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asbestos

July 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 29, 2014

  • Say nay, laddie: Unsettling new Scotland law will assign each child state interest guardian (“named person”) [BBC, Scottish government, Josie Appleton/Spiked Online, opposition group and another] More: Skenazy.
  • Why Judge Alex Kozinski doesn’t like jury nullification [Reason interview last year]
  • “Asbestos Ruling Boosts Transparency —- and Threatens Plaintiffs’ Attorneys” [Paul Barrett, Business Week, on Garlock ruling]
  • Winona, Minn. town cap on rental conversions violates property owners’ rights [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • Challenger claims Ohio attorney general’s hiring of debt collection firms amounts to pay to play [Columbus Dispatch]
  • Mixed verdict in Philadelphia traffic court prosecutions [Inquirer, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • Save the date! Cato’s annual Constitution Day returns Wed., Sept. 17, with panelists and speakers like P.J. O’Rourke, Nadine Strossen, Tom Goldstein, Judge Diane Sykes, Roger Pilon, and a host of others [details]

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Mass tort roundup

by Walter Olson on July 16, 2014

  • New Hampshire lottery: after Granite State’s MTBE contamination suits pays off big, Vermont files its own [WLF Legal Pulse]
  • Supreme Court declines to review various cases arising from Florida’s Engle tobacco litigation [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog, earlier] “U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Fen-Phen Lawyers’ Appeal of $42M Kentucky Verdict” [Insurance Journal, earlier]
  • In action against five drug firms over opioid marketing, California’s Santa Clara County partners with law firms Robinson Calcagnie, Cohen Milstein, and Hagens Berman, marking at least the tenth time the county has teamed up with outside law firms to file suits [Legal NewsLine; earlier on Chicago's involvement in painkiller suit]
  • Lester Brickman on fraud in mesothelioma litigation [SSRN] “Plaintiff Lawyer Offers Inside Look At `Institutionalized Fraud’ At Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher]
  • “‘Light’ cigarette case vs Huck’s continues after 9 years; Two current judges had been plaintiff’s counsel” [Madison Record, ABA Journal]
  • “If honesty in the judicial system means anything, it means proceeding with candor before the tribunal, which plaintiffs’ counsel did not do during the removal proceedings.” [dissent in Peter Angelos Cashmere Bouquet asbestos case, Legal NewsLine]
  • Report on products liability and the driverless car [John Villasenor, Brookings, earlier]

While the court did not endorse “but-for” causation standard favored by the defense, it did rule against the ultra-accommodating position that “any exposure” to asbestos should result in liability even if far greater exposure came from a different source. The court instead hinged liability on whether a defendant’s product or activity was a “substantial factor,” which it defined “as one that more than doubles the risk of injury to the plaintiff.” [Deborah La Fetra, PLF]

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2014

  • By convention the business/defense side isn’t fond of jury trial while plaintiff’s side sings its praises, but Louisiana fight might turn that image on its head [Hayride, sequel at TortsProf (measure fails)]
  • Generous tort law, modern industrial economy, doing away with principle of limited liability: pick (at most) two of three [Megan McArdle]
  • Fallacies about Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case go on and on, which means correctives need to keep coming too [Jim Dedman, DRI]
  • Interaction of products liability with workplace injury often provides multiple bites at compensation apple, overdue for reform [Michael Krauss]
  • Ford Motor is among most recent seeking to pull back the curtain on asbestos bankruptcy shenanigans [Daniel Fisher; related, Washington Examiner] “Page after page he sits on the straw man’s chest, punching him in the face” [David Oliver on expert affidavit in asbestos case]
  • Kansas moves to raise med-mal caps as directed by state supreme court, rebuffs business requests for collateral source rule reform [Kansas Medical Society]
  • Let’s hope so: “More stringent pleading for class actions?” [Matthew J.B. Lawrence via Andrew Trask, Class Strategist]

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on April 6, 2014

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One has to hope this kind of thing doesn’t happen often [press release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey]:

A former attorney in the Haddonfield, N.J., office of a firm specializing in toxic tort litigation today admitted that he falsified defendants’ names in more than 100 asbestos suits filed in New York State courts in order to increase business and his standing in the firm, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Arobert C. Tonogbanua, 44, of Sicklerville, N.J., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud. During the proceeding, Tonogbanua admitted that he fraudulently inserted the names of his former law firm’s clients into legitimately filed asbestos suits and charged the clients more than $1 million in attorney’s fees, costs and settlements to defend them.

