Posts tagged as:

Chrysler

We’ve already mentioned this in the context of the Chrysler bankruptcy (criticized in some quarters for having divested the reorganized company of punitive damage exposure over pre-bankruptcy conduct) but here’s Drug and Device Law gathering up decisions from various states to confirm that, no, there is no vested or constitutional right to punitive damages:

Constitutional challenges have been rejected under due process, taking, jury trial, open courts and various other state constitutional provisions. It makes sense. While compensatory damages might present a closer question (depending on issues such as retroactivity), there’s simply no constitutional right for one private party to demand that another private party be punished.

Especially not when the putative purpose of the damages, to inflict financial distress on the target, has been obviated by an intervening bankruptcy.

April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2012

  • “Public pool owners struggle to meet chair-lift deadline” [Springfield, Ill. Journal-Register, earlier]
  • Punitive damages aren’t vested entitlement/property, so why the surprise they’d be cut off in an administered Chrysler bankruptcy? [Adler]
  • More on how Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization would chip away rights of accused [Bader, Heritage, earlier]
  • Defending sale of raw milk on libertarian principle shouldn’t mean overlooking its real risks [Greg Conko/CEI; Mark Perry on one of many heavy-handed enforcement actions against milk vendors]
  • More tributes to longtime Cato Institute chairman Bill Niskanen [Regulation magazine (PDF), earlier]
  • Asbestos lawyers wrangle about alleged swiping of client files [Above the Law]
  • “Nathan Chapman & Michael McConnell: Due Process as Separation of Powers” [SSRN via Rappaport, Liberty & Law]

{ 1 comment }

What a bad precedent it set. [Prof. Bainbridge] More: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, WSJ (via Stoll).

{ 1 comment }

April 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 12, 2010

  • Town counsel of Southborough, Mass. considering legal action against online critic [Evan Lips/MetroWest Daily News, Jacob Sullum/Reason, Aspen Daily News]
  • “Drowning in laughter”: pic of ill-advised safety sign [Turley]
  • Canadian lawyer accused of fabricating evidence of jury tampering [Times Colonist h/t @ErikMagraken]
  • One union (SEIU) wins $1.5 million verdict against another (NUHW) [Fox, Jottings]
  • “Anti-Law School Blogs Seek to Keep Others from Making ‘Same Mistake We Did'” [Legal Blog Watch, WSJ Law Blog] Instruction at University of Texas law school has room for improvement [Blackbook Legal] Chief Justice Roberts: law review articles aren’t particularly helpful for practitioners or judges [WSJ Law Blog]
  • “Illinois Hospital Loses Tax-Exempt Status for Not Being Charitable Enough” [NLJ]
  • “Cyber-bullying” proposal in Suffolk County, N.Y. could criminalize repeated insults [Volokh]
    “Where’s the State Action in Tort Awards Based on Speech?” [same]
  • George Will: administration “can imagine the world without the internal combustion engine but not without Chrysler” [WaPo/syndicated]

{ 3 comments }

Lake Mary High School concedes it has no legal grounds on which to resist Chrysler’s request. Contrary to many readers’ suggestions, the automaker did not agree to license the logo’s use on cordial terms. To quote the Orlando Sentinel account:

“As I am sure you can appreciate from your years of work with the board, control of use of a mark by enthusiastic students and parents is quite simply not practical, and I know the school and board would not want to be in the position of censoring student expression associated with the design,” wrote Judith Powell, an attorney for Chrysler.

(& welcome The Truth About Cars readers)

{ 3 comments }

And lawyering ensues [Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel]

P.S. Commenter VMS: “Sometimes corporations need to use their marketing brains rather than their legal muscle…. If Walter Chrysler were still around, he would have instructed his lawyers to license the mark to the team at minimal cost.”

Update: High school yields and a Chrysler lawyer explains the company’s rationale for not doing a license.

{ 12 comments }

“The House approved legislation on Thursday that would grant Chrysler and General Motors dealerships the right to challenge the companies’ decisions to close them in third-party arbitration.” The measure apparently has the support not only of Democratic leaders but of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). [NYT]

Update on Mraz v. Chrysler

by Ted Frank on September 30, 2009

Readers might remember the Mraz case, where a driver was run over by his own truck because he failed to engage the parking brake, and a jury nevertheless awarded $55 million. (March 8 and March 21, 2007.)

