- Latest of periodic Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin/Tillinghast) surveys: tort costs fell in 2010 excluding oil spill liability [Towers Watson]
- “Will Newt Neuter the Courts?” [James Huffman, Defining Ideas] Obama’s high court appointees are fortunately friendlier toward civil liberties than he is [Steve Chapman]
- Unanimous Cal Supremes: companies not legally responsible for other companies’ asbestos products used as replacement for theirs [Cal Biz Lit, Jackson, Beck, Mass Tort Prof]
- Claim: jurors considered policy implications of verdict and you can’t have that [On Point; defense verdict in Baltimore, Maryland school-bullying case]
- Airfare display mandate: “‘Protecting’ Consumers from the Truth About the Cost of Government” [Thom Lambert, TotM]
- Critical assessment of AP-backed new copyright aggregator “NewsRight” [Mike Masnick] Promises not to be “Righthaven 2.0″ [Cit Media Law]
- Restatement (Third) of Torts drafters vs. Enlightenment scientific views of causation [David Oliver in June]
- “Of all the body parts to Xerox!” Another round of stories on efforts to reduce liabilities from office holiday parties [ABA Journal, Above the Law, and relatedly Megan McArdle]
- New edition of Tillinghast/Towers Perrin study on insurance costs of liability system finds they went down last year, which doesn’t happen often [2007 update, PDF]
- Vermont student sues Burger King over indelicate object found in his sandwich; one wonders whether he’s ruled out it being a latex finger cot, sometimes used by bakery workers [AP/FoxNews.com]
- Good discussions of “human rights commission” complaints against columnist Mark Steyn in Canada [Volokh, David Warren and again @ RCP, Dan Gardner; for a contrasting view, see Wise Law Blog]
- Having trousered $60-odd million in fees suing Microsoft in Minnesota and Iowa antitrust cases, Zelle Hofmann now upset after judge says $4 million in fees should suffice for Wisconsin me-too action [Star-Tribune, PheistyBlog]
- Australian rail operator will appeal order to pay $A600,000 to man who illegally jumped tracks, spat at ticket inspectors, hurt himself fleeing when detained [Herald Sun]
- Lawyers’ fees in Kia brake class action (Oct. 29, Oct. 30) defended by judge who assails honesty of chief defense witness [Legal Intelligencer]
- Who deserves credit for founding Facebook? Question is headed for court [02138 mag]
- Yes, jury verdicts do sometimes bankrupt defendants, as did this $8 million class action award against a Kansas City car dealer [KC Star, KC Business Journal]
- Dispute over Burt Neuborne’s Holocaust fees is finally over, he’ll get $3.1 million [NY Sun]
- So long as we’re only fifty votes behind in the race for this “best general legal blog” honor, we’re going to keep nagging you to vote for Overlawyered [if you haven’t already]
I’ve long complained that the Tillinghast/Towers Perrin estimate of the cost of the tort system is a fundamental underestimate because of its lack of measurement of second-order effects.
I haven’t had a chance to analyze the PRI report in detail, but their figure of $865 billion/year (6.6% of the GNP), which includes the effect of the tort system on safety, employment, innovation, rent-seeking, and rent-avoidance, is around the right order of magnitude, though it’s a little much to expect three-digit accuracy from the estimates the study makes. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)
The West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association says it will file a Federal Communications Commission complaint unless radio stations yank ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which compare injury lawyers to crocodiles and cite the widely circulated (but trial-lawyer-loathed) Tillinghast studies on the cost of the liability insurance system. (Jake Stump, “Trial lawyers want radio ads pulled”, Charleston Daily Mail, Apr. 6). Carolyn Elefant, Mike Cernovich and Prof. Childs comment. More watch-what-you-say-about-lawyers stories: Jan. 13, 2005, Dec. 23, 2004, and links from there.
Another cost of the litigation system not measured by the Tillinghast Towers Perrin study: pregnant women across the country are being required to undergo unnecessary C-sections so the doctors can avoid John-Edwards-style demagoguery in the event of pregnancy complications. C-sections now comprise 27.6% of pregnancies, and the cerebral palsy rate hasn’t declined at all.
Doctors and hospitals say they fear lawsuits if they allow a patient to attempt a vaginal birth after a C-section — called a VBAC — and something goes awry.
