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Florida

Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2014

  • How legal doctrine changes in a state-based system: “The Diffusion of Innovations in Tort Law” [Kyle Graham]
  • Are courts growing (appropriately) disillusioned with cy pres? [James Beck and Rachel Weil, WLF; Beck, D&DL, on Redman v. RadioShack]
  • “Asbestos lawyers want $2.5 million for losing fight to keep Garlock records sealed” [@DanielDFisher on Legal NewsLine report] “Third Circuit rules against plaintiff who ‘just knew’ asbestos was used in Navy vessels” [Heather Isringhausen Gvillo, LNL]
  • Eric Alexander on the runaway $9 billion Actos verdict [Drug and Device Law, citing Dr. David Kessler, former FDA chief, as "plaintiff's mouthpiece"; earlier on Actos/Takeda case]
  • “Third-Party Bad Faith Claims Add $800M to Florida Auto Insurance Costs: IRC” [Insurance Journal]
  • Discussion of proposals to change contributory negligence for bicyclists in D.C., mucho comments [Greater Greater Washington]
  • “Missouri Supreme Court Invalidates State’s Legislative Cap on Punitive Damages” [Mark Behrens]

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on September 17, 2014

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Details, always those pesky details: “A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of 750 tobacco suits, citing this major problem: The Florida law firm that brought the cases had mistakenly identified 588 dead smokers as still being alive.” [ABA Journal]

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Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on August 11, 2014

  • Celebrated as the “most insane amusement park ever,” New Jersey’s notorious Action Park reopens, minus some of its most extreme hazards [National Post]
  • Insurance industry study finds attorneys getting into higher share of auto crash claims [IJ]
  • Medical monitoring cases, once seen as wave of future, have not fared well in court [Steven Boranian, DDL]
  • “Florida high court’s irrational ‘rational basis’ rejection of state tort reform undermines Rule of Law” [William W. Large, Washington Legal Foundation]
  • For a sense of where tort pressure is being felt, list of litigation groups at AAJ (including newly formed groups) often provides clues;
  • Los Angeles jury finds team partly liable in $14 million negligent security award for man beaten in Dodger Stadium parking lot [AP]
  • “Perhaps this is the first of a wave of hose-entanglement cases” [Lowering the Bar, Louisiana]

In Schools for Misrule, I had positive things to say about the “reading law” or apprenticeship alternative to law schools, and the New York Times “Room for Debate” feature now runs a roundtable on that question with contributors that include Brian Tamanaha, David Lat, and Erwin Chemerinsky. Much deeper disruption than that may lay ahead: “Within ten years, MOOCs [massive open online courses] could replace traditional law school classes altogether, except at a few elite law schools” [Philip Schrag via TaxProf] And are law schools pro-cyclical? The state of Florida saw a steeper boom and deeper bust in legal services than the rest of the country; it doesn’t seem to have helped that five new law schools have opened lately in the state, or that many Florida law schools succeed in placing fewer than half of their grads in paying positions for which bar passage is required. [TaxProf]

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“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” said longtime Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary, one of the lawyers representing a woman awarded $23 billion-with-a-b in punitive damages by a Florida jury for the lung cancer death of her husband, a longtime smoker. [USA Today] I’ve covered earlier stages in the long-running Florida Engel tobacco litigation, which included a $145 billion punitive damage verdict later thrown out, in articles here, here, and here, as well as Overlawyered coverage; more on Willie Gary.

More: Jacob Sullum on the illogical basis of the jury’s decision.

