ARCHIVE -- MARCH 2002
March 20-21 --
No more restaurant doggie bags. In Australia, the restaurant
doggie bag is in decline because of fears that patrons will store food
at improper temperatures, allowing the growth of food-poisoning bacteria.
"The Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which has 142 hotel restaurants
across the country, has banned patrons from taking home leftovers.
Victoria has already brought in anti-doggie-bag legislation, with other
states tipped to follow before the end of the year, Mr Deakin said.
'If we are the cooker of the food
we are liable,' he said." ("Restaurants ban doggie bags", The
Advertiser (Adelaide), Mar.
18). Meanwhile, in the U.K.: "Some restaurants in Britain are
forcing customers who like their meat rare to sign a disclaimer form before
eating due to fears of the risk of E. coli and salmonella poisoning, the
Sunday Times newspaper reported." ("British Eaters Who Like Rare
Meat Sign Disclaimers", Reuters/Yahoo, Mar.
March 20-21 --
"School told to rehire cocaine abuser". Florida: "Escambia
County Schools must rehire a school employee who reported to work with
cocaine in his system - 50 times above the cutoff level for a positive
drug test. Robert K. Sites III, 37, initially was terminated after
arriving at Brentwood Middle School on Aug. 10 in an agitated and nervous
state. A 'reasonable suspicion' drug test revealed cocaine metabolites
in his system. An independent arbitrator ruled this month that a
penalty less severe than termination was warranted and wants Sites rehired
with full pay and benefits." (Lisa Osburn, Pensacola News Journal,
15). Under zero tolerance rules, of course, schools
can suspend or even expel a student for possessing aspirin or other ordinary
March 20-21 --
Lawyer: deep-pocket defendants are real culprits in identity theft.
Perpetrators of the fast-growing crime of "identity theft" sometimes use
fraud, stealth or dumpster-diving to obtain data on potential victims from
businesses in the form of credit card or employment data. "Companies
that contribute to identity theft by failing to protect their customers'
and employees' Social Security numbers and other personal information could
be held liable, some observers warn. Although relatively few cases
of this type have been filed so far, some observers predict that with the
incidence of identity theft rising, more frustrated victims will successfully
sue companies that fail to protect this information ... Sean B. Hoar, Eugene,
Ore.-based assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, said he
has spoken to groups of plaintiffs attorneys on the topic and the reaction
has been 'My gosh, this is a huge new area for civil litigation because
of the likely liability that will be incurred.' 'I think that victims
of identity theft are becoming much more cognizant of the fact that they
have been hurt more by the negligent or careless acts of the companies
than they are by the criminals,' said Mari Frank, a Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based
attorney who has specialized in the area of identity theft since she became
a victim herself in 1996." (Judy Greenwald, "ID theft suits in the
cards", Business Insurance, Mar. 4, subscriber-based
March 20-21 --
McElroy on wrongful life suits. FoxNews.com columnist
Wendy McElroy surveys the burgeoning field of "wrongful life" and "wrongful
birth" suits following "the birth of a disabled child whom the mother would
have aborted had she received adequate medical information." The
concept has been familiar in American courts for years and has cropped
up in France and Australia recently as well. "The human cost of this
new litigation is terrible. Parents publicly tell a child that they
wish he or she had never been born." (Wendy McElroy, "Parents Sue
Doctors for 'Wrongful Birth' of Disabled Child", FoxNews.com, Mar.
19)(see Aug. 22, 2001).
March 19 -- Teen
beauty pageant lands in court. In suburban Detroit, the
outcome of this year's Miss Teen St. Clair Shores beauty pageant was tainted,
according to parent Barbara Scheurman's legal complaint on behalf of her
15-year-old daughter Jennifer, which is expected to reach a local court
next month. The controversy concerns whether the winning contestant
should have been allowed to redo her talent presentation; a $200 savings
bond and crown was the prize. (Tony Scotta, "Shores pageant judge
defends her ruling", Macomb Daily,
March 19 -- So
depressed he stole $300K. Minnesota prosecutors are charging
appeals court judge Roland Amundson, 52, who has resigned from the bench,
with stealing more than $300,000 from a trust fund that a father had left
for his developmentally disabled daughter. The judge's attorney,
Ron Meshbesher, said his client plans to plead guilty and "attributed
Amundson's actions to depression that followed his mother's death".
According to prosecutors, however, his honor was not too depressed to put
part of the money to use "to buy bronze statues, marble flooring, antique
chairs and other items for himself." (Pam Louwagie and Randy Furst,
"Judge charged with stealing $300,000 from woman's trust", Minneapolis
27; Elizabeth Stawicki, "Court's credibility damaged by Amundson, judges
say", Minnesota Public Radio, Mar.
11). Update July 1-2: sentenced
to 69 months. (DURABLE LINK)
March 19 -- "Bad
movie, bad public policy". Among reasons to skip
the Denzel Washington vehicle John
Q: "at the end of the movie, we see real footage of Hillary Clinton
and Jesse Jackson advocating for expanded federal health insurance.