The Chrysler bankruptcy threw a wrench into the appellate process. Given the number of unsecured (and secured!) creditors who were taking a haircut on what Chrysler owed them, and the weakness of the case, one would expect the claim to be extinguished. But Chrysler unilaterally (and almost certainly politically) decided not to extinguish product-liability lawsuits against it, and the Mraz case has settled for $24 million. (Amanda Bronstad, “Chrysler bankruptcy judge approves $24 million personal injury settlement”, National Law Journal, Sep. 25). Of course, the likely $8-$10 million attorneys’ fee in this case is being funded by taxpayers’ bailout money.

{ 1 comment }

The supposed “bankruptcy” process that winds up sparing politically influential constituencies keeps rolling along: let’s hope the Senate can say “no”. [Detroit News via Salmon, Drum, Manzi ("seems only fair, as the dealers paid good money for these politicians")]

{ 7 comments }

I expressed skepticism this summer that the Exxon Shipping v. Baker decision was a positive sign for the Court’s punitive damages jurisprudence. After the replay of Philip Morris v. Williams and, now, the Court’s denial of certiorari in DaimlerChrysler v. Flax this week, I can say I was right.

As readers of Overlawyered know, the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated $13.3 million of punitive damages over a good-faith dispute over a van’s seat back design (in an accident caused by a drunk driver), giving no credit to the fact that the design in question was safer than federal safety standards, or to Exxon Shipping’s suggestion that punitive damages greater than a 1:1 ratio were possibly constitutionally inappropriate where compensatory damages were substantial and the defendant’s actions were not intentional or done for profit. As I described the case back then:

In 2001, Louis Stockell, driving his pickup at 70 mph, twice the speed limit, rear-ended a Chrysler minivan. Physics being what they are, the front passenger seat in the van collapsed backwards and the passenger’s head struck and fatally injured 8-month old Joshua Flax. The rest of the family walked away from the horrific accident. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Butler argued that Chrysler, which already designed its seats above federal standards, should be punished for not making the seats stronger — never mind that a stronger and stiffer seat would result in more injuries from other kinds of crashes because it wouldn’t absorb any energy from the crash. (Rear-end collisions are responsible for only 3% of auto fatalities.) Apparently car companies are expected to anticipate which type of crash a particular vehicle will encounter, and design accordingly.

(h/t Cutting)

{ 4 comments }

May 16 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 16, 2009

  • At Reason “Hit and Run”, Damon Root deems a certain website “indispensable” [accolades file]
  • Montgomery Blair Sibley, colorful lawyer for the “D.C. Madam” and a figure much covered on this site, has new book out [Doyle/McClatchy]
  • Although Indian tribal litigators attacked it as “disparaging”, the Washington Redskins football team can keep its trademark, for now at least. “My ancestors were both Vikings and Cowboys. Do I have a course of action?” [Volokh comments]
  • “Is Patent Infringement Litigation Up or Down?” [Frankel, The American Lawyer]
  • Maryland high court dismisses autism-mercury lawsuit [Seidel, Krauss @ Point of Law]
  • Chrysler dealers are lawyering up against the prospect of being cast off [WSJ Law Blog]
  • “Should doctors who follow evidence-based guidelines be offered liability protection?” [KevinMD]
  • Obama proposes $1.25 billion to settle black farmers’ long-running bias claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture [AP/Yahoo]

{ 1 comment }

May 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 14, 2009

{ 2 comments }

Larry Ribstein has some pertinent comments about the rolling reinvention of debtor-creditor law going on as the Administration redistributes bankruptcy priorities away from traditional creditors and toward the UAW. And Mickey Kaus credits me with perhaps more prescience than I actually possess about the union role (not that I always venture the cynical prediction…)(cross-posted from Point of Law). More: Michael Barone, Ken Silber.

P.S. Joe Weisenthal is reminded of an episode of lawlessness that I wrote about a few months back: “Before The Chrysler Mess, There Was Republic Windows”. Incidentally, those who wonder what sort of signals the incoming Administration was sending last December about the illegal Chicago plant occupation may be interested to learn that late last month Vice President Joe Biden and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin paid a visit to the reopened Republic Windows plant, a visit which from a news account sounds as if it might fairly be described as “triumphal” in tone.

{ 1 comment }

Readers may recall the landmark case in which laptop maker Toshiba agreed to a notional $2 billion settlement (and a very crisp and real $147 million in plaintiff’s legal fees) to resolve charges that its laptops could under certain extreme conditions result in loss of user data, although no real-world customer appeared to have experienced the problem. Copycat lawsuits followed against other laptop makers, the supposed glitch being by no means unique to Toshiba, and at last report (May 11, 2001 and Aug. 14, 2004) Compaq had enjoyed much success in beating suits of this sort filed by Texas lawyers.