“We think the risk is more of a legal risk than a medical risk,” acknowledges Bob Wentz, CEO of California’s Oroville Hospital, which banned VBACs two years ago.
Thomas Frank asks what’s the matter with Kansas: it might be that a woman wanting to avoid a C-section has to travel 280 miles to find a hospital that will allow a VBAC. (Rita Rubin, “Battle lines drawn over C-sections”, USA Today, Aug. 23).
Newsweek, as is typical for a newsweekly, published only a terse editorial response (see previous post) to the litigation lobby’s concerted attack on its reporting. However, Stuart Taylor, Jr., the distinguished veteran journalist who (with Evan Thomas) was principal author of the feature, has kindly consented to let us reprint his more detailed point-by-point rebuttal to ATLA’s official gripe catalogue, published under the title “Spin or Facts? A Look Behind Newsweek’s Series ‘Lawsuit Hell’“. Because of the length of Taylor’s response, we’ve split it into two posts, the first responding to the first six points of ATLA’s critique and the second responding to the rest. Check out in particular, under heading #6, ATLA’s false (and remarkably brazen) assertion that the Tillinghast study’s $233 billion estimate of the cost of the liability insurance sector includes “the cost of the entire property/casualty insurance industry” and in particular the cost of hurricanes and similar damage. (It doesn’t.)
“The U.S. tort system cost $233 billion in 2002, a $27.4 billion increase over 2001, representing the largest dollar increase in U.S. history. Current costs translate into $809 per U.S. citizen, $87 more than in 2001 and $797 more than in 1950.” So say the people at Tillinghast Towers Perrin, who’ve issued the newest update to their widely followed series of estimates of the size of the liability insurance sector of the U.S. economy. Liabilities tied to asbestos payouts jumped to $11 billion, double the level of just two years earlier, and medical malpractice, class actions and shareholder suits all exerted upward pressure on the totals. Less than 50 cents on the dollar of these costs were returned to claimants, and only 22 cents went to compensate actual economic losses, the report says. “Tort costs increased by a total of 30% in the last two years — the largest two-year increase since 1986/1987.” (“U.S. Tort Costs Climbed to Record $233 Billion in 2002, According to Tillinghast Study”, Dec. 10, executive summary (PDF).
March 10-11 – “Burglars to be banned from suing victims”. United Kingdom: “Burglars who are injured while committing a crime are to banned from suing their victims for compensation. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has bowed to public pressure after the outcry over the case of Brendon Fearon, the burglar who is trying to sue Tony Martin for £15,000 after being shot while breaking into his home.” (David Bamber, Daily Telegraph, Mar. 9). (DURABLE LINK)
March 10-11 – Clear Channel = Deep Pocket. “With damage claims in the Rhode Island fire expected to run up to $1 billion, two lawyers representing victims have set their sights on a potential defendant with very deep pockets: Clear Channel Communications. The broadcasting giant owns WHJY-FM, a Providence radio station that ran ads for the Great White concert at The Station that ended moments into the first song when pyrotechnics set off by the band ignited the nation’s fourth-deadliest fire. A popular disc jockey at WHJY, Michael Gonsalves, introduced Great White and was among the 99 who died in the fire or from injuries suffered in the blaze. The two Providence lawyers, who between them represent about a dozen victims, said yesterday their expected lawsuits will almost certainly name Clear Channel as a defendant. The company, the largest operator of radio stations in the country, has assets that far outstrip those of the 14 defendants who were named in the only lawsuit filed so far.” (Jonathan Saltzman, “R.I. fire victims’ lawyers eye firm”, Boston Globe, Mar. 8). (DURABLE LINK)
March 10-11 – New Medicare drug benefit? Link it to product liability reform. “Even drugs like aspirin, which cause hundreds of deaths each year, could not meet the safety standards patients expect today,” argues Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute. ” … But putting [older] patients on the pills they need means we need to prepare to tolerate more side effects or tolerate more lawsuits. Litigation should not be a cost of commerce when government puts itself in the business of pushing pills. … Without product liability reform, prescription drug coverage will transform into a full employment act for the lawyers, limiting development of new drugs and driving up prices for everybody.” (Scott Gottlieb, “More Drug Use Will Mean More Lawsuits,” AEI On the Issues, Mar.). (DURABLE LINK)
