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Megan McArdle at Cato

by Walter Olson on February 28, 2014

She talked about her new book The Up Side of Down, on failure, which has many policy implications (and quotes me on “blamestorming”); her examples included Hollywood production cost overruns, New Coke, L.A.’s healthy school lunch program, and (in the book) Avenue Q. Arnold Kling contributed very illuminating comments, and my Cato colleague Dalibor Rohac moderated. More here (including audio podcast version) and at Arnold Kling’s site.

… you may want to know more about the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “caramel coloring” cancer scare (earlier). Pediatric Insider and Abnormal Use provide some needed perspective.


March 25 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2008

  • Speaking of patients who act against medical advice and sue anyway: doctor who advised against home birth is cleared by Ohio jury in $13 million suit [Plain Dealer and earlier via KevinMD]
  • UK: “A feud over a 4ft-wide strip of land has seen neighbours rack up £300,000 in lawyers’ bills, and left one family effectively homeless.” [Telegraph]
  • Last of the Scruggs judicial bribery defendants without a plea deal, Dickie’s son Zack, takes one [Folo]
  • By reader acclaim: securities trader sues over injury from lap dancer’s attentions [AP/NY Sun]
  • Amid the talk of FISA and retroactive telecom immunity, it would be nice to hear more about the actual lawsuits [Obbie]
  • Australian worker loses suit over firing despite a doctor’s note vouching that stress of worrying about upcoming football game made it medically necessary for him to take day off to go see it [Stumblng Tumblr]
  • Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen toss around the question of federal FDA pre-emption of drug liability suits, as raised by Medtronic;
  • Should Coughlin Stoia have bought those stolen Coke documents? For one lawprof, question’s a real head-scratcher [David McGowan (San Diego), Legal Ethics Forum] And WSJ news side is oddly unskeptical of trial lawyers’ line that the affair just proves their power to go on fishing expeditions should never have been curtailed [Jones/Slater]
  • Dashboard-cam caught Tennessee cops red-handed planting marijuana on suspect, or so Jonathan Turley suggests — but could it be a little more complicated than that? [WSMV, AP/WATE] (& Greenfield)
  • “Heck Baptists don’t even sue you for disagreeing with them,” though no doubt there are exceptions [Instapundit; NYT on Danish cartoons; Ezra Levant with more on those Canadian speech tribunals]
  • Bestselling authors who sue their critics [four years ago on Overlawyered]

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Do they often do business this way? The law firm of Coughlin Stoia, known as Lerach Coughlin before the departure of now-disgraced Bill Lerach, has been vying for lead counsel status in a shareholder class action against Coca-Cola. Now Roger Parloff at Fortune “Legal Pad” (Feb. 28) reports that a special master on the case has recommended that the firm be disqualified for “extremely troubling” conduct which it then defended after exposure using “pretextual” arguments. It seems two former Coke executives approached the law firm of Milberg Weiss (predecessor before its split of Coughlin Stoia), one of them in possession of more than 3,000 company documents he’d taken on departure, many stamped “confidential”. The law firm then agreed to pay the execs at least $75,000 to serve as “consultants”, part of the deal consisting of access to the documents, which it then used in its complaint.

When the consulting agreement came to light more than a year ago, Coughlin Stoia lawyers backed [Greg] Petro’s claim that neither he nor they had thought he was taking Coke documents without authority because, among other things, Petro had been ordered, when terminated, to “clean out his office.” Special Master [Hunter] Hughes found that such a command could not “rationally be construed to authorize Petro to walk off with company documents, any more than it authorized him to take the company’s desk, chairs, and computer.”

Hughes also rejected arguments that the firm was not really buying the documents, just entering into a consulting agreement, and a public-policy style argument that Petro’s conduct should be condoned because he was a whistleblower trying to expose corporate wrongdoing.

In a footnote, Hughes found that public policy arguments weighed in the other direction: “On a very practical level, for the Court to give Plaintiffs’ counsel a pass on this conduct, would simply invite terminated employees, particularly of public companies, to on a wholesale basis remove company documents following their termination in hopes they can sell them should the company be sued.”

More: San Diego Union-Tribune, ABA Journal, WSJ law blog (where several comments defend the law firm’s conduct).