Apparently its luck didn’t hold up forever, though, because in May Judge Tom Lucas of the Cleveland County, Oklahoma District Court approved a nominal $640 million settlement of laptop glitch claims against Compaq and its parent, Hewlett-Packard, with $40 million in attorneys’ fees to various attorneys, including Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, the Beaumont, Texas firm of Wayne Reaud. (Tom Blakey, “Local court OKs $640M class settlement in computer lawsuit”, Norman Transcript, May 16)(settlement website).

According to a paper by Anthony Caso for the Washington Legal Foundation (PDF), the change in fortunes owed much to some successful forum-shopping. It seems plaintiffs in the first rounds had attempted to form a nationwide class action on the premise that the consumer law of Texas, Compaq’s home state, could properly be applied to the claims of customers in all 50 states. The Texas courts, however, wound up rejecting that premise.

…instead of taking no for an answer from the Texas Supreme Court – the final arbiter of Texas law, the class action attorneys convinced an Oklahoma court to rule that the case should be a nationwide class action, and that class action status could be premised on the idea that Texas consumer law applied to all of the claims. Ignoring the ruling of the Texas Supreme Court, the Oklahoma courts agreed with this argument and certified the case as a nationwide class action.

Unfortunately for all of us, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case.

And the $40 million in fees? Reaud & co. would have nothing but the best talent in to bless the fees, per the Norman Transcript account:

Testimony at the April 29 hearing in Cleveland County District Court included that of Arthur R. Miller, a renowned legal scholar and commentator on civil litigation, copyright and privacy laws. Miller, a professor to the faculty of the New York University School of Law and the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, estimated the coupon redemption rate would be as high as 30 percent — more than double the average redemption rate in settlement cases.

And if actual coupon redemptions come in far below a 30 percent rate — not that we’re necessarily ever going to find out — Prof. Miller’s reputation will suffer, right?

More: Beck & Herrmann call attention to an automotive class action case (Masquat v. DaimlerChrysler, alleging defect in rack and pinion steering systems) that also took advantage of Oklahoma’s willingness to apply manufacturer’s-home-state law to fuel nationwide class actions. They write that because of that distinctive handling of choice of law, “class action plaintiffs’ counsel now gravitate to Oklahoma as moths to light.”

{ 2 comments }

As Michael Krauss notes, an AP story today rehashes the details of last week’s Flax v. Chrysler case, though it falsely treats Paul Sheridan as a credible witness and doesn’t acknowledge most of Chrysler’s arguments.

It’s worth noting the Jim Butler firm’s description of the case:

The evidence showed the impact was minor. Though Stockell was speeding at the time, the minivan was also moving forward and the change in velocity (Delta V) was only 17 to 20 mph.

To repeat: the plaintiffs’ attorney said that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph is “minor.” I suppose in the astronomical sense that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph wouldn’t escape earth orbit, but it seems fairly major for someone in a heavy minivan. For those of you at home who want to experience what a “minor” Delta-V collision of “only” 17-20 mph feels like, drive into a reinforced brick wall at 17-20 mph with your airbag turned off, but be sure to wear your seat-belt to reduce the chance that you go through your windshield. Another way you can have a Delta-V of 20 mph is if you are dropped about 12-15 feet onto a concrete surface. I sure hope that the trial judge didn’t let Butler lie about physics to the jury like that, but I fear I know the answer.

{ 8 comments }

Perhaps we spoke too soon when we commended the Tennessee appellate court for getting it partially right. As we stated in November 2004:

In 2001, Louis Stockell, driving his pickup at 70 mph, twice the speed limit, rear-ended a Chrysler minivan. Physics being what they are, the front passenger seat in the van collapsed backwards and the passenger’s head struck and fatally injured 8-month old Joshua Flax. The rest of the family walked away from the horrific accident. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Butler argued that Chrysler, which already designed its seats above federal standards, should be punished for not making the seats stronger — never mind that a stronger and stiffer seat would result in more injuries from other kinds of crashes because it wouldn’t absorb any energy from the crash. (Rear-end collisions are responsible for only 3% of auto fatalities.) Apparently car companies are expected to anticipate which type of crash a particular vehicle will encounter, and design accordingly. The $105M verdict includes $98M in punitives.

We had more details of trial shenanigans in December 2004 and noted the reduction of the punitives by the trial court to a still unreasonable $20 million in June 2005. In December 2006, the intermediate appellate court threw out the punitive damages and the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, leaving a $5 million compensatory damages verdict to be split between Chrysler and the driver responsible for the accident. An injustice, but at least a smaller injustice.

