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hot coffee

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 26, 2013

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  • “The FDA’s Ill-Conceived Proposal to Ban Trans Fats” [Baylen Linnekin] Margarine and other butterfat substitutes help in keeping a meal kosher, but FDA appears indifferent to individual preference [Ira Stoll] Can the baker fudge the formula for Baltimore’s Berger cookies? [Baltimore Sun, WTOP/Capital] Organized grocery lobby appears to be going quietly, perhaps a misguided strategy since this sets a precedent for yanking familiar ingredients off Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list, and many activists would like to move on to things like sugar next [Bloomberg Business Week, Doug Mataconis/Outside the Beltway, Michelle Minton/CEI, Bainbridge] Switch to palm oil might accelerate deforestation [Scientific American]
  • FDA’s regs implementing Food Safety Modernization Act could tank small farmers and other food operations, commenters write in by thousands [Baylen Linnekin, Jim Slama, HuffPo]
  • Proposed Austin curbs on fast food restaurants might ensnare its beloved food trucks [Linnekin]
  • Any day now FDA could issue long-awaited, highly burdensome new menu calorie labeling regs [Hinkle] Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Angus King (Ind.-ME) introduce bill to excuse grocers and convenience stories from rules and simplify compliance for pizzerias [Andrew Ramonas/BLT]
  • “Panel weighs in on soda ban at law school” [NYU News covers my recent panel discussion there with Jacob Sullum and Prof. Roderick Hills, pic courtesy @vincentchauvet]
  • “Organic Farmers Bash FDA Restrictions On Manure Use” [NPR via Ira Stoll]
  • Nick Farr looks at NYT retrospective on the Stella Liebeck (McDonald’s) hot coffee case [Abnormal Use]
  • “Sugar is the most destructive force in the universe” according to expert witness who meets with less than favorable reception in corn syrup case [Glenn Lammi, WLF]

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Having been at times lacking in enthusiasm for the work of journalist Stephanie Mencimer, it’s only fair we credit her again with considerable courage for returning to the failed Jamie Leigh Jones case in a new article in Washington Monthly. (Jones alleged a brutal rape in Iraq for which her lawyers said employer Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) should have been held responsible; the case served as a springboard for numerous misleading attacks on pre-dispute arbitration). Following the evidence wherever it leads against the likely inclinations of many Washington Monthly readers, Mencimer leaves Jones’ credibility in tatters and the various liberal and trial-lawyer sources that ballyhooed her case — including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and TV talker Rachel Maddow — looking highly gullible, to go with the kindest interpretation.

Most damning of all, as readers of posts in this space (especially those by Ted Frank) will recall, Jones was given center stage in Susan Saladoff’s film “Hot Coffee,” which periodically airs on HBO and on college campuses and has established itself as one of the litigation industry’s most durable and successful propaganda vehicles. All future discussion of “Hot Coffee” — and certainly any cable/broadcast airings or public screenings whose sponsors care about accuracy and fairness — will need to warn audiences that the Jones case can now be seen in retrospect as almost unrecognizably different from the picture of it presented in that trial-lawyer-produced “documentary.” If this is what becomes of one of Saladoff’s central cases, how reliable ought we to consider the rest of her film?

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on April 29, 2013

  • Colony collapse disorder, the honeybee ailment, was expected to have a dire effect on U.S. agriculture. Market-driven adjustments have helped prevent that [Walter Thurman, PERC]
  • Adieu, Mimolette? Feds may be readying crackdown on imports of artisanal cheeses [Baylen Linnekin] “Food Safety Modernization Act Far More Costly Than Supporters Claimed” [Hans Bader, earlier here, here]
  • “There may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy” [Harvard Law School, quoted by Baylen Linnekin] New book, haven’t seen yet: Jayson Lusk, “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate” [Amazon]
  • Further thoughts on hot coffee injuries and lawsuits [Ted Frank]
  • The gain in plains is mainly due to grains: residents of mountains and high-altitude areas have less obesity [Edible Geography] Restaurant labeling: per one study, “some evidence that males ordered more calories when labels were present” [Tim Carney] NYT’s Mark Bittman endorses tax on prepared food [SmarterTimes] “Michael Poppins: When the nanny acquired a police force” [Mark Steyn, NR on Mayor Bloomberg]
  • Who’s demonizing Demon Rum these days, together with Wicked Wine and Baleful Beer? Check out an “alcohol policy” conference [Angela Logomasini, Open Market] Scottish government lobbies itself to be more prohibitionist [Christopher Snowdon]
  • Bill filed by Rep Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would cut off taxpayer funding of food-bashing propaganda [Michelle Minton; earlier here, etc.]