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August 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 6, 2007

  • Patent suit by firm called Parallel Processing demands that all Sony PlayStation 3 consoles be impounded and destroyed [ArsTechnica, Slashdot]

  • It’s not all going to Edwards: a scorecard on presidential campaigns’ law-firm fundraising [National Law Journal]

  • Link roundup on Oregon criminal charges against fanny-swatting 13-year-olds [Right Side of the Rainbow; earlier]

  • New at Point of Law: Spitzenfreude is mirth derived from ethical pratfall of NY’s moralist governor; Florida’s insurance fiasco; more on those “medical” bankruptcies; Alabama judge appoints special prosecutor in Dickie Scruggs affair after feds take a pass; and much more;

  • One hurdle for court action by survivors of slain Middle East contractors against Blackwater: the four men had signed contracts agreeing not to sue their employer [Henley; W$J]

  • Saying swim diaper should suffice, Akron mom and “fair housing” advocates sue condo that barred pre-potty-trained kids from pool [AP/]

  • Not only are those punitive new Virginia traffic laws unpopular, but a judge has just declared them unconstitutional as well [Washington Post; earlier here and here]

  • Pepsi settles class actions over minute quantities of benzene that might form when soft drink ingredients combine [Reuters, Food Navigator, Journal-News]

  • U.K. considers making it easier for unmarried cohabitators to go to court when their households break up [Times Online]

  • Did a securities fraudster use protracted depositions to browbeat his victims? [Salt Lake City Tribune]

  • “Victims’ Rights Amendment” to U.S. Constitution, promoted as giving crime victims a fairer shake, is bad idea for lots of reasons [eight years ago on Overlawyered]

April 8 roundup

by Ted Frank on April 8, 2007

Coke Zero “lawsuit”

by Ted Frank on March 23, 2007

For a viral marketing campaign, Coca-Cola pranked its own in-house counsel by sending improvisational actors portraying brand-manager employees to attorneys asking if they could sue Coke Zero for tasting so much like Coca-Cola; the results are on a series of videos on YouTube. So far none of the victim lawyers have sued. (Janet Conley, “Frivolous litigation: How Coke ‘punk’d’ its lawyers”, Daily Report, Mar. 23 (via BLT)).

Perhaps related: Mar. 6.

Let’s just hope no one tells the Kentucky bar about the new Coke Zero campaign, with its reference to a supposed law firm by the name of Covet & Yourminy. (Stuart Elliott, “Can’t Tell Your Cokes Apart? Sue Someone”, New York Times, Mar. 5). The Times misses the chance to mention the similarity of the widely noted AllTel campaign last year (Jul. 6, Aug. 3).

November 21 roundup

by Ted Frank on November 21, 2006

  • Today at AEI: Panel (and webcast) on Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court argument on carbon dioxide regulation. [AEI]
  • Paulson to Economic Club of New York: “Legal reform is crucial to the long-term competitiveness of our economy.” [Paulson; WSJ; WaPo; NYT; American]
  • One who reposts on Internet allegedly libelous news article immune from liability in California. One hopes this deters a certain attorney complaining about a six-year-old Overlawyered post recounting a 2000 LA Times article. [Point of Law; Volokh]
  • It’s an obvious point, but many judges simply refuse to acknowledge it in failure-to-warn litigation: overwarning can be counterproductive. [WaPo]
  • Congress holds that Psalms 37:21 trumps Leviticus 27:30; Senator Obama objects. [WaPo]
  • Russia: woman successfully sues Coca-Cola for causing gastrointestinal distress. [Kevin M.D.]
  • More on breast implants. [Bernstein @ Volokh]
  • More on the New Zealand no-fault med-mal system. [Point of Law]
  • Posner on Friedman. [Posner]
  • John Edwards seeks to cut in front of line to purchase Playstation 3 at Wal-Mart. Which of the Two Americas is that again? [Taylor @ Reason via Kirkendall]


If the Forces of Disapproval ever tire of beating up on Wal-Mart, they’ll need a new business to blame for the world’s not being everything it ought. George Will thinks Coca-Cola might fill the bill (“Liberalism as Condescension”, syndicated/RealClearPolitics, Sept. 14).


The Coca-Cola Co. can rest easy: diet-book author Julia Havey has withdrawn her lawsuit (see Jul. 17) charging that one of the company’s product loyalty campaigns encourages kids to consume so many soft drinks that they could die. Havey declared herself satisfied that a Coke spokesman told the press that purchasers seeking to accumulate product credits could share the soft drinks with friends instead of being obliged to consume them all personally. Coke has said Havey’s lawsuit is a publicity ploy intended to call attention to her release of a new diet book. And this:

Havey said she wouldn’t be surprised if Coca-Cola sued her.

“The world of litigation is a crazy place,” she said.

(“Lawsuit Over ‘Lethal Doses’ Of Coca-Cola Dropped”, KPRC Houston, Aug. 2).

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A St. Louis weight-loss instructor is suing the Coca-Cola Co. over its product loyalty campaign, claiming the program might encourage kids to drink so much of the sugary soft drink that they could die.

The campaign, “My Coke Rewards” gives customers points for buying Coca-Cola products. …

Coca-Cola spokesman Scott Williamson said [Julia] Havey is “horribly misinformed” about the rewards program and the lawsuit is simply an attempt to drum up attention for weight-loss books she writes.

(Christopher Leonard, “Missouri woman sues Coca-Cola”, AP/Springfield, Mo., News-Leader, Jul. 14). Update Aug. 3: she drops suit.

