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Center for Justice & Democracy

March 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 14, 2011

  • A San Francisco cosmetic surgeon sues her online critics — in Virginia? [Paul Alan Levy, CL&P]
  • SCOTUS ruling in “cat’s-paw” case could gut summary judgment in many bias suits [Hyman]
  • Cuomo spokesman’s smart retort to Litigation Lobby attack on Medicaid reform panel [LoHud.com]
  • “Tennessee Cops Posed as a Defense Attorney To Get Suspect To Incriminate Himself” [Reason]
  • “Illinois golfer not liable for head shot” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Trade friction mounts due to anti-India provisions in Zadroga (9/11 recovery workers) compensation bill [PoL]
  • Is a tax-funded federal nonprofit entity funneling money to environmental suits against the government? [Ron Arnold, Examiner]
  • FCRA class action deemed “lawsuit abuse problem in a nutshell” [Examiner editorial]
  • “Fatherhood by Conscription: Nonconsensual Insemination & the Duty of Child Support” [Michael Higdon, SSRN via Instapundit]

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Wikiality and the media

by Ted Frank on February 11, 2007

Glenn Reynolds posts on problems with Wikipedia. The problem is worse than he imagines, because lazy mainstream media are now relying on the site. I won’t embarrass the reporter by name, but he did a story on the ATLA name change; in the course of the story, he quoted fictional statistics invented by the Center for Justice & Democracy as “evidence” of the failure of medical malpractice reform. I dropped him an email pointing out the error, and the response included the following:

“I have found that non-obscure entries in Wikipedia are usually policed carefully to prevent unfounded, unanswered spin.”

At which point, he quoted back to me a Wikipedia entry on the subject that consisted entirely of ATLA talking points and spin that had been refuted numerous times on this site and Point of Law. That Wikipedia is inaccurate on this topic is no surprise: as I’ve noted earlier, a handful of trial lawyer advocates have systematically made thousands of edits to sanitize Wikipedia of just about anything that opposes the official ATLA line or criticizes trial lawyers, even on such minor entries as Jim Shapiro (see OL June 2002) and contingent fee (not to mention more major ones like asbestos, asbestos and the law, and medical malpractice). (And welcome Instapundit readers.)

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Martin Grace and I have written a Liability Outlook for AEI looking at the last several years of CJD/AIR studies on medical malpractice. The conclusion? “In many ways, the problem with AIR’s reports is a perfect microcosm of what doctors find most distasteful about the liability system: a trial-lawyer mentality that cherry-picks facts and twists data to reach knee-jerk conclusions under the guise of a false science.” See also Jim Copland’s dissection of one such study at Point of Law on Jul. 8.

We look forward to Kevin Drum giving this paper the same deference he credulously gave AIR’s last bogus report.

One flaw of the paper is that we didn’t include the story of “Bob,” the dummy literally used to scapegoat insurance-company executives by CJD at an ATLA conference. For other CJD shenanigans, see Dec. 23, 2004 and Mar. 19, 2004. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)

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Another warnings contest

by Ted Frank on January 23, 2006

Columnist Beth Quinn, inspired by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch’s annual “Wacky Warnings” contest (Jan. 6), is offering her own version.

Elsewhere, it appears that trial-lawyer front-group Center for Justice & Democracy, which held its “First Annual Zany Immunity Awards” in late 2004, has chosen not to repeat the exercise, perhaps because of the fact that we exposed that the immunity laws in question weren’t so zany.

At our sister site, Jim Copland has posted a critique of a new advocacy paper from the misnamed Center for Justice and Democracy purporting to find that medical malpractice insurers rake in money far faster than they pay it out; he finds that the report is careful to count the (rising) revenues of insurers moving into the med-mal market, but entirely omits to count the payouts/losses of major insurers that have been departing the market. Convenient, that! Martin Grace has further thoughts on the same report, and also comments on evidence that liability issues are causing physicians to relocate.

And more: Ted Frank reports on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s just-announced and “baldly activist” decision striking down caps on non-economic damages, and also on recent claims that anesthesiologists’ success in reducing injury rates somehow refutes the need for liability reform. And I’ve posted items on lawyers’ turning down $500K cases as too small; “patients’-rights” front groups; do lawyers get better care when they are patients, or worse?; and M.D.s’ apologies.

