) “U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ordered the Moorestown district to name Blair L. Hornstine the valedictorian for the class of 2003.” (“Student Wins Valedictorian Lawsuit In Moorestown”, NBC10.com, May 9). Kimberly Swygert has a lot of commentary on the case at her No. 2 Pencil blog (May 9, May 2). (DURABLE LINK)

May 12 — Shouldn’t have let him get so drunk. Australia: “A Norlane man is suing Geelong Football Club for allowing him to get too drunk at a president’s lunch. …In Supreme Court documents seen by the Geelong Advertiser, Gregory Allan Clifford claims he consumed ‘excessive quantities of liquor’ supplied by the club at a president’s lunch about two years ago. Mr Clifford claims he fell down a set of stairs at the club function and severely injured himself. In the civil lawsuit against the club he claims the club should have exercised reasonable care to conduct the function in a way where people drinking were reasonably safe.” In a case that made considerable headway in the Australian courts before recently being dismissed, a woman sued a New South Wales rugby club for allegedly continuing to serve her alcohol although she was intoxicated; the “woman had claimed she was hit by a car while ‘wandering drunkenly’ 100 metres away from the club, the Supreme Court documents said.” (Natalie Staaks, “Cats sued”, Geelong Advertiser, May 8, no longer online) (via Brain Graze) (DURABLE LINK)

May 12 — Malpractice studies. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee publishes a new study finding that the medical malpractice litigation system performs poorly in both its major social roles: deterring medical negligence and fairly compensating the negligently injured. Reform including liability limits would offer substantial benefits that could include billions in annual budgetary savings to the federal fisc and improvements in medical care affordability that could permit millions of Americans to be priced back into the health insurance market. (Senior Economist Dan Miller, “Liability for Medical Malpractice: Issues and Evidence”, Joint Economic Committee, May (PDF format)). A similar study, focusing on Texas: Chris Patterson, Colleen Whalen and John Pisciotta, “Critical Condition”, Texas Public Policy Foundation, April (PDF format). In an April poll of Texas Medical Association members, nearly two-thirds of the 1,027 physicians responding “say the climate in which they practice medicine has forced them to deny or refer high-risk cases in the past two years.” (“Doctors forced to limit or deny patient care”, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston website, undated).

Although Massachusetts’s situation is not as bad as that as many other states, it is still seeing a departure of respected doctors from the liability-wracked field of obstetrics. “‘You start to think maybe this isn’t worth it,’ said Dr. Ronald Rubin, 41, of Shrewsbury, who gave up obstetrics after being sued and is now completing an anesthesia residency. ‘My case was dismissed, but I got deposed. It was six years of going back and forth and taking time off from work. It took a tremendous toll.'” (Liz Kowalczyk, “Insurance costs leave one less baby doctor”, Boston Globe, Apr. 27). And following a tripling of its insurance premiums, a 16-doctor radiologist practice in the Daytona Beach, Fla. area has announced that it intends to stop performing mammograms, which is particularly problematic since the practice currently performs the majority of the mammograms carried out in Volusia and Flagler counties. (“Radiologists say they’ll stop performing mammograms on June 1″, AP/Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 8)(see Nov. 2, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)


May 30-June 1 — “Judge Allows Lawyer to Add Shell Oil as Nightclub Fire Defendant”. Rhode Island: “Attorney Ronald Resmini, who sued for damages in federal court last month, said he added Shell Oil and its affiliate, Motiva Enterprises LLC, to his lawsuit because The Station nightclub owners distributed tickets to their club from a Shell gas station they owned. ‘They were giving away free tickets if you bought so much merchandise,’ Resmini said.” Lawyers’ quest for deep pockets has already resulted in the naming of brewer Anheuser-Busch and the town of West Warwick, among other defendants. (AP/MSNBC/7 News Boston, May 29). (DURABLE LINK)

May 30-June 1 — “Diet Drug Litigation Leads to Fat Fees”. “A federal judge in Philadelphia has awarded interim fees of more than $150 million to 83 plaintiffs’ law firms for their work in the massive fen-phen diet drug litigation that led to a $3.75 billion class action settlement. The interim fees are just a fraction of what the plaintiffs’ lawyers could ultimately earn, since it covers only work up to June 30, 2001. In their fee petition, the lawyers asked for $567 million.” (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, May 21)(see Sept. 27-29, 2002, and links from there). And, reports Texas Lawyer: “A group of Houston plaintiffs’ lawyers who were major players in fen-phen litigation in the late 1990s are now jumping into the ephedra arena and plan to use many of the tactics they learned in fen-phen suits in the new litigation.” Ephedra, an herbal remedy, promotes weight loss and energy but can have serious side effects. (Kelly Pedone, “Lessons Learned in Fen-Phen Suits Factor Into Ephedra Cases”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15)(see Sept. 10, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