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Humorous warning on a Canadian coffee cup: my new post at Cato at Liberty (with picture).

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Donald Trump v. Bill Maher

by Walter Olson on February 7, 2013

The best headline is at the ABA Journal: “Trump suit says he’s not ape spawn, seeks to collect on Maher’s ‘unconditional offer’”. Eugene Volokh writes that while Maher’s “orangutan” swipe was clearly a joke, the prospect of sanctions over a Trump court action isn’t. More: Lowering the Bar.

P.S. Someone in the Volokh comments section brings up the McDonald’s hot coffee case, provoking the usual misplaced condescension along lines paralleling the trial bar’s strenuous advocacy efforts on the issue. I do appreciate, though, the suggestion that I trademark the epithet “the goober at Overlawyered.”

P.P.S. Disgruntled beauty pageant contestant ordered to pay Trump $5 million.

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Food and farm roundup

by Walter Olson on February 6, 2013

  • In Washington, DC today? Come to Cato New Media lunch where I’ll be on a panel on the nanny state;
  • Future of food freedom looking brighter these days at state level [Baylen Linnekin] Polls looking good for it, too [same] “The FDA’s Pathetic Food Safety Proposal” [same]
  • “Class claim against Crock-Pot seems a crock” [Sean Wajert]
  • USDA issues proposed rules on vending machine fare and other school “competitive foods” [Lunch Tray, SmarterTimes, Julie Gunlock/IWF (good news: rules don't address bake sales and birthday cupcakes. Bad news: why is this Washington's business at all?)]
  • Lawyer suing Subway over “Footlong” also handled controversial red-light camera action [NJLRA]
  • So, lung, it’s been good to know you: fans of authentic Scottish haggis still vexed by US ban [BBC]
  • “New Year, New Hot Coffee Case” [Abnormal Use]

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Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on August 13, 2012

  • “Targeting the red plastic gas can”: how product liability bankrupted Oklahoma manufacturer Blitz [editorial, earlier]
  • Summers v. Tice, the famous “which hunter shot him?” California tort case, re-examined [Kyle Graham, Green Bag/SSRN]
  • Paul Taylor of House Judiciary makes a case for the constitutionality of broad federal tort reform [Suffolk University Law Review via Point of Law]
  • New Ken Feinberg book on compensation plans in lieu of litigation [Scheuerman, TortsProf]
  • Hot propaganda: filmmaker Susan Saladoff faces off against Victor Schwartz on “Hot Coffee” [TortsProf]
  • Studies of tort reform’s effects underestimate effects of durable reforms by mixing them in with the many that are struck down by hostile courts [Martin Grace and Tyler Leverty, SSRN via Robinette, TortsProf]
  • Membership in AAJ, the trial lawyers’ lobby, said to be on the decline [Carter Wood, PoL]

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May 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 22, 2012