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on May 26, 2014

  • NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hangs blame for a retrospectively unpopular position on the *other* Sheldon Silver. Credible? [NY Times via @jpodhoretz]
  • Julian Castro, slated as next HUD chief, did well from fee-splitting arrangement with top Texas tort lawyer [Byron York; earlier on Mikal Watts]
  • 10th Circuit: maybe Colorado allows too much plebiscitary democracy to qualify as a state with a “republican form of government” [Garrett Epps on a case one suspects will rest on a "this day and trip only" theory pertaining to tax limitations, as opposed to other referendum topics]
  • “Mostyn, other trial lawyers spending big on Crist’s campaign in Florida” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; background on Crist and Litigation Lobby] “Texas trial lawyers open checkbooks for Braley’s Senate run” [Legal NewsLine; on Braley's IRS intervention, Watchdog]
  • Contributions from plaintiff’s bar, especially Orange County’s Robinson Calcagnie, enable California AG Kamala Harris to crush rivals [Washington Examiner]
  • Trial lawyers suing State Farm for $7 billion aim subpoena at member of Illinois Supreme Court [Madison-St. Clair Record, more, yet more]
  • Plaintiff-friendly California voting rights bill could mulct municipalities [Steven Greenhut]
  • John Edwards: he’s baaaaack… [on the law side; Byron York]
  • Also, I’ve started a blog (representing just myself, no institutional affiliation) on Maryland local matters including policy and politics: Free State Notes.

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Eleventh Circuit federal judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat has long been a critic of “shotgun pleadings,” which have been defined as pleadings that make it “virtually impossible to know which allegations of fact are intended to support which claim(s) for relief,” as when every succeeding count indiscriminately incorporates the allegations of all previous counts. He’s back at it in a decision last month [Paylor v. Hartford Fire Insurance, PDF; South Florida Lawyers]:

We add, as a final note, that the attorneys in this case could have saved themselves, their clients, and the courts considerable time, expense, and heartache had they only paused to better identify the issues before diving into discovery. . . .

That such a straightforward dispute metastasized into the years-long discovery sinkhole before us on appeal is just the latest instantiation of the “shotgun pleading” problem.

After describing a vague complaint brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):

Defense attorneys, of course, are not helpless in the face of shotgun pleadings—even though, inexplicably, they often behave as though they are. A defendant served with a shotgun complaint should move the district court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)3 or for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e)4 on the ground that the complaint provides it with insufficient notice to enable it to file an answer.

That not having happened, and the judge not having sua sponte instructed the plaintiff’s lawyer to file a more definite statement of claim,

the District Court tossed the case overboard to a Magistrate Judge for discovery.

At that point it was too late: the discovery goat rodeo had begun.

Result: a voluminous and contentious discovery record much of which bore on points irrelevant to the actual resolution of the case.

The persistence of the shotgun pleading problem is particularly frustrating because the relevant actors all have it within their power to avoid it. Nothing is stopping plaintiffs from refraining from writing shotgun pleadings. Certainly nothing is stopping defense lawyers from asking for a more definite statement; indeed, their clients would be well-served by efforts to resolve, upfront, the specific contours of the dispute, thereby lessening or even eliminating the need for costly discovery. And nothing should stop District Courts from demanding, on their own initiative, that the parties replead the case.

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Last month I wrote about a strangely aggressive FBI raid on the rural Indiana home of a retiree locally famous for collecting artifacts and curios from around the world. In a piece written then but overlooked by me at the time, Radley Balko puts this in the context of equally aggressive armed enforcement raids on Indian artifact collectors in Florida and Utah, resulting in ruin for many defendants and, according to the reporting, at least four suicides of persons under investigation. Balko:

I remember collecting arrowheads as a kid. Depending on the state and the land on which you’re finding them, that in itself may or may not be legal today. Some states began banning the practice decades ago. But the laws were rarely enforced, and when they were, authorities targeted people stealing from preserved sites or tribal lands, or selling high-dollar artifacts.

No more. Under the phalanx of state, federal, and tribal laws, it may be a felony not only to buy and sell some manmade artifacts, but also to remove them from the bottoms of creek beds or dig them from the dirt. Most of the people busted in the Florida raids were hobbyists. And it’s conceivable that some of them had no idea they were breaking the law — though it also seems likely that some probably did.

