- “After drunken driver kills son, mother billed for cleanup” [Greenville News, S.C.]
- Cities, states and school districts in California will be among losers if Sacramento lawmakers pass bill authorizing phantom damages [Capitol Weekly; more on phantom damages]
- New from Treasury Dept.: steep exit fees for many corporations departing U.S. domicile [Future of Capitalism, TaxProf]
- Jonathan Lee Riches is back filing his hallucinatory lawsuits again, and courts don’t care to stop him [Above the Law] More: Lowering the Bar.
- Funny 1988 letter from Wyoming lawyer to California lawyer about fees [Letters of Note via Abnormal Use]
- L.A. family is considering adding another valedictorian lawsuit to our annals [L.A. Times, earlier]
- Effort to compensate Japanese nuclear accident victims is proceeding without much litigation [WaPo]
[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]
The first copies of my new book Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America are here from the printer, and I’ll be touring the country to promote it in coming weeks. Some highlights:
- February 21. Bloomington, Ind. Indiana University Law School, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
- February 22. Urbana-Champaign, Ill. University of Illinois School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter. Commenting will be Prof. Larry Ribstein.
- March 3. Washington, D.C. Cato Institute Policy Forum. Commenting on the book will be the Hon. Douglas Ginsburg, U.S. Court of Appeals, and moderating will be Cato legal director Roger Pilon.
- March 10. University of Minnesota, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter. Commenting will be Profs. Brad Clary and Oren Gross, and moderating will be Prof. Dale Carpenter.
- March 16. New York, N.Y. Manhattan Institute luncheon (invitation). Commenting will be James Copland, Manhattan Institute.
- March 22. Washington, D.C. Heritage Foundation forum. Commenting/moderating: Todd Gaziano, Heritage Foundation.
- March 28. Boulder, Colo. University of Colorado School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
- March 29. Laramie, Wyo. University of Wyoming School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
- March 30. Sacramento, Calif. McGeorge School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
- April 6. New York, N.Y. Manhattan Institute Young Leaders evening event (private).
- April 7. Washington, D.C. American University Law School, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
- April 13. Washington, D.C. Book club appearance (private).
- April 27-29. Dallas, Tex. Heritage Foundation Resource Bank meeting (private).
Always check in advance with the hosting group for venues and exact times; some events open to the public require advance registration. The book’s official publication date is March 1, and copies should be arriving in the bookstores soon.
The Wyoming-based legal gunslinger spoke at the annual conference of the Consumer Attorneys of California, and (U.S. Chamber-backed) Legal NewsLine took down some audience-rousing quotes that went pretty far even by grandiose Spence standards: “We are the most important people in America… I want to ask you which would be more important: If all of the doctors in the country somehow disappeared or all the trial lawyers in America somehow disappeared?” he asked. “We can live without medical care, but we cannot live without justice.” (Chris Rizo, “Spence: Trial lawyers more important than doctors”, Nov. 12).
More from Dan Pero: “Was it just bad timing or some sort of cosmic justice that Mr. Spence made this preposterous claim on Veterans Day?”
- Oregon Supreme Court plays chicken with SCOTUS over $79.5 million punitive damages award in Williams v. Philip Morris case. [Sebok @ Findlaw; Krauss @ IBD; POL Feb. 1]
- Speaking of punitive damages, I did a podcast on Exxon Shipping v. Baker. I can’t bear to listen to it, so let me know how I did. [Frank @ Fed Soc]
- Arkansas case alleged legal sale of pseudoephedrine was “nuisance” because meth-makers would buy it; case dismissed. [Beck/Herrmann]. This is why I’ve stockpiled Sudafed.
- Lawyers advertise for refinery explosion victims before fire goes out. [Hou Chron/TLR]
- Connecticut Supreme Court: cat-attack victim can sue without showing past history of violence by animal. [On Point] Looking forward to comments from all the anti-reformers who claim to oppose reform because they’re against the abrogation of the common law.
- Op-ed on the Great White fire deep pockets phenomenon. [SE Texas Record; earlier: Feb. 2]
- “FISA lawsuits come from Twilight Zone.” [Hillyer @ Examiner]
- Legislative action on various medical malpractice tweaking in Colorado, Hawaii, and Wyoming. [TortsProf]
- Request for unemployment benefits: why fire me just because I asked staffers for a prostitute? [Des Moines Register]
- “So much for seduction and romance; bring in the MBAs and lawyers.” [Mac Donald @ City Journal; contra Belle Lettre; contra contra Dank]
- Where is the Canadian Brandeis standing up for free speech? [Kay @ National Post]
- In defense of lobbying. [Krauthammer @ WaPo]
- Picture of farmer with goose appears on greeting card, he wants $7.5 million [Roanoke Times; earlier]
- More class actions filed over Apple iPhone [Ars Technica on roaming and battery claims, O’Grady’s PowerPage, iPhoneWorld; earlier]
- L.A. Times quotes attorney Stephen Yagman on prison overcrowding, but forgets to mention that he was lately convicted of thirteen felonies [Patterico]
- Bad idea watch: compulsory national service [Somin @ Volokh]
- Doing well representing the little guy: Gerry Spence lists his Wyoming residence for sale at $35 million [WSJ/Chicago Daily Herald]
- “Appropriate”, not “perfect”, justice needed: “We simply have to stop killing litigants with kindness,” says chief judge of Australia’s largest state [The Australian]
- Toddler killed after wandering into heavy traffic, trucker should have been more on guard against such a thing happening [Salt Lake Tribune]
- Pennsylvania pro se litigant sues Google, says it spells his social security number upside down [Ambrogi] More: Coyote says “Up next, the owner of Social Security number 71077345 sues Shell Oil for the same reason.”