March 10-11 – Lawsuits vs. free speech, cont’d: jailhouse rock. Last year VH1 aired a special entitled Music Behind Bars, featuring the music of prisoners. Now the family of a West Virginia man murdered in 1994 by one of the inmate-performers is suing the network. The family’s lawyers are arguing that whether or not the network compensated the convicted killer for his performance — it says it did not — its broadcast occasioned the family emotional distress for which it should have to pay compensatory and punitive damages. (Maria Lehner, “Murder Victim’s Family Sues VH1″, Fox News, Mar. 6). (DURABLE LINK)
March 8-9 – Tobacco fees: feds indict former Texas AG. One of the biggest developments yet in the tobacco-fee saga: a federal grand jury is charging former Texas attorney general Dan Morales and his friend Marc Murr with conspiracy and mail fraud over Morales’s attempt to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for Murr from the state’s tobacco settlement. More recently, Morales has suggested that he might be able to furnish information that would throw in question the fee entitlements of five politically influential trial lawyers who managed the state’s case (R. G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, “Former Attorney General Dan Morales indicted”, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 6; April Castro, “Ex-Attorney General Morales Indicted”, AP/Washington Post, Mar. 6; “Former Texas Attorney General Surrenders”, AP/ABC News, Mar. 7). For earlier coverage, see Jul. 15, 2002 and links from there; Jan. 10-12, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)
March 8-9 – Should have watched his step answering call of nature. Update: an appeals court in the Australian state of New South Wales has overturned the $60,000 judgment (see Mar. 5, 2002) awarded to Paul Jackson, who after a night drinking with friends walked home along a highway and “stepped over a low guard rail in order to urinate, not realising there was a drop of several metres.” The “plaintiff was not taking reasonable care for his own safety as he was obliged to do,” the justices said. (“That’s a long drop”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 5; “Wee change in fortune for Wollongong man”, Aust. Broadcasting Corp., Mar. 5). (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 – Update: hospital rapist’s suit dismissed. Sandusky, Ohio: “A judge has dismissed the $2 million lawsuit filed by a convicted rapist who claimed the hospital where he sexually assaulted a woman was negligent because it didn’t prevent the crime, according to court records.” ((Richard Payerchin, “Ruling: Convict responsible for his own crime”, Lorain Morning Journal, Feb. 20)(see May 22-23, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 – Stuart Taylor, Jr., on lead paint litigation. At his most scathing: “[O]ne group deserves a special niche in the annals of those who have perverted the legal system for personal and political gain at the expense of everyone else: the politically connected trial lawyers who have signed up Rhode Island, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, and dozens of other governments, school districts, and housing authorities to sue over health hazards associated with sales of lead pigment and paint for indoor use. The last of those sales took place more than 45 years ago.” With details on the unusual “retainer agreement” with which former Rhode Island AG Sheldon Whitehouse signed over the state’s sovereign authority to two influential private law firms: “It not only guaranteed the lawyers a contingent fee of 16.67 percent of any money recovered, plus all litigation expenses; it also gave them considerable control over whom to sue, what to claim, whether to settle, and on what terms.” (Stuart Taylor Jr., “Perverting the Legal System: The Lead-Paint Rip-Off”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 19) (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 – Incoming link of the day. From the website of a Fort Worth, Texas cardiology practice: “We do not provide ANY email advice regarding medical issues. DO NOT contact us by email with clinical questions. The email addresses above are for business correspondence only. For some insight as to why, click here.” (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 – $6 million fee request knocked down to $25,000. Ouch! An appeals court in El Paso has upheld a trial judge’s decision to “award a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers $25,000 in attorney fees instead of the nearly $6 million they sought under a contingent-fee contract.” However, the attorneys, led by brothers Stephen F. Malouf and E. Wayne Malouf, are unlikely to go hungry; they’ve apparently obtained upwards of $2 million in fees from other aspects of the case, a complex litigation over oil rights. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Appeals Court Says Trial Judge Had Discretion to Reduce Fees”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 26). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 – “The Tort Tax”. “According to a new study by Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, the total cost of the U.S. tort system reached $205.4 billion in 2001, an increase of 14.3% over the previous year — far faster than the rate of economic growth. This is like a tax of 2% on everything in the American economy that takes $721 per year out of the pockets of every citizen.” Also cites a certain “excellent website that, unfortunately, I find too depressing to read regularly”. (Bruce Bartlett, syndicated/National Review Online, Mar. 3). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 – Thrill of the chase. NYC: “A half-dozen personal-injury lawyers were charged [last week] in a scam that allowed a network of corrupt hospital employees to do the ambulance-chasing for them, authorities said. In at least three hospitals — Elmhurst, New York Presbyterian and Lincoln — emergency-room workers sold the attorneys confidential medical records of car-accident victims, evaluating the sales potential of the information as doctors were evaluating the patients for treatments, authorities said. Officials were clued in on the scheme — which ran for seven years — by a hospital employee after patients began complaining about calls at home from strangers who knew a lot about their medical conditions, according to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.” (Tom Perrotta, “Personal Injury Lawyers Indicted for Soliciting Scam”, New York Law Journal, Feb. 27; Laura Italiano, “Lawyers Charged in Hosp. E.R. Scam”, New York Post, Feb. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 – “Edwards doesn’t tell whole story”. In stump speeches since the outset of his political career, Sen. John Edwards has invoked the case of little Ethan Bedrick, a cerebral palsy victim, as emblematic of “the kids and families I’ve fought for.” One reporter was curious to learn more about Bedrick’s case, but Edwards’s campaign press secretary “told me if I wanted to know any details, I should ‘look it up.”’ So she did. It turns out Edwards’ firm obtained a settlement, often described as being for $5 million, of a lawsuit charging that asphyxiation during delivery caused Ethan’s disability. Edwards’s speech picks up the story only later, when Ethan’s family battled a health insurer to obtain needed therapy (Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 27) (& see letter to the editor, Mar. 31). (DURABLE LINK)
March 3 – By reader acclaim: “Man who threw dog into traffic sues dog’s former owner”. “A man who threw a dog to its death in a fit of road rage is suing the dog’s former owner and a newspaper, alleging mental anguish and seeking more than $1 million in damages. … [Andrew] Burnett was sentenced in July 2001 to three years in jail in the death of Leo, a bichon frise whose owner tapped Burnett’s bumper in rainy-day traffic in February 2000 near the San Jose Airport. Burnett threw the little dog into traffic before driving off.” (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 28; Dan Reed, “Leo the dog’s killer claims mental anguish in suit”, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
March 3 – Update: Lockyer sues complaint mill. Following a continuing furor in California (see Jan. 15-16) about entrepreneurial lawyers’ practice of filing assembly-line complaints against thousands of small businesses, which then are informed that they must pay thousands of dollars to get the charges dropped, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer has announced that he is suing the most-publicized such law firm, Trevor Law Group, under the same unfair-business-practices law that it employs in its complaints. “Trevor Law Group operates a shakedown operation designed to extract attorneys’ fees from law-abiding small businesses,” Lockyer said. “They’ve abused one of the state’s most important consumer protection statutes and dishonored attorneys who practice law in the public interest. There’s some delicious irony in turning the weapon around and using it on them.” (Monte Morin, “State Accuses Law Firm of Extortion”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27; Dan Walters, “In ironic twist, law firm finds itself on other end of suit”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 3). See also Jessica V. Brice, “Wave of lawsuits threatens 70-year-old consumer law”, AP/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