[via Legal NewsLine; South Jersey Times] For a retrospective on the Lynn Boyd Stites/”Alliance” scam of years ago, in which a circle of defense lawyers in Los Angeles used manufactured litigation to harvest fees, see clips here, here, here, and here.

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2014

  • Reminder: SB 353, which would ban bringing of knives and other weapons onto private school property whatever the school’s wishes, up for hearing at 1 p.m. Wed. Feb. 26 [text, Senate, related Virginia] With Ninth Circuit’s Peruta decision, Maryland now one of only six holdout states to resist any recognition of gun carry rights [David Kopel]
  • Slew of labor proposals moving through Annapolis would require employers to offer paid sick leave, push unionization on community college employees, and require employers to pay interns’ transportation costs. Study finds boosting state’s minimum wage would cost jobs [WaPo]
  • Supremely irresponsible: state already hobbled by nation’s slowest foreclosure process, but NAACP, Casa de Maryland and Legislative Black Caucus demand six-month foreclosure moratorium on top of that [Washington Post; earlier on Maryland foreclosure law here, here (couple spends five years in million-dollar home without making mortgage payment), here, etc.]
  • Review of recent developments in asbestos litigation in the state [Lisa Rickard, Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
  • Goodbye to another Free State tradition? Senate votes ban on sale of grain alcohol, with urging from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg nanny crew [Washington Post]
  • Just say no to the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority [Mark Newgent, Baltimore Sun]
  • Sen. Zirkin “litigates dog-bite cases on behalf of plaintiffs” and is player on dog bite bill [Insurance Journal]

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Product liability roundup

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2014

  • “Furniture company founder files federal chair-collapse suit against rival manufacturer” [ABA Journal]
  • Wrangling over Pennsylvania tobacco settlement aftermath “a never-ending buffet for attorneys” [Allentown Morning Call] Florida $27 million smoking award upheld [Daily Business Review]
  • Autonomous cars and tort liability [Kyle Colonna, Case Western RJLTI/SSRN]
  • Asbestos: Death of single fiber theory [Sean Wajert, Pa.] Radiologist Herron says he did nothing wrong [W.V. Record]
    Peculiar tale of Russian asbestos-mining town [Foreign Policy] More: Lester Brickman on smokers’ asbestos cases [Chamber-backed LNL]
  • From the defense side, Beck chooses favorite and least-favorite drug and medical-device decisions of 2013;
  • One can always hope: Will 3-D printing end product liability litigation as we know it? [Nora Freeman Engstrom, SSRN] “Philadelphia Becomes First City To Ban 3D-Printed Gun Manufacturing” [Zenon Evans] Once again on the vacuous but oft-repeated “NRA is a front for gunmakers” line [Tuccille]

What percent of the dollar value demanded in asbestos litigation these days is grounded in deceitful or duplicative claims practices? Would 90 percent be an unreasonable guess? “A bankruptcy judge slashed by 90 percent the amount gasket manufacturer Garlock Sealing Technologies owes asbestos plaintiffs. … The judge cited the practice of plaintiff lawyers [of hiding] evidence their clients were exposed to products made by other companies, both by coaching their clients to deny exposure and by failing to disclose claims they made in other cases.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes and followup and related, Joe Nocera/New York Times, Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week, Charlotte Observer, order at TortsProf] On the patterns of multiple dipping exposed by Judge Janis Graham Jack in 2005 litigation, see Jim Copland’s summary here. I wrote about the coaching of asbestos claimants to “remember” working with certain products and not others in my 2004 book The Rule of Lawyers and in this earlier Reason column. More: Richard Faulk, WLF.

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Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on December 10, 2013

  • Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: “one of the most egregious cases of attorney theft of clients’ escrow funds that I have seen” [ABA Journal]
  • Chamber cheers Wisconsin for enacting strongest sunshine law for state hiring of outside contingency-fee lawyers [U.S. Chamber/Business Wire]
  • Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s contributions on professional responsibility and the role of the legal profession [Steven Hobbs, SSRN]
  • “Mississippi Supreme Court sanctions judge for refusing to step aside in asbestos suit” [ Walter L. Cofer, Greg Fowler and Simon Castley, Lexology]
  • Alameda County ex-judge gets 5 years of probation in theft from elderly neighbor [ABA Journal, earlier here, etc.]
  • Study: Wisconsin high court justices tend to side with attorney donors [Fed Soc Blog]
  • Suit by Garlock claims misconduct by opposing asbestos lawyers including concealment of exposure and implantation of memories [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, related] A Lone Star State asbestos litigation revival? [Eric Lasker and Richard Faulk, WLF]