  • Lacey Act madness: might Feds be empowered to disrupt summer concerts by seizing musicians’ Gibsons? [Bedard, DC Examiner; earlier; recent Heritage Foundation work; reworded to reflect comment from "Density Duck," below]
  • Contributors to new “Privatization Blog” include friend of this blog Coyote, e.g. here and here;
  • “Big Government Causes Hyper-Partisanship in the Judicial Appointment Process” [Ilya Shapiro] Fuels Culture War, too: “The faster the state expands, the more likely it is to violate your values” [Matt Welch]
  • Demagogy on expatriates: Schumer proposal for stiff tax on emigrants may have read better in original German [Ira Stoll, Roger Pilon/Cato, Paul Caron/TaxProf]
  • Georgia high court considers $459 million fax-spam verdict [AJC, AP, my take] “Hot fuel” class actions enrich the usual suspects [PoL]
  • New rebuttal to trial lawyer/HBO movie “Hot Coffee” [Victor Schwartz et al, auto-plays video] Ted Frank crossed swords with Litigation Lobby on the movie in January, particularly on the question of coffee temperature and the Liebeck case [PoL]
  • Overlawyered “will become the first [law] blog teenager this summer” [Bruce Carton, Legal Blog Watch] “I’ve been a fan of Walter Olson’s Overlawyered blog for years.” [Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess] Thanks!

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January 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 9, 2012

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Another law professor finds the hot-coffee and obesity lawsuits admirable, and Ted Frank once more begs to differ.

“When consumers in California visit the Dunkin’ Donuts website hoping to order a bag of their favorite java, they are met with the following message: ‘Important Notice: We are temporarily suspending the shipment of orders to California while we work to comply with Proposition 65 with the State of California. We apologize for any inconvenience.’” Acrylamide, a compound naturally present in many roasted or cooked foods, is among the hundreds of substances that must be warned against under Prop 65, which has led, as we noted in May, to a lawsuit against more than 40 coffee companies. [TechNewsWorld] Author Vivian Wagner quotes me:

“The law empowers private litigants to enforce its terms without having to show that any consumer has been exposed to any material or substantial risk, let alone harmed,” Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told the E-Commerce Times. “As a result, entrepreneurial law firms roam the state identifying new, often far-fetched, unwarned-of risks and extracting cash settlements along with promises to warn from hapless defendants.”

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July 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2011

  • Per New Jersey court, overly sedentary home office job can result in valid worker’s comp claim [Courier-Post, NJLRA]
  • Trial bar’s AAJ denies it played “direct” role in backing “Hot Coffee” [WaPo, some background]
  • “Cop repeatedly harasses waitresses, never disciplined. Feds defend their civil rights by . . . suing the restaurant.” [Palm Beach Post via Radley Balko]
  • On “unauthorized practice of law” as protective moat around profession’s interests, Britain does things differently [Gillian Hadfield via Andrew Sullivan; related, Larry Ribstein] Forthcoming book by Robert Crandall et al urges lawyer deregulation [Brookings]
  • “The Treaty Clause Doesn’t Give Congress Unlimited Power” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato on Golan v. Holder case headed to Supreme Court]
  • The small bank regulatory shakedown blues [Kevin Funnell] Why is the Department of Justice including gag orders as part of its enforcement decrees against banks on race and lending? [Investors Business Daily via PoL] “Emigrant fights back against mortgage-discrimination suits” [Fisher, Forbes] Dodd-Frank squeezing out community banks [Funnell]
  • “North Carolina to Seize Speeding Cars That Fail to Pull Over” [The Newspaper] “With what, a tractor beam?” [James Taranto]

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Great review by Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin casting a skeptical eye on the trial-lawyer film project (“done in by its essential dishonesty… like any good lawyer — and unlike any good documentarian — [director Susan Saladoff is] intent on concealing the weakness in her case).” Read it here. Meanwhile, from the “How does this sort of thing get past the editors of the Washington Post?” files, there’s this from Hank Stuever:

For to really embrace tort reform, you have to be willing to treat all potential plaintiffs as no-good grifters. … To support tort reform, you have to believe all lawsuits against businesses are a threat to the free market.

Stuever does not, for some reason, name any proponent of reform who has actually asserted either of the propositions. Do you think that might be because he’s trafficking in absurd caricatures? (earlier on “Hot Coffee” here, here, here, etc.)