March 20 – Kids’ art on walls ruled a fire hazard. In what might be a bit of an overreaction to the recent deadly nightclub blaze in West Warwick, R.I., the Fire Department and building inspector of Attleboro, Mass. “sent word this month to the public schools: From now on, zero tolerance for breaking fire codes. Those bright-colored handprints and cheery stick figures have got to come down from the walls.” School board member Richard Correia “wonders, in this cautionary age, what might be next to go. ‘What do we do about our children who hang their coats in those little closets?’ Correia said. ‘Are they fire retardant?'” (Joanna Weiss, “Does future of art ed hang on safety”, Boston Globe, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 20 – Florida: “New clout of trial lawyers unnerves legislators”. Trial lawyers have built a position of powerful influence in the Florida legislature, in particular by “[s]upporting Republicans who have shown an appreciation for the civil justice system”, as a trial lawyer official puts it. In what Gov. Jeb Bush called “kind of a breath-taking example of their power”, the president of the state senate couldn’t even get a hearing in his own chamber for one of his major priorities, a bill to limit pain-and-suffering damages in fast-growing litigation against nursing homes (see Mar. 19). Limits on medical malpractice suits may be doomed in the state as well (Alisa Ulferts and Michael Sandler, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 17). (DURABLE LINK)
March 19 – Jury clears Bayer in cholesterol-drug case. In perhaps the most widely watched product liability trial of the year so far, the New York Times may have bought the plaintiff’s lawyers’ case, but a Corpus Christi jury didn’t, and awarded $0.00 instead of the requested $560 million. Just another 8,400 plaintiffs to go, of whom the “vast majority”, according to Bayer’s lawyer, are not in fact injured (“Jury Clears Bayer of Liability in Baycol Suit”, AP/Quicken, Mar. 18; “Bayer lawyer: Most Baycol plaintiffs not injured”, Reuters/Forbes, Mar. 18) (DURABLE LINK)
March 19 – $12,000 a bed. “Nursing homes [in some states] now pay close to $12,000 per bed annually on liability insurance, according to [a new] report [by AON Risk Consultants].” Nationally, liability costs per bed grew from an average of $300 annually a decade ago to $1,120 in 1997 and $2,880 in 2002, according to the study. Defenders of rising litigation say it provides long-overdue recourse against bad care, but the former administrator of the recently closed Gadsden Nursing Home in Quincy. Florida, doesn’t buy the idea that only poorly run homes can expect to be sued. “‘We were ranked 51st out of 668 homes in the state the day we closed. If you’re ranked in the top 7.5%, you’re not a bad home,’ he said.” (Reuters Health, “Legal liability costs surge for US nursing homes”, Mar. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
March 18 – Would you go into medicine again? “Then there is the issue of so-called malpractice — a rapidly growing income-transfer system from doctors to lawyers that, quite apart from its toll on doctors, gives injured parties ever-diminishing shares of the proceeds. … [T]here must be a system for removing from practice those physicians who are guilty of multiple errors. (As I know from my service on the D.C. Medical Society’s disciplinary committee, this is now, ironically, made exceedingly difficult by the threat of suit from those under scrutiny.)” (Devra Marcus, “I’m a Doctor, Not an Adversarial Unit of the Health Care Industry”, Washington Post, Mar. 16). (DURABLE LINK)
March 18 – “Runaway asbestos litigation — why it’s a medical problem”. One doctor’s view of the morass (Lawrence Martin, M.D., MtSinai.org, Nov. 18, 2002. The site relates to Cleveland’s former Mt. Sinai hospital, not the one in New York). (DURABLE LINK)
March 17 – Australian roundup. Sued if you do, sued if you don’t dept.: “A netball star banned from playing because she was pregnant was awarded $6750 yesterday for hurt, humiliation and loss of match payments. … Netball Australia excluded any pregnant women from playing because of fears of legal action over injuries to mothers or unborn babies.” (Ellen Connolly, “Banned pregnant netballer wins damages for discrimination”, AAP/Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 14). “A woman whose little finger was cut while working on a processing line at a doughnut factory has been awarded damages of [A]$467,000″. (Leonie Lamont, “Cut little finger reaps $467,000 damages”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 12). “Non-lawyers are constantly baffled by legal decisions that seem to have little to do with reality, let alone justice,” opines commentator Evan Whitton, offering some examples from the Down Under legal scene (“The law of diminishing reality”, Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 17 – Steering the evidence: an update. Forbes follows up on the episode described in our May 23 and June 26, 2000 posts: “In June 2000 a judge found that three Texas lawyers (or someone they hired) had tampered with evidence in a $2 billion suit blaming Chrysler for a deadly car crash. The judge slapped the San Antonio lawyers with nearly $1 million in sanctions — one of the largest such penalties in memory. Last August an appellate court called the lawyers’ conduct ‘an egregious example of the worst kind of abuse of the legal system.’ And now the FBI is investigating the trio’s actions.