Walter’s entry below on the Dick Schaap verdict misses a fascinating part of the case. While Schaap’s family lawyer at trial blamed three doctors for failing to diagnose lung damage from use of the medicine amiodarone (and the jury mysteriously held one doctor negligent while exonerating the other two), just two years earlier, the Schaap family and its lawyer had a different story to tell. Then, the family announced, Dick Schaap was killed because of an infection caused by the hospital’s lack of adequate hygiene standards. Unfortunately for the Schaaps, the theory didn’t stand up and the hospital was dismissed from the case, but not before ABC Primetime Live credulously reported in 2003 the supposed scandal of the hospital’s failure to prevent a “velociraptor”-like infection.

It was a case study of what can go wrong in American health care today, said the family’s lawyer, Tom Moore.

“If you ever speak to a surgeon, ‘Doc, what can I expect with my hip replacement?’ — at the top of the list is infection, post-operative infection,” he said.

(The CBS Early Show repeated the story a few days later: ask yourself if you could predict from that news coverage that the hospital would be vindicated before trial.) Without being able to tell the jury about germs that act like deadly dinosaurs, Moore invented a new theory and settled for putting Billy Crystal on the stand to wow the jury with tales of Schaap’s generosity and talent. The defense lawyer, Mark Aaronson, seems to have put his finger on the matter:

“Is everybody who dies in a hospital the victim of medical negligence?” he asked rhetorically. “So ultimately, a theory had to be concocted in front of a jury in order for a claim of damages to be made.”

(Andrew Jacobs, “Jury Deliberates Lawsuit Over Death of Dick Schaap”, NY Times, Jun. 23).

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Zulu Coconut Suit

by Ted Frank on March 4, 2005

Remember those “Zany Immunity Law Awards” from the “Center for Justice and Democracy” that complained that Louisiana gave immunity from suit for some injuries from thrown Mardi Gras prizes? The law was passed in 1987 when liability fears stopped the Zulu Krewe from the popular tradition of tossing decorated coconuts. But the lawsuits continue claiming to fit within the loopholes, and though Zulu, which had already limited itself to handing coconuts out, usually wins them, they’re having trouble finding affordable liability coverage because of the cost of defending the suits. “‘We’re protected by the law,’ said Gary Thornton, chairman of Zulu’s governing board, ‘but it doesn’t stop people from filing lawsuits against us.’” At least five other krewes have been sued for this year’s Mardi Gras over other thrown prizes. (Leslie Williams, “Girl hit by Zulu coconut sues krewe”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mar. 1; “Zulu reigns supreme as crowd favorite”, Louisiana Weekly, Feb. 7) (via RiskProf).

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Neil Pakett v. Phillies

by Ted Frank on February 6, 2005

You may recall the Center for Justice & Democracy’s Zany Immunity Law Awards criticized the three states that provided immunity to baseball stadiums for spectator injuries. The immunity is based on the common-law doctrine of assumption of the risk, made explicit on the back of baseball tickets and announcements at baseball games. Nevertheless, dentist Neil Pakett is suing the Phillies for compensation for injuries he received when he unsuccessfully tried to catch a foul ball hit by shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The case has been thrown out by the trial court, but Pakett is arguing that the fact that the Phillies built a backstop creates a duty for them to have built a backstop that would’ve protected him. The Phillies will likely win, but they’ve sure spent a great deal of money defending themselves against the eventuality that they have a judge who wants to make new law, and a statutory immunity law would’ve provided a clearer rule that would have discouraged the suit in the first place. (Mark Levy, AP/LA Times, Feb. 4). Update: Phillies’ win affirmed.

Many farmers use anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer, because it provides vital nitrogen nutrients to the soil. The combustible material is produced in Louisiana, and then shipped to the Midwest on barges or through pipelines, and then stored on tanks on farms. However, ammonia is also useful for making illegal methamphetamines, and thefts are a regular problem. (KOMU-TV, “Law Officers Fight Ammonia Thefts”, May 19). If a thief injures himself tampering with an ammonia tank, should he be able to sue the farmer for the injury? Three states, Kansas, Missouri, and Wyoming, say no, and provide immunity for those who store, handle, or own ammonia equipment from suit by thieves. Legislatures are considering the issue in other midwestern states.