- Once billed as “King of Torts”, Miami asbestos lawyer faces fifteen years behind bars for stealing $13 million from clients [Sun-Sentinel]
- Groom sues bride, saying she took the ring and presents and never got the wedding paperwork straightened out leaving them legally unmarried [ClickOnDetroit]
- Surgical resident on the hook for $23 million in Wisconsin case; she was the only one of the docs involved not covered by damage limits [Journal Sentinel via KevinMD]
Hospital X was grossly — if not criminally — negligent, and you ought to award zillions of dollars in punitive damages for their misconduct! Consider this list of sins: this hospital knew that its surgeon was mentally ill. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and they knew it. He had been locked up in mental institutions at least twice before. The danger here was very real. Don’t let them try to claim they didn’t foresee danger. Why, once when that surgeon was operating on a patient, multiple witnesses will tell you that he “became disoriented during the surgery, forgot the names of certain instruments and at one point appeared to be talking to the wall!” Even after he was treated, two different psychiatrists who evaluated him refused to unequivocally state that he was competent. And they let him continue to operate on vulnerable patients. Without any supervision. Even though they knew he had a history of failing to take his medication.
Well, that would be the summary of my argument to the jury if the surgeon in question botched my poor client’s operation and left him permanently injured. So a hospital would have to be crazy to let this state of affairs go on, right?
Right. Except that when Wyoming Valley Health Care System decided not to take any chances, and refused to let mentally ill surgeon Jonathan Haas operate without supervision, he sued the hospital in federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. And this week, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $250,000 to Haas for this violation of his rights. That’s the case, even though the Americans with Disabilities Act ostensibly has an exception for situations where employing the disabled person would be a threat to the health or safety of other people.
Haas’s complaint was that since he couldn’t find anybody to supervise him, the hospital’s condition effectively prevented him from acting as a surgeon. (Oddly, once this happened, Haas moved on to a hospital in Minnesota which imposed exactly the same supervisory requirement on him, which he accepted. But neither the judge nor jury found that relevant to the question of whether the requirement was reasonable.)
In short, the hospital had the choice of risking a patient’s life and being sued for malpractice, or restricting the privileges of the surgeon and being sued for discrimination. (And we know that had a patient sued for malpractice, the hospital couldn’t possibly have defended itself by pointing to the requirements of the ADA and saying that it was forced to employ the surgeon.)
The Wyoming injury lawyer is known for his extended rants on the theme of the People versus the Interests, which makes it piquant to see his name turn up so prominently among exploiters of a federal tax provision intended to benefit the needy, in this case — through his Trial Lawyers College — allowing him to maintain his control over a spectacular 220-acre ranch while dodging the taxman. ABC News has the details (Jake Tapper and Avery Miller, “Wealthy Cash In on Charity Tax Loophole”, Mar. 24). Trial lawyer/blogger Mike Cernovich, a satisfied customer of Spence’s seminar operation, praised it here, while his co-blogger Norm Pattis more recently noted the tax-avoidance story.
Many farmers use anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer, because it provides vital nitrogen nutrients to the soil. The combustible material is produced in Louisiana, and then shipped to the Midwest on barges or through pipelines, and then stored on tanks on farms. However, ammonia is also useful for making illegal methamphetamines, and thefts are a regular problem. (KOMU-TV, “Law Officers Fight Ammonia Thefts”, May 19). If a thief injures himself tampering with an ammonia tank, should he be able to sue the farmer for the injury? Three states, Kansas, Missouri, and Wyoming, say no, and provide immunity for those who store, handle, or own ammonia equipment from suit by thieves. Legislatures are considering the issue in other midwestern states.
The misnamed anti-tort reform Center for Justice & Democracy has noticed the success of the ATRA’s judicial hellhole campaign (Dec. 15; Dec. 3, 2003), and decided to respond with its own report, the “Zany Immunity Law Awards”, intended to single out “special interests” who opportunistically subvert the legislative system to get improper immunity from liability. The cover shows a legislator receiving a statuette, cash in his pocket, and roses with a ribbon labeled “Sleaziest Legislation.”