“What’s happened to the lawyers? Not much. Two are still practicing in Texas and the third moved out of the country. Only $289,000 of the penalty has been paid to Chrysler.” (Joann Muller, “Crass Actions”, Forbes, Mar. 31).(& update Jun. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
March 15-16 – “Public deceit protects lawsuit abuse”. The Pennsylvania Medical Society excoriates Nader’s Public Citizen for putting out a report on the Keystone state malpractice situation that the physicians say was marred by such basic errors as double and triple counting (legislative testimony, society president Edward H. Dench, Jr., MD, Mar. 5; press release, U.S. Newswire/ Boston.com, Mar. 5). We regret to inform the good docs that it seems to be a hopeless task — you can expose Public Citizen’s output as shoddy as frequently as you like, but much of the media will go right on treating it as gospel. And Radley Balko looks at the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups — which cooperate with the rest of the Nader empire in fighting litigation reform — reminding us of just how disreputably the PIRGs get their money (“Public Shakedown Artist”, TechCentralStation.com, Mar. 3). Mickey Kaus also comments (scroll to Mar. 13). Update: more flak for the PIRGs’ New York affiliate, NYPIRG (David E. Seidemann, “Scrutinizing the Nader Legacy”, Health Facts & Fears (American Council on Science and Health), Mar. 2, 2004) (via Megan McArdle). (DURABLE LINK)
March 15-16 – Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side. Eyebrows arch as mass-tort lawyer Joe Rice, best known for the tobacco caper, cuts a deal in which Swiss-owned asbestos defendant ABB agrees to pay him $20 million personally for settling his clients’ pending claims against ABB subsidiary Combustion Engineering; Rice will also, of course, receive a contingency share of what the clients get (Alex Berenson, “Class-Action Lawyer’s Fee Under Scrutiny”, New York Times, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 12-14 – “Automakers may stop leasing vehicles in N.Y.” Major automakers and lenders are pulling out of the auto-lease business in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where laws allow leasing companies to be sued (in their role as titular owners) after a driver of one of their cars gets into an accident. (Kenn Peters, Syracuse Post-Standard, Mar. 11). “General Motors Acceptance Corp. notified dealers [in January] that it will quit buying leases in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island later this year unless those states change their ‘vicarious liability’ laws, which is unlikely.” (Jim Henry, “GMAC may end leases in three states”, Automotive News, Jan. 15). New York’s state senate has passed a bill repealing the doctrine, but it is given little chance of success in the trial-lawyer-dominated Assembly. Already many lease providers have hiked consumer fees by $600 or so in the high-liability states, a change that affects a large number of consumers, since around a third of cars sold are leased. Trial lawyers are the main power defending the vicarious laws. See also “Repeal sought of 18th-century doctrine affecting car leasing”, AP/Stanford Advocate, Mar. 10; Amy Forliti, “Lender’s pullout hurts R.I. leasing business”, AP/Boston Globe, Feb. 25. For our earlier coverage, see Aug. 26, 2002. (& see update May 21: Honda, GM, Ford, Chase all announce pullouts)
In another ambitious application of vicarious liability, the city of Detroit has argued — and a Michigan appeals court has agreed — that it can go after Ford Credit in court to collect unpaid parking tickets of drivers who lease through Ford; the ruling does however require case-by-case hearings on who was in control of the vehicles at the time of the infractions (“Appeals Court OKs Hearings Over $1M Unpaid Parking Tickets From Ford Credit Leased Vehicles”, Detroit News/Automotive Digest, Jan. 7; Robert Lane, “Ford Can Be Held Vicariously Responsible For Parking Fines”, Blue Oval News, Feb. 4) (via WSJ Best of the Web, Feb. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
March 12-14 – Sports mascots litigation. ESPN does a roundup, noting that the giant stuffed animals and other mascots “spend an inordinate amount of time in the courtroom” (Patrick Hruby, “Page Two: The seedier side of fur and fun” — see “Mascot Court Report” sidebar, Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
March 31 – Gun-suit thoughts. Our editor has contributed an op-ed to the New York Sun outlining his view that the NAACP’s lawsuit against gunmakers (which went to trial last week amid a flurry of favorable press notices; see Mar. 24) is plenty lame and derives its only real vitality from having been filed before a favorable judge (Walter Olson, “Gun Lawsuit Meets Activist Judge”, New York Sun, Mar. 26). On an unrelated note, the House Judiciary Committee has asked our editor to discuss federal pre-emption of anti-gunmaker litigation at a hearing this Wednesday before the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law (Rayburn HOB 2141, 10 a.m.) (DURABLE LINK)