More skirmishing in preparation for the expected lawsuit against soft-drink vendors over sales in Massachusetts schools (see Dec. 5, Dec. 7, Feb. 7, etc.), via a Boston Globe editorial (“Vending against obesity”, Jan. 30):

In advance of the suit, Washington lawyer John Banzhaf sent an e-mail to 50-100 school committee members in Massachusetts ”to warn of your inevitable involvement in these law suits as a named party or otherwise…”

A couple of years back, Banzhaf threatened to sue the Seattle school district for renewing a $400,000 vending-machine contract with Coca-Cola (Jul. 3, 2003). Prof. Banzhaf’s other doings, which have ensured him regular appearances on this site, include proposing lawsuits against parents of obese children and against doctors who fail to warn their obese patients about overeating (Dec. 3, 2004).


“Richard Daynard, a Massachusetts law professor who made his name working as a consultant on class actions against tobacco companies, is part of a broad effort by both private attorneys and nonprofit groups to sue Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and other soft drink companies for selling high-calorie drinks in schools.” (Caroline Wilbert, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 29; Caroline E. Mayer, “Lawyer coalition targets soft drink manufacturers”, Washington Post/Detroit News, Dec. 4; Todd Zywicki and vast comment section; Colossus of Rhodey). In the Boston Globe magazine, contributor Michael Blanding writes supportively of “a national legal movement to make soft drinks the next tobacco” (Oct. 30).

For more on the search for ways to blame business for our collective struggle with the waistline, see many entries in our Eat, Drink and Be Merry section. More on caffeine “addiction” theories: Aug. 18-20, 2000, Jun. 1, 2004. More on vending machine suits: Jul. 3, 2003. And as regular readers know, we’ve been covering Prof. Daynard’s activities for a long time; see Apr. 21-23, 2000 and many others.


A webcast of today’s American Enterprise Institute panel on obesity and lifestyle litigation is now on-line. I spoke at the second panel, moderated by AEI’s Michael Greve, along with activists Richard Daynard and Alison Rein, and Thomas Haynes of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association. Todd Zywicki moderated an earlier panel on empirical research on the causes of obesity.

Philadelphia Eagles fans might be bigger supporters of tort reform now: a doctor has refused to clear star wide receiver Terrell Owens for play in Super Bowl XXXIX after an ankle sprain because of liability fears. (Mark Maske, “Hope Remains for Owens Comeback”,, Jan. 26).

Owens might have other reasons to seek tort reform. He’s being sued for $35 million by Formulated Sciences Inc. because he didn’t wear a t-shirt he supposedly agreed to wear in 1999. This might be because the non-FDA-regulated “nutritional supplements” he was supposed to endorse were banned by the NFL in 2001. Of course, perhaps Owens’ business representatives failed to account for such an eventuality in the endorsement agreement, in which case Owens may well be liable for a breach of contract, but alleging $35 million in damages for failing to wear a particular hat or t-shirt is ridiculous. The theory is apparently that there were millions of people clamoring to buy an ointment with Owens’ picture on it. If an athlete’s endorsement carried that kind of weight, athletes would be making much more money in endorsements. (Don Russell, “T.O. facing $35M suit from banned supplement company”, Philadelphia Daily News, Dec. 29). Formulated Sciences, which specializes in a weight-loss snake-oil with as much caffeine as a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, has also sued the NFL for supposed antitrust violations. The League has moved to dismiss the complaint. The lawsuit is meritless on its face, and, given the press releases, appears to be an attempt for FS to get free advertising for its products, but the NFL will likely spend at least tens of thousands of dollars defending itself.

Coca-Cola, Pepsico and other buyers of high-fructose corn syrup got $531 million in the largest in a series of settlements arising from charges of price-fixing against Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness giant, and its competitors. So by the logic of bounty-hunting, it was only fair for plaintiff’s counsel to pocket a quarter of the sum. (Andy Kravetz, Peoria Journal-Star, Oct. 15; “Archer Daniels Midland to Pay $400M”, AP/Forbes, Jun. 17; account of case at class action firm of Kaplan Fox, Jul. 19).

As has been reported here and there for years, Diet Coke as it is served at soda fountains is sweetened in part with saccharin, whereas the version sold in cans and bottles is sweetened with more expensive aspartame. We always assumed that the reason must be that competition between brands is more intense in the supermarket aisle than in restaurants, but the Coca-Cola company cites another reason for the formula variation, saying aspartame is not as stable in fountain use. At any rate, class-action lawyers have now filed lawsuits in Florida, Illinois and California on behalf of beverage drinkers supposedly victimized by this practice. The company says the allegations in the various lawsuits are identical and that it expects to prevail. (Lawrence Viele, Bloomberg/Oakland Tribune, Mar. 26)