Exposing sleazy special-interest immunity laws is a noble sentiment–but it’s a sure sign of how few and far between such laws are that CJD singles out the sensible anhydrous ammonia immunity laws for its top ten list. The CJD incorrectly blames the law on a supposed “anhydrous ammonia business lobby”; in fact, it’s groups like the Michigan Farm Bureau that push for laws like Michigan S.B. 786. Indeed, the only group to oppose such laws? Trial lawyers’ lobbying groups. See also Kelly Lenz, “Fertilizer law to help farmers”, Farm and Auction, Jun. 12, 2002.
How ridiculous are the CJD awards? One of the top ten “zany immunity laws” refers to “immunity” granted to placebo manufacturers and distributors. Except the immunity in question isn’t immunity–it’s an exception to a criminal statute prohibiting the sale of fake drugs! E.g., Fla. Stat. 817.564(6)(a). (This is the only appearance of the word “placebo” in the Florida Code. It’s telling that CJD omits the statutory cite in its footnotes.) Perhaps this law is zany, but it’s hardly an example of a special interest group buying sleazy legislation that damages consumers. A subject of a research test who is injured by adulterated placebos (has this ever happened?) will still have a cause of action.
As I documented through the night at PointOfLaw.com, voters gave doctors and the business community some major victories in yesterday’s ballot measures. Limits on malpractice lawyers’ fees passed resoundingly in Florida, in a stinging rebuke to the trial bar. Among three other states considering med-mal ballot measures, doctors won decisively in Nevada and lost in Wyoming, while Oregon’s measure was slightly trailing but too close to call. (Update Nov. 9: late returns show one of the two Wyoming measures apparently passing after all.)
In California, in a convincing victory for the business community and good sense, voters approved Proposition 64 by a wide margin, requiring lawyers to demonstrate actual injury before invoking the state’s broad unfair-practices statute in private cases. (Thank you, Arnold.) Colorado voters lopsidedly defeated a trial-lawyer-sponsored measure to expand litigation over alleged construction defects. And in the two hot judicial contests, for seats on the Illinois and West Virginia Supreme Courts, trial-lawyer-backed candidates lost in both. Details on all these races can be found on PointOfLaw.com. Also, voters ignored this site’s advice and passed all eleven state marriage amendments on the ballot.
Finally, some politicians whose ambitions this website has followed were locked in too-close-to-call races: Washington state AG Christine Gregoire (see Oct. 28) was slightly trailing a GOP opponent in her bid for governor, while former trial lawyer lobbyist and Bush HUD secretary Mel Martinez (see Sept. 3) was leading by 80,000 votes in his Florida Senate race against Democrat Betty Castor. (Update: Martinez wins). John Edwards’s vice-presidential ambitions seem at the moment to depend on an unlikely reversal of Ohio results in late vote counting, while his home state of North Carolina went Republican both in the presidential race and in filling Edwards’s old seat. (Update: Kerry and Edwards concede).
As readers of this site know, voters in six states are considering legal-reform initiatives on today’s ballot. At my other website, the Manhattan Institute’s PointOfLaw.com, I’m planning to post regularly updated live coverage tonight of election returns on the measures, with special attention to any instances where the vote totals prove to be close. (I might also post the odd comment on other races of interest.)
The ballot measures are: Florida’s Amendment 3 (limiting lawyers’ med-mal fees), lawyer-sponsored Amendment 7 (removes confidentiality of medical peer review) and Amendment 8 (strips licenses of doctors who lose three malpractice verdicts); Wyoming’s Amendments C and D (authorizes legislative limits on med-mal awards); Oregon’s Measure 35 (limits med-mal awards); Nevada’s Question Three (limits med-mal awards) and lawyer-sponsored Questions Four (undercuts med-mal reform) and Five (forbids legislative reductions of liability); Colorado’s lawyer-sponsored Amendment 34 (expands right to sue over alleged construction defects), and California’s Proposition 64 (narrows scope of s. 17200 “unfair competition” law).
The timing: Florida polls close at 8 pm EST, Colorado and Wyoming at 9 pm, Nevada at 10 pm, and California and Oregon at 11 pm. I’m in the Eastern time zone, and intend to stay up until 2 am (11 pm Pacific) if that’s needed to follow any still-unresolved contests.
How readers can help: I’ll have access to standard online sources that cover these sorts of votes (big-city papers, Secretary of State websites) but in the past those sources have sometimes been slow to post totals, especially on “down-ballot” issues. I won’t have much access to local broadcast sources, for the most part. If you’ve got fresh news on your state to report, such as a local news organization’s calling a ballot contest one way or the other, email me at editor (at) pointoflaw – dotcom.
Once again, the liveblogging tonight will be going on at Point of Law, not here. [cross-posted from Point of Law, with slight changes][bumped 2:30 pm]