March 31 – Teachers afraid. “Educators in Baltimore County and beyond say the threat of lawsuits prevents administrators from backing their punishment of disorderly or dishonest students.” One of the more thorough explorations of this topic we’ve seen recently (Jonathan D. Rockoff, “Teachers say the law adds to disorder in classroom”, Baltimore Sun, Mar. 23) (via Joanne Jacobs). (DURABLE LINK)
March 31 – Some reader letters. We’ve fallen lamentably behind in publishing readers’ letters. Here’s a batch of four, on terrorism suits against foreign entities, Sen. Edwards and cerebral palsy, one New Jersey judge’s dismissal of a playground lawsuit, and an unwelcome (to us) advertising intrusion into our newsletter. Quite a few other letters remain in our pipeline — we’ll try to get to them soon. (DURABLE LINK)
March 25-30 – Fast food opinion roundup. “The word “addiction” is perilously close to losing any meaning. If lawyers can turn fast food into an addiction and pin liability on restaurants, it won’t be long before adulterers sue Sports Illustrated, claiming its swimsuit issue led them astray.” (Sally Satel, “Fast food ‘addiction’ feeds only lawyers”, USA Today, Mar. 12, reprinted at AEI site). One 270-lb., 5-foot-6 plaintiff “said her regular diet included an Egg McMuffin for breakfast and a Big Mac meal for dinner”, but Chris Rangel at RangelMD concludes that the calorie count doesn’t add up — the only way you could get up to 270 pounds would be by consuming a whole lot more food than that. (RangelMD, Feb. 23). “Big Food stands charged with making the plaintiffs fat, notes Howard Fienberg in a review of a fairly dreadful-sounding book on the much-ballyhooed obesity epidemic. Yet “Grocery stores are easily accessible for most Americans. …. Healthy choices are everywhere.” (“Supersize Nation?”, AmericasFuture.org, Winter). As expected, attorney Samuel Hirsch has re-filed his suit against McDonald’s (John Lehmann, “McFatties Bite Back”, New York Post, Feb. 20). “And now, Hirsch tells Newsweek, he’s targeting companies selling weight-loss products such as herbal supplements. Within weeks, he says, his law firm will begin placing ads in magazines to invite clients who bought the products but failed to lose weight to join a class-action lawsuit.” (Daniel McGinn, Newsweek, Feb. 10). See also “Tobacco-war lawyers taking aim at fast food”, Sacramento Bee, Feb. 24; Duane Freese, “Frankensuits”, Tech Central Station, Feb. 27.
March 25-30 – “How a lawyer blew the whistle on a judge”. “It was the most distasteful thing I ever had to do in my life” said Joel Persky of his decision to turn in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Jaffe, who offered favorable rulings in Persky’s asbestos cases in exchange for a cash quid pro quo (see Sept. 3, 2002). Had Persky merely ignored the judge’s overtures, according to one “seasoned” lawyer, he might have been laying himself open to legal malpractice charges. “Jaffe, 52, pleaded guilty last month to extorting money from Persky and will be sentenced May 16. Jaffe has qualified for a temporary, $60,000 a year disability from the State Employees’ Retirement System because he is depressed. The system’s board of trustees will vote on whether to award the money in March.” (Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 2). (DURABLE LINK)
March 25-30 – Gone for a few days. The site will lie fallow while our editor gives several speeches to promote his new book. See you Monday. (DURABLE LINK)
March 24 – Mad County pays out again. “A judge in Madison County, Ill., ordered Philip Morris USA Inc. to pay $10.1 billion in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the tobacco giant misled smokers about the dangers of light cigarettes.” Circuit Judge Nicholas G. Byron “gave the plaintiffs’ lawyers a quarter of the compensatory damages, or nearly $1.8 billion.” (“Philip Morris Hit With $10.1B Verdict in Illinois Case, Dow Jones/Quicken, Mar. 21; Trisha Howard and Paul Hampel, “Tobacco firm lawyer derides court’s reputation”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 22; related stories; Sherri Day, “Philip Morris Faces Big Penalty”, New York Times, Mar. 22). Madison County, Ill. is located east of St. Louis (map); its main cities include Alton, Edwardsville and Granite City. For more on its fame as a “plaintiff’s paradise” and “judicial hellhole” for defendants, see notes below, including work sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, with which our editor is associated. (Update Apr. 2-3: Philip Morris says it is unable to post appeals bond; more updates.)