P.S. More: Cory Andrews, WLF. And if lawyers are really eager to have the facts of the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case come out, it’s curious they don’t take steps to release the trial transcript, in the absence of which critics of the case are obliged to speculate on key points. And as I just wrote in a comment at Abnormal Use:

I believe organized tort reform groups were caught flat-footed by the McDonald’s case and didn’t get around to doing much with it until it had already become the talk of the nation through talk shows, late night TV and so forth. As often happens, plaintiff’s-side advocacy groups were more aggressive in seeking coverage for their side in the media. Thus Public Citizen and allies gave a press conference on Capitol Hill and were rewarded with a big Newsweek story summarizing their talking points (as well as, earlier, coverage in the news-side WSJ). I’m pretty sure no groups critical of the Liebeck award ever did a comparable press push; and the McDonald’s company itself, so far as I know, never chose to cooperate with commentators who might be sympathetic to its legal case.

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“A defense lawyer’s fleeting reference to the ‘uniquely iconic’ McDonald’s coffee case was enough for the Utah Supreme Court to order a new trial in a pedestrian accident lawsuit and allow the plaintiff to seek a larger damages award.” [Matthew Heller/OnPoint News; Jodie Hill/Downtown Lawyer] And Abnormal Use is out with a new interview of Ted Frank, who has written frequently on the hot-coffee case for this site, and who says:

The Stella Liebeck case was exactly the sort of thing that turns into an urban legend, and there are certainly a lot of inaccuracies that crept into the story as it went viral. The Liebeck case got politicized, however: it was an outrageous result and picked up as a poster child for tort reform, and, fascinatingly, the trial lawyer lobby, instead of reasonably saying “Look: the justice system is never going to be 100 percent correct, there have been a dozen hot coffee cases before this one where the courts got it right and threw it out, and you can’t make public policy based on a single anecdote just because the judge made a mistake here” decided to engage in a misinformation campaign to argue that the Liebeck case was both correct and an aspirational result for our tort system – and a disturbing number of law professors joined that cause. If you Google for the case, the vast majority of results are trial-lawyer sites filled with misstatements of the facts and laws. It’s gotten to the point that, in the majority of tort reform debates I participate in, it’s the trial lawyer who is the first to introduce the subject. I’ve been following the case and rebutting the misinformation on both sides since it first made the news, and it just so happens that the majority of misinformation is coming from the plaintiffs’ lawyer side these days. One of these days, I’ll lock myself in a room for a couple of weeks and write a law review article on the subject so there can be a one stop place for truthful information and arguments about the case.

I, too, gave a lot of thought to writing up the long controversy over the Liebeck case in my latest book, precisely because academic sources, and not just trial-lawyer publicists, persistently spread distortions and misconceptions about the case. Eventually it seemed like too wide a digression from the book’s main themes — but someone still needs to write up that story.

A survey by Tampa’s ABC Action News confirms a point often made by Ted in this space: “The Liebeck case did little, if anything, to alter the manner in which fast food restaurants serve coffee.” [Nick Farr, Abnormal Use]

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At Abnormal Use, Nick Farr brings some scrutiny to what’s looking like the big trial-bar media venture of the season.

P.S. And a follow-up that really stands on its own as a resource: “The Stella Liebeck McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case FAQ

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“A Manhattan woman has failed to persuade a U.S. appeals court that Starbucks Corp should be held liable for severe burns she suffered after spilling tea served in a double cup.” [NY Daily News]

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As a connoisseur of hot-coffee cases, I’m always excited to see a court get one right. The Abnormal Use blog points us to Colbert v. Sonic Restaurants, No. 09-1423, 2010 WL 3769131 (W.D. La. Sept. 21, 2010). The plaintiff made the usual gamut of “design defect” and “failure to warn” claims, but the court wasn’t buying it. Note that the plaintiff claimed to be injured by the coffee at Sonic Restaurants, yet another refutation of the trial-lawyer claim that Stella Liebeck’s McDonald’s coffee was unusually hot.

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