Maria Francisco fell off her bus seat and was injured when an Alameda-Contra Costa transit bus driver, according to Francisco’s lawyer, took a speed bump at 30 mph. Francisco can walk, but has been awarded $15 million for her injuries, and her daughter, then 4, a further $1 million for witnessing her mom’s fall. I’m quoted in Britain’s Daily Mail expressing misgivings about the level of damages (“spin to win”).
An undecillion is 1,000 decillion, a decillion being represented by a 1 with thirty-three zeroes after it, which means an undecillion would have thirty-six zeroes. A pro se litigant is demanding that amount from Au Bon Pain, the City of New York, and various other defendants over alleged indignities that took place at LaGuardia Airport and elsewhere. [Lowering the Bar, including a discussion of earlier lawsuits with demands in the quadrillions and septillions; XKCD with a discussion and cartoon of just what it would take to reach a total of 2 undecillion dollars, culminating in a galaxy filled with Ted Olsons]
Music rights organization BMI has sued a Cleveland bar seeking up to $1.5 million over one night’s performance by a cover band that allegedly performed ten well-known songs without paying license fees, including “Bad Moon Rising,” “You Really Got Me,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” [OnStage]
In a lawsuit charging negligent maintenance of a tractor-trailer truck, a part of which broke off and killed the driver of a second vehicle. [Insurance Journal]
[Yasmin] Rahman tried to commit suicide in 2001 by jumping in front of a subway train. NYPD officers saved her life. She was 15. Now, 27, she’s suing the city for $7 million, claiming the city and the NYPD posted pictures, police reports and hospital records of her failed suicide attempt on a database open to the public. She claims that has prevented her from obtaining a job.
Although her lawsuit alleges that the publication of the material has prevented Rahman from “obtaining any type of job,” a reporter “found that she actually did have a job from 2010 to 2012,” among other difficulties with the story. Rahman’s lawyer, Andrew Schatkin, commented on the $7 million demand: “I put a large figure in because if I put a small figure in I would only get that small amount. It’s not that I’m making an outsized or frankly a lie about it for a better word. I’m simply enabling a figure that would get her as much compensation as possible.” [MyFoxNY.com; Eric Turkewitz on ad damnum clauses in New York]
That’s how a lawyer explains his $2 million damage demand on behalf of a Georgia student whose bikini-clad image was used by a school administrator in a presentation about how the Internet is forever, image-wise. [Chris Matyszczyk, CNet] The classic line about how if you want to send a message, use Western Union, will probably need to be retired given the news that the world’s last telegram is due to be sent in India next month. [Christian Science Monitor]
Yesterday, in the case of Maracich v. Spears, the Supreme Court ruled that the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) prohibits trial lawyers from accessing names and contact information from states’ drivers license databases with the intention of soliciting potential clients for litigation. Under DPPA, the general rule is that states must keep the information in such databases private; there is a “litigation exception” for queries intended to investigate or prepare for legal proceedings, but the Court ruled that soliciting clients was not part of its scope. As I argue in a new post at Cato at Liberty, the dispute brought about a curious reversal in the polarities displayed in the case of Maryland v. King earlier this month: the pro-privacy justices in that case were more likely to be willing to dispense with privacy this time, and vice versa.
The underlying lawsuit (Kevin Russell at SCOTUSBlog and background here, here) also involves a bit of a reversal: class action lawyers are themselves being sued in a class action. The majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy sketches in some of the background:
In the case now before the Court, petitioners are South Carolina residents whose personal information was obtained by respondents from the South Carolina DMV and used without their consent to send solicitation letters asking them to join the lawsuits against the car dealerships. Petitioner Edward Maracich received one of the letters in March 2007. While his personal information had been disclosed to respondents because he was one of many buyers from a particular dealership, Maracich also happened to be the dealership’s director of sales and marketing. Petitioners Martha Weeks and John Tanner received letters from respondents in May 2007. In response to the letter, Tanner called Richard Harpootlian, one of the respondent attorneys listed on the letter. According to Tanner, Harpootlian made an aggressive sales pitch to sign Tanner as a client for the lawsuit without asking about the circumstances of his purchase.
Some of these points may be relevant on remand, because the court will be asked to consider whether the original solicitation letter (marked “SOLICITATION”) had the predominant purpose of investigating the developing lawsuit, or of attracting clients for it. And this leads to the third turnabout. In the second class action, the one over privacy and the lawyers’ use of the DMV database, petitioners are seeking specified statutory damages of $2,500 for each person whose privacy was breached, which could add up to an “astronomical” (as Justice Ginsburg put it in her dissent) sum of hundreds of millions of dollars in all. Indeed, the majority opinion as well as the dissent signaled disquiet at a possible assessment of damages so far out of proportion to any actual harm done — a phenomenon we have seen again and again in statutory class or group damages cases in the past. Some trial lawyers have in the past pooh-poohed, as the griping of sore losers, complaints about mechanical multiplication of statutory damages into huge sums (e.g. FACTA, junk faxes, song piracy, California Labor Code). In this case, such multiplication could pose a threat to the fiscal well-being of some of their own number. (& welcome TortsProf, Legal Ethics Forum, SCOTUSBlog, JOLT Digest (Harvard Journal of Law and Technology) readers)