MORE ON MADISON COUNTY: “Study finds Madison County has most class action suits per capita”, AP, Sept. 11, 2001; Jim Getz, “Class-Action Suits Soar In Madison County, Study Says; Think Tank Argues For Moving Cases To Federal Court”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 11, 2001; John H. Beisner and Jessica Davidson Miller, “They’re Making a Federal Case Out of It … In State Court”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #3, Sept. 2001; Noam Neusner with Brian Brueggemann, “The judges of Madison County”, U.S. News, Dec. 17, 2001 (fee); Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Statement on Class Action Fairness Act, Congressional Record, Nov. 15, 2001; Lester Brickman, “Anatomy of a Madison County (Illinois) Class Action: A Study of Pathology”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #6, press release, Aug. 12, 2002. (DURABLE LINK)
March 24 – Stalking horse for anti-gun litigators. If the NAACP really does have legal standing to sue firearms manufacturers and demand that a court impose gun-control measures on them, one might reasonably conclude that in the future anyone will henceforth have standing to sue anyone over anything. Still, this notional standing has been the excuse for longtime anti-gun litigators to make yet another pilgrimage to the Brooklyn courtroom of federal judge Jack Weinstein, who’s considered far more sympathetic to their cause than most of his colleagues (Tom Hayes, “Ex-Lobbyist to Testify for Gun Foes in Federal Trial”, AP/Law.com, Mar. 21). Jacob Sullum comments on the resulting trial set to begin today (“Jack B. Trick”, syndicated/Reason Online, Mar. 21), as does Eugene Volokh, who points out that the arguments for holding gun manufacturers liable would, if taken seriously, also lead to findings of liability against liquor manufacturers for “foreseeable misuse” of their wares — not that some ambitious lawyers wouldn’t like to do that too (Volokh Conspiracy blog, archive link not working, scroll to Mar. 23). The NAACP case seeks injunctive relief; per the AP, above, Judge Weinstein “has decided the jury will play only an ‘advisory role,’ leaving himself to make the final determination on liability and remedy.” For our earlier coverage of the suit, click here. See also “Off Target: Anti-gunners again take aim at manufacturers”, (editorial), McAllen (Tex.) Monitor, Mar. 21; and Hunting and Shooting Sports Heritage Fund site (& welcome Kausfiles readers). Updated to include correct HSSHF link (DURABLE LINK)
March 21-23 – “Lawyers find gold mine in Phila. pension cases”. Philadelphia Inquirer exposes how the city’s municipal pension funds enlisted as the complaisant clients of two prominent class action law firms, Berger & Montague and Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, which between 1996 and 2002 scooped up $19 million in fees representing the city in securities litigation. Then-Mayor Ed Rendell green-lighted the suits, and also happens to have received $460,000 in contributions from the lawyers since 1990. “‘The truth is, there was just a bounty hunter prowling the security industry, picking things and putting our names on it,’ said Joseph Herkness, the pension fund’s former director. ‘We were told, basically, to sign these things.'” “It was an opportunity to make money for the city without any risk,” claims Rendell, who is now Pennsylvania’s governor. But perhaps not quite so much money as if the city had driven a harder bargain: “Funds in Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and New York City have trimmed millions off legal fees by seeking bids and setting fees in advance,” but not Philadelphia, the paper reported. As reported earlier (see Jan. 31) the FBI is investigating the actions of city officials in hiring the firms and resisting a judge’s efforts to encourage competitive bidding. (Joseph Tanfani and Craig R. McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 16; “Lawyer’s responses scrutinized”, Feb. 14). Name partner Leonard Barrack of Barrack, Rodos, a big-league political donor, served as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee under President Clinton (Washington Post, Jan. 12, 1999); he has said his firm is cooperating with the FBI probe. (DURABLE LINK)
March 21-23 – More notices for The Rule of Lawyers. Free-Market.net, one of the major libertarian sites, names our author’s new book “Freedom Book of the Month”, with reviewer Sunni Maravillosa calling it “clear, compelling” and “very important” and saying its “revelations will likely astonish most people who aren’t intimately acquainted with the American legal system” (March). In a review for the Indianapolis Star, reviewer Peter J. Pitts applauds the book as “insightful and frightening” (“Lawyers get rich; we get a warped idea of blame”, Mar. 15). And in American Hunter and its sister publications (American Rifleman, etc.), National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre uses his monthly column to call NRA members’ attention to the continuing outrage of the municipal gun suits and to The Rule of Lawyers in particular (April, not online). If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, what are you waiting for? (DURABLE LINK)