May 30-June 1 — “Buchanan & Press”. Viewers who tuned into the popular MSNBC debate show last night (Thurs.) saw our editor debate former ATLA president Barry Nace on the merits of Common Good’s “early offers” proposals for limiting lawyers’ contingency fees (see May 29) A full transcript is likely at some point to be posted here. (DURABLE LINK)

May 29 — Hold the gravy? Common Good, the reform organization headed by author Philip Howard, has launched a new campaign to limit the fees plaintiff’s lawyers can charge in cases that settle promptly. “The proposal would require plaintiffs’ attorneys to submit a notice of a planned lawsuit to defendants in contingency fee cases. If a settlement offer is made and accepted within 60 days of the notice, the attorney must charge an hourly rate that cannot exceed 10 percent of the settlement amount.” (Elizabeth Neff, “Plan Would Cap Contingency Fees”, Salt Lake Tribune, May 25). Petitions to this effect have been filed in recent weeks by lawyers working pro bono in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. (Daniel Wise, “Attorney Fees in Personal Injury Cases Targeted”, New York Law Journal, May 8; Adam Liptak, “In 13 States, a Push to Limit Lawyers’ Fees”, New York Times, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

May 29 — Decorating for reconciliation. Okay, for a change, here’s a vignette that made us think maybe there’s hope for the profession: “Though hardly sentimental in the courtroom, Ms. Gold-Bikin [divorce attorney Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin of Philadelphia’s Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen LLP] says she often urges settlement and, even, reconciliation…. Coupons for free marriage-counseling sessions are set out on the coffee table. … ‘I’m a divorce lawyer who believes in marriage. So I started collecting old wedding photos and licenses. Then I found that if I put them up around the office, clients would have to walk past them and, hopefully, think twice about what they were about to do. There are plenty of marriages we’re never going to save. But there are a lot we can work on. Many people who come here shouldn’t be getting divorced. They’re just stuck, and I hope this makes them reconsider.'” (Nancy D. Holt, “The rite of matrimony”, CareerJournal.com (WSJ), May 15; also appeared in Wall Street Journal, May 14, as the “Workspaces” column). (DURABLE LINK)

May 28 — Vitamin class action: some questions for the lawyers. Last month “appeal court justices in San Francisco did something unusual: They mailed out a letter asking lawyers in a massive vitamin price-fixing class action to explain a few things. Why, the 1st District Court of Appeal wanted to know, are so many law firms involved? How did the number of coordinated cases grow by 12 in one six-month period? How many out-of-state law firms are involved? Which of the defendants previously entered guilty or no contest pleas to criminal charges?” At least fifty class action law firms nationwide are hoping to split a $16 million fee pot, but Oakland, Calif. attorney Larry Schonbrun, the nation’s best-known objector to class actions, says there’s “no reason why much fewer law firms could not have handled this case”. And: “This is a money machine. It’s feeding at the trough.” (Mike McKee, “Enriching the Record”, The Recorder, May 27). (DURABLE LINK)

May 28 — “Sex, God and Greed”. Forbes on the priest scandals and the associated “litigation gold rush” which could leave the Roman Catholic Church facing $5 billion in payouts. “The lawyers who are winning settlements from Catholic dioceses are already casting about for the next targets: schools, government agencies, day care centers, police departments, Indian reservations, Hollywood. … The lawyers are lobbying states to lift the statute of limitations on sex abuse cases, letting them dredge up complaints that date back decades.” (Daniel Lyons, Forbes, Jun. 9). Sidebars: “Battle of the Shrinks” (role of recovered memory in some cases); “Heavenly Cash” (questionable claims). Our editor weighed in a couple of years ago on the practice of lifting statutes of limitation. (DURABLE LINK)

May 27 — “State is suing ex-dry cleaners”. California Attorney General Lockyer is suing retired owners of Mom-and-Pop dry cleaners in the town of Chico under the federal Superfund law, accusing them of pouring dry-cleaning chemicals down their drains decades ago. “Bob and Inez Heidinger — he’s 87, has Alzheimer’s disease and is blind in one eye; she’s 83, has bone marrow cancer and needs shoulder surgery” — are being sued for $1.5 million on charges (which they deny) of disposing of PCE in such a manner between 1952 and 1974, when they sold the business. Also being sued is “Paul Tullius, a 57-year-old retired Air Force pilot, and his wife, Vicki, who own a warehouse that last housed a dry cleaner in 1972 — 16 years before they bought the building without knowing its entire history.” “This is the most draconian law you could ever imagine,” says Tullius. “…Can you imagine what that does to your life? I’m sort of thinking this isn’t the country I thought it was.” (Gary Delsohn, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

May 27 — Courtroom assault on drugmakers. A week or two ago the New York Times somewhat belatedly discovered that trial lawyers have ginned up a large amount of well-organized litigation against pharmaceutical makers over alleged side effects. (Alex Berenson, “Giant drug firms may face lawsuits”, New York Times/Oakland Tribune, May 18). Some reactions: Derek Lowe (“Because That’s Where the Money Is”, Corante, May 16), Ernie the Attorney (May 18), MedPundit (May 19), MedRants (May 19), William Murchison (“Lawyers Who Make You Sick”, syndicated/TownHall, May 20) (the last of these via SickofLawsuits.org, a new health-focused site associated with the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse tort reform groups). (DURABLE LINK)