Perhaps it was overreach for a prominent New York City plaintiff’s law firm to file asbestos litigation on behalf of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the famously fond-of-smoking Long Island Congresswoman now fighting lung cancer, against General Electric, Pfizer and more than 70 other companies. The high-profile case is focusing public attention on the legal fictions by which lawyers have been lassoing seemingly conventional lung cancer cases and bringing them into the asbestos litigation system [Joe Nocera, New York Times; Daniel Fisher; earlier]

P.S. Patterns of filing non-mesothelioma cancer cases reflect asbestos lawyers’ economic incentives [Daniel Fisher]

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November 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2013

  • KlearGear and the consumer non-disparagement clause that ate (or tried to eat) Chicago [Popehat and followup]
  • “House Passes Bill That Would Open Asbestos Trusts To Scrutiny” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
  • Randy Maniloff interviews Judge Richard Posner on his new book Reflections on Judging [Coverage Opinions]
  • In a custody fight, anything can happen: “Dad Accused of ‘Unfit Parenting’ for Refusing to Take His Son to McDonalds” [TIME]
  • “Released after serving 10 years on false rape accusation –then wrongly arrested for not registering as sex offender” [Chicago Tribune via @radleybalko]
  • Institute for Justice launches campaign to challenge local restrictions on food with suits over sale of cottage baked goods, front-yard vegetable gardens, advertising of raw milk [AP/Yahoo, "National Food Freedom Initiative"]
  • Alabama regulators add hassle factor when business tries to move into the state [Coyote]

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Paul Barrett at Business Week:

…even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.

That’s by way of introducing the lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), known as a big-time smoker, attributing her lung cancer to asbestos products made by more than 40 companies. Did we mention that representing her is the politically well-connected New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg?

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Liability and torts roundup

by Walter Olson on October 24, 2013

  • Struggling with a new-design gas can? There’s a reason for that [Scott Reeder, earlier on Blitz bankruptcy]
  • NYT video retrospective on Stella Liebeck-McDonald’s (hot coffee spill) case is getting a lot of attention;
  • Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has made itself the biggest name in asbestos defense, and some trial lawyers hope to make hay with that [Scripps/WPTV]
  • California trial lawyers chief: yes, we’re going to partner up more with elected officials as in lead paint case [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
  • It’s differences in procedure, more than in substantive law, that mostly explain why the U.S. has hundreds of times as many product liability suits as Japan [J. Mark Ramseyer via Point of Law]
  • “Injured by big government? Call: 717-671-1901 [promotion for Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania free-market-oriented outfit]
  • How litigation finance might remake the lawsuit landscape [Nora Freeman Engstrom via TortsProf]

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It’s against a law firm for allegedly wrongly naming a car dealership as a defendant in an asbestos case. The (unpublished) decision, denying a SLAPP-law motion, is here (Tulare SAG, Inc. v. Keller, Fishback, and Jackson LLP). Note: Link is a document download, not a page, and may not work for all browsers or users.

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“A federal judge has tripled the damages awarded against two former members of a Pittsburgh law firm and the radiologist they were found to have conspired with to fabricate asbestos claims in West Virginia.” [Chamber-backed WV Record] Many claims based on medical evidence supplied by the radiologist, Dr. Ray Herron, were among those dismissed in 2005 by federal judge Janis Graham Jack in an opinion in which she wrote, “These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice – they were manufactured for money.” In June 2013 the editorialists of the New York Times hilariously wrote that “there is no persuasive evidence of any significant fraud or abuse” in asbestos claiming.

Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on August 13, 2013

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An expert witness testifying on behalf of Garlock Sealing Technologies, a maker of gaskets and seals, says the company has already paid at least $1.3 billion in damages to asbestos claimants. The company is telling a bankruptcy court that its remaining liability amounts to a mere $125 million, but lawyers for claimants say that’s a pipe dream and that the actual figure is ten times that or more. The case offers a window into some economic dimensions of asbestos litigation. [Charlotte Observer, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine] A judge has declined to allow reporters access to some of the proceedings, including portions of testimony by Cardozo professor Lester Brickman outlining the role of what he says is pervasive fraud and double-claiming in asbestos claims. [LNL]

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