The misnamed anti-tort reform Center for Justice & Democracy has noticed the success of the ATRA’s judicial hellhole campaign (Dec. 15; Dec. 3, 2003), and decided to respond with its own report, the “Zany Immunity Law Awards”, intended to single out “special interests” who opportunistically subvert the legislative system to get improper immunity from liability. The cover shows a legislator receiving a statuette, cash in his pocket, and roses with a ribbon labeled “Sleaziest Legislation.”

Exposing sleazy special-interest immunity laws is a noble sentiment–but it’s a sure sign of how few and far between such laws are that CJD singles out the sensible anhydrous ammonia immunity laws for its top ten list. The CJD incorrectly blames the law on a supposed “anhydrous ammonia business lobby”; in fact, it’s groups like the Michigan Farm Bureau that push for laws like Michigan S.B. 786. Indeed, the only group to oppose such laws? Trial lawyers’ lobbying groups. See also Kelly Lenz, “Fertilizer law to help farmers”, Farm and Auction, Jun. 12, 2002.

How ridiculous are the CJD awards? One of the top ten “zany immunity laws” refers to “immunity” granted to placebo manufacturers and distributors. Except the immunity in question isn’t immunity–it’s an exception to a criminal statute prohibiting the sale of fake drugs! E.g., Fla. Stat. 817.564(6)(a). (This is the only appearance of the word “placebo” in the Florida Code. It’s telling that CJD omits the statutory cite in its footnotes.) Perhaps this law is zany, but it’s hardly an example of a special interest group buying sleazy legislation that damages consumers. A subject of a research test who is injured by adulterated placebos (has this ever happened?) will still have a cause of action.

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In my radio interview last week, I was asked about the Wisconsin Association of Trial Lawyers’ claim that tort reform measures have no effect on medical insurance rates. ATLA’s “fact sheet” on medical malpractice reform makes the same claim. A 2003 HHS compilation of studies on the matter, linked on our old medical page, refutes that proposition. (HHS, “Confronting the New Health Care Crisis”, Mar. 3, 2003 at Tables 6 and 7).

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Apparently lacking in meritorious arguments, opponents of tort reform have resorted to a strategy of accusing tort reform advocates of racism. According to the “Center for Justice and Democracy,” “racial prejudice lurks behind the ‘tort reform’ movement.” Among the out-and-out lies in the press release: “‘Tort reform’ laws weaken the only available forum, in some cases, for holding perpetrators of hate groups and hate groups accountable.” But not even the scare paper supports this.

The report suggests that volunteer immunity laws are really a Trojan horse to provide protection for “volunteers for the Ku Klux Klan.” (You may recall that the American Trial Lawyers Association recently falsely suggested that those very same volunteer immunity laws refuted the premise of a recent Newsweek cover story. (see Jan. 9; Dec. 12).)

Evidence? Well, none whatsoever. The CJD cites successful lawsuits against the Klan and Aryan Nations for assaults, a murder, and a church burning, but no tort reformer has suggested that civil liability be limited for those who commit violent crimes or intentional torts. Certainly, the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 does not; aside from the exclusion in the law for hate groups, the supposed “loophole” that permits states to provide additional protections for volunteers would have no effect on a federal suit for deprivation of civil rights.

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ATLA’s politics

by Walter Olson on August 25, 2003

One subtheme at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s annual meeting, held this summer in San Francisco, was ATLA’s big plans to develop influence within the Republican Party to go with its strong clout among the Democrats. A trial lawyer/GOP caucus expects soon to have chairpersons in all fifty states. “Asked by the lawyers how to talk to representatives who see them as the enemy,” a pollster and former Newt Gingrich aide offered several pieces of advice including, as a National Law Journal reporter paraphrases it, “tell them you want to give them money”. (David Hechler, “The Elephant and the Trial Lawyer”, National Law Journal, Aug. 5). Scheduled speakers at the meeting included Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), John Edwards (D-N.C.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Reps. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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