May 24-26 — “‘Trial Lawyers Get Spanked'”. Our editor had an op-ed Friday in the Wall Street Journal celebrating the Florida appeals court’s striking down of the absurd $145 billion class action verdict in the Engle tobacco case. (Walter Olson, WSJ/ OpinionJournal.com, May 23). Other columns on the decision include Jacob Sullum, “Appealing Price”, syndicated/Reason.com, May 23, on the appeals bond issue; and George Will, “The States’ Tobacco Dilemma”, syndicated/Washington Post, May 23, on the hypocrisy of state governments. (DURABLE LINK)

May 24-26 — Hitting the jack-potty. “A city worker has hit the jack-potty. Cedrick Makara, 55, scored a $3 million jury verdict last week because he hurt his thumb trying to get out of the john of a Manhattan building where he works.” The building’s manager and owner are on the hook. The stall in question “had a missing doorknob. [Attorney Sheryl] Menkes said Makara reached his hand through a hole where the knob should have been and pulled the door toward him just as someone entering the bathroom pushed the door in,” causing him to injure tendons in his thumb and miss six months of work as a city claims examiner. (Helen Peterson, “He’s flush after $3M potty suit”, New York Daily News, May 21). More: Boots and Sabers comments on the case (May 25). (DURABLE LINK)

May 22-23 — Court overturns $145 billion Engle award. Not to say “we told you so” about yesterday’s Florida appellate decision reversing the tobacco-suit atrocity, but, well, we did tell you so back in 1999: “The smart money is betting last week’s Miami anti-tobacco jury verdict will be overturned on the issue of class certification — whether every sick Florida smoker should have been swept into a class suing cigarette makers despite vast differences among individuals on such issues as why they decided to smoke or quit.” We had more to say about the case, also in the Wall Street Journal, a year later (July 18, 2000), as well as on this site. The latest decision is on FindLaw in PDF format and a very fine decision it is indeed — if this keeps up, the Florida courts may start getting their reputation back (Manuel Roig-Franzia, “$145 Billion Award in Tobacco Case Voided”, Washington Post, May 21). (DURABLE LINK)

May 22-23 — Must be why the show has so many fans. Received recently from the publicity department at St. Martin’s Press, publisher of our editor’s latest book: “The Rule of Lawyers by Walter Olson will be a prop in the show, Sex and the City! It will be a prop in Miranda’s apt. thoughout the season. The pilot airs early June.” (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — Update: McMahon’s mold claim worth $7 mil. “Entertainer Ed McMahon reaped a $7 million settlement from several companies he sued for allowing toxic mold to overrun his Los Angeles home and kill his beloved dog, a national mold litigation magazine reported”. (“McMahon Gets $7 Mln in Toxic Mold Lawsuit – Report”, Yahoo/Reuters, May 7)(see Apr. 25, 2002). Addendum: blogger Stu Greene writes, “I wonder if the Prize Patrol delivered one of those oversized novelty checks with balloons tied to it.” (May 21) (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — Auto-lease liability: deeper into crisis. Honda has become the latest automaker to announce that it will stop leasing new cars to buyers in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island (see Mar. 12-14, 2003, Aug. 26, 2002). The problem is 1920s-era “vicarious liability” laws in those three states, fiercely guarded by the trial lawyer lobby, which expose leasing and rental car companies to unlimited personal injury claims when their customers get into accidents. Honda’s pullout follows withdrawals this spring by GM and Ford as well as by J.P. Morgan Chase, a major provider of auto financing in the Northeast. (“Industry report: Honda to stop leasing in 3 states”, Detroit Free Press, May 20 (scroll down); “American Honda Finance Corp. to Suspend All Leasing In Three States”, PR Newswire, May 19; “Auto lease fleece” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 22 (scroll down); SaveLeasing.com; “Ford Blames Liability Law for Decision to Stop Leasing Cars in NY”, Insurance Journal, Apr. 7; Zubin Jelveh, “Leasing Companies Exit Left and Right”, Newsday, May 4). “More than $1.5 billion in such claims are pending in New York, said Elaine Litwer, legislative coordinator for the National Vehicle Leasing Association…. [Proponents of easing the law] received a big boost last month when the 75,000-member New York State Bar Association split from the trial lawyers and said the vicarious liability law was never meant to apply to leases and supported changes.” (Barbara Woller, “GMAC leaves New York’s auto leasing market”, Journal News (Gannett, Westchester County), May 1; John Caher, “State Bar, Trial Lawyers Part Ways on Tort Reform”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 8). More: Jun. 9, 2003; Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

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  • […] discussion. Earlier mentions on this website are here, including a discussion of England’s near-abolition of the practice in […]