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  • Mayor de Blasio settles firefighter bias suit on terms sympathetic to plaintiffs [City Journal: Dennis Saffran and Seth Barron]
  • One way to dodge some Culture War fights: roll meaning of “public accommodation” back to travel, lodgings, places of public amusement, etc. [Andrew Kloster, Heritage] As original/creative expression goes, florists and cake-bakers sometimes outdo NYT’s Greenhouse [Ann Althouse] From Dixie Chicks to Hobby Lobby, few escape hypocrisy when commerce collides with convictions [Barton Hinkle]
  • Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigating Florida’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Do EEOC mediators overstate risk of legal action to extract big settlements from employers? [Bloomberg BNA, Merrily Archer on survey] New Colorado expansion of employment liability bad news for large and small employers alike [Archer]
  • “Religious exemptions — a guide for the confused” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Washington Post columnist repeats myth that Lilly Ledbetter “did not know she was being paid less than male counterparts” until after statute of limitations had run; Hans Bader corrects [letter to editor]
  • If helping out local people was one reason your town decided to back public housing, you might have been played for suckers [AP on DoJ suit against Long Island town over local preference]

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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The charts in this Washington Post article get steadily more interesting as they go along, and the most informative is the last: the top nine states or state-equivalents for per-capita medical malpractice outlays are, in order, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Basically, that describes the Boston-Washington corridor with the exception of Delaware (Vermont makes for an even more notable break in the pattern because its outlays are among the lowest.) Most states outside the Northeast have reformed their malpractice law; most states in the Northeast have too powerful a trial lawyers’ lobby to let that happen.

Fortunately for residents of the rest of the country, the inconveniences of an unreformed high-litigiousness system — things like $100,000 premiums for doctors with good records who practice high-risk specialties — seem mostly to be borne by residents of the states in question. Overall, incidentally, as the chart previous to that shows, national payouts went through a decade-long decline but now have resumed climbing.

Until recently, Florida would have been a likely pick when enumerating states with the highest medical malpractice exposure, but the Sunshine State legislature finally got tired of being a target of the derision of the national medical profession and reformed its malpractice system. Or perhaps the better phrase would be, “thought it reformed”; the Florida Supreme Court, dominated by justices cozily allied with the plaintiff’s bar in re-election campaigns, just annihilated that reform. No one will be particularly surprised if Florida vaults up to top-ten status in future payout lists.

Town installs traffic cam by hospital emergency room, snags patient rushing in with coronary symptoms. The judge is no help, either. [Marianela Toledo, Florida Watchdog via Fergus Hodgson, PanAm Post]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on March 14, 2014

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Speed traps paved the way to corruption in tiny Hampton, Fla., critics say [CNN] More: Lowering the Bar.

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  • New insight into Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) casts doubt on criminal convictions [Radley Balko, earlier here, etc.]
  • “The Shadow Lengthens: The Continuing Threat of Regulation by Prosecution” [James Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, Manhattan Institute]
  • Police busts of “johns” thrill NYT’s Kristof [Jacob Sullum, earlier on the columnist]
  • Sasha Volokh series on private vs. public prisons [Volokh]
  • “Police agencies have a strong financial incentive to keep the drug war churning.” [Balko on Minnesota reporting]
  • Forfeiture: NYPD seizes innocent man’s cash, uses it to pad their pensions [Institute for Justice, Gothamist] “Utah lawmakers quietly roll back asset forfeiture reforms” [Balko] “The Top 6 Craziest Things Cops Spent Forfeiture Money On” [IJ video, YouTube]
  • After Florida trooper nabbed Miami cop for driving 120 mph+, 80 officers accessed her private info [AP]

“Patrick Coulton’s lawyers ripped him off to the tune of $275,000 and left him to rot in prison.” But few stories end this way: he’s living in one of the former lawyers’ houses. [Sun-Sentinel, auto-plays video]

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