However, today, a 3-2 vote of the Tennessee Supreme Court made it a larger injustice again, reinstating $13,367,345 of punitive damages over a good-faith dispute over appropriate seatback design, giving no credit to evidence that the design in the Caravan was safer than the plaintiffs’ proposed design, and effectively disregarding Tennessee statutory law that compliance with federal standards creates a presumption against punitive damages. The Court did not mention Exxon Shipping‘s suggestion that punitive damages greater than a 1:1 ratio were possibly constitutionally inappropriate where compensatory damages were substantial and the defendant’s actions were not intentional or done for profit. The Court unanimously affirmed the elimination of the NIED claim; one justice would have thrown out the compensatory damages, as well, because of the volume of inadmissible and improperly prejudicial evidence admitted. (Flax v. Daimler Chrysler (Tenn. Jul. 24, 2008); id. (Wade, J., concurring); id. (Clark, J., partially dissenting); id. (Koch, J., partially dissenting); E. Thomas Wood, “High court upholds $18.4M damage award in DaimlerChrysler case”, Nashville Post, Jul. 24; Kristin M. Hall, AP/Chicago Tribune, Jul. 24). The majority decision relied heavily on the expert testimony of Paul Sheridan, an MBA non-engineer and professional anti-Chrysler witness whom a federal court called “wholly unqualified” to testify on seat back design.

{ 7 comments }

A very belated update to our earlier posts of 2004 and 2005. As we stated in November 2004:

In 2001, Louis Stockell, driving his pickup at 70 mph, twice the speed limit, rear-ended a Chrysler minivan. Physics being what they are, the front passenger seat in the van collapsed backwards and the passenger’s head struck and fatally injured 8-month old Joshua Flax. The rest of the family walked away from the horrific accident. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Butler argued that Chrysler, which already designed its seats above federal standards, should be punished for not making the seats stronger — never mind that a stronger and stiffer seat would result in more injuries from other kinds of crashes because it wouldn’t absorb any energy from the crash. (Rear-end collisions are responsible for only 3% of auto fatalities.) Apparently car companies are expected to anticipate which type of crash a particular vehicle will encounter, and design accordingly. The $105M verdict includes $98M in punitives.

We had more details of trial shenanigans in December 2004 and noted the reduction of the punitives by the trial court to a still unreasonable $20 million in June 2005. And now the rest of the story:

[click to continue…]

{ 6 comments }

February 23 roundup

by Ted Frank on February 23, 2008

  • Easterbrook: “One who misuses litigation to obtain money to which he is not entitled is hardly in a position to insist that the court now proceed to address his legitimate claims, if any there are…. Plaintiffs have behaved like a pack of weasels and can’t expect any part of their tale be believed.” [Ridge Chrysler v. Daimler Chrysler via Decision of the Day]
  • Retail stores and their lawyers find sending scare letters with implausible threats of litigation against accused shoplifters mildly profitable. [WSJ]
  • Kentucky exploring ways to reform mass-tort litigation in wake of fen-phen scandal. [Mass Tort Prof; Torts Prof; AP/Herald-Dispatch; earlier: Frank @ American]
  • After Posner opinion, expert should be looking for other lines of work. [Kirkendall; Emerald Investments v. Allmerica Financial Life Insurance & Annuity]
  • Judge reduces jury verdict in Premarin & Prempro case to “only” $58 million. And I still haven’t seen anyone explain why it makes sense for a judge to decide damages awards were “the result of passion and prejudice,” but uphold a liability finding from the same impassioned and prejudiced jury. Wyeth will appeal. [W$J via Burch; AP/Business Week]
  • Judge lets lawyers get to private MySpace and Facebook postings. [OnPoint; also Feb. 19]
  • Nanny staters’ implausible case for regulating salt. [Sara Wexler @ American; earlier: Nov. 2002]
  • Doctor: usually it’s cheaper to pay than to go to court. [GNIF BrainBlogger]
  • Trial lawyers in Colorado move to eviscerate non-economic damages cap in malpractice cases [Rocky Mountain News]
  • Bonin: don’t regulate free speech on the Internet in the name of “campaign finance” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
  • “Executives face greater risks—but investors are no safer.” [City Journal]
  • Professors discuss adverse ripple effects from law school affirmative action without mentioning affirmative action. Paging Richard Sander. Note also the absence of “disparate impact” from the discussion. [PrawfsBlawg; Blackprof]
  • ATL commenters debate my American piece on Edwards. [Above the Law]

{ 2 comments }