Last time I checked, though, countries with government-run health
plans were less likely to give dying kids organ transplants, or the
powerful drugs needed to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organs
after the operation." (Robert Goldberg (Manhattan Institute), "Painful
Q", National Review Online, Mar.
March 18 -- Injured
in "human hockey puck" stunt. "An Avon man has sued the
Colorado Avalanche hockey team for negligence, claiming he was seriously
injured during a 'human hockey puck' event Dec. 13, 2000, at the Pepsi
Center. Ryan Netzer claims that during one of the intermissions,
he was selected to take part in the event, in which he was slung by a bungee
cord across the ice rink on a metal sled, according to the lawsuit filed
Wednesday in Denver District Court." Joseph Bloch, Netzer's lawyer,
says the organizers omitted protective padding that was supposed to be
on boards into which his client slammed, suffering two leg fractures.
"Prior to the event, Netzer signed a waiver."
(Howard Pankratz, "Fan sues Avalanche over stunt injuries", Denver Post,
March 18 -- Couldn't
order 7-Up in French. "A federal government employee is
suing Air Canada for more than $500,000
because he could not order a 7-Up in French." Michel Thibodeau, 34, has
already won a favorable determination from the Commissioner of Official
Languages over the incident on an Aug. 14, 2000 flight from Montreal
to Ottawa which resulted in an altercation after Mr. Thibodeau, "who
is fluently bilingual, was unable to use French to order a 7-Up".
He wants $525,000 and an apology. "'I am not asking for a right here,
I am exercising a right I already have,' Mr. Thibodeau said shortly after
filing his lawsuit." (Ron Corbett, "Air Canada sued over language dispute",
Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Mar.
March 18 -- Columnist-fest.
Perennial-favorite scribes come through for readers again:
* Those consumer-battering steel import quotas are just temporary,
says President Bush, and if you believe that ... (Steve Chapman, "Relief
from imports, for as long as it takes", Chicago Tribune, Mar.
* Airport security
checking is a "ridiculous charade" because of officialdom's continued pretense
that "the 80-year-old Irish nun, the Hispanic mother of two, the Japanese-American
businessman, the House committee chairman with the titanium hip" are all
just as likely hijacker candidates as the young Middle Eastern man (Charles
Krauthammer, "The Case for Profiling", Time, Mar.
18; see also "Profiles in Timidity" (editorial), Wall Street Journal,
* Dave Kopel says the abusive municipal gun
lawsuits have served to galvanize a firearms industry that has historically
shied away from politics: "Pearl Harbor day for the gun industry was the
day that [New Orleans mayor] Marc Morial filed his lawsuit". ("Unintended
Consequences", National Review Online,
6). See also Jacob Sullum, "Too many guns?", Reason Online,
4 (on "oversupply" gun-suit theories).
March 15-17 --
Texas docs plan walkout. More than 600 physicians in the
Rio Grande Valley of Texas are planning to walk off the job April 8 to
protest the state's malpractice
climate (Juan Ozuna, "'Walkout' Planned by Physicians", McAllen Monitor,
16; Mel Huff, "Doctors discuss fallout from lawsuit abuse", Brownsville
21; "The Doctor is Out", McAllen Monitor, Feb.
19; "Sick system"(editorial), Brownsville Herald,
22). In famously litigious Beaumont, only one neurosurgeon is
left practicing, which Texas Medical Association vice president Kim Ross
calls "a scary thing ... What if a patient has a car wreck, needs a neurosurgeon,
and there's none available? It's an hour to Houston. That 'golden
hour' [when treatment is most beneficial] is lost." (Vicki Lankarge,
"Soaring malpractice premiums bleed doctors, rob consumers", reprinted
by Heartland Institute, Jan.)
"Channel-surf wherever you will; sooner or later (probably sooner) you'll
encounter an attorney urging you
to bring your problems to him or her. Some are shameless in their opportunism:
Have you suffered from respiratory problems? Throat inflammation? Sinus
woes? Come see me; let's find somebody to sue." More than half of
Texas physicians had claims filed against them in 2000, the Dallas Morning
News has found. ("Litigation explosion plagues physicians" (editorial),
24 (via CALA Houston)).
March 15-17 --
"Before you cheer ... 'Sign here'". There are few things
that trial lawyers loathe with more passion than the liability waivers
that schools have parents and students
sign before going out for extracurricular activities such as field trips
or cheerleading. They're carrying on a state-by-state campaign to
get courts to strike down such waivers, voluntarily
entered or not. (Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor,
March 15-17 --
"Step One: We must do something;
"Step Two: This is something;
"Step Three: Therefore we must do it."
-- Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay in the British television
series "Yes, Minister" (via Prog
Review; site on show; Hugh
Davies, "Celebrities and friends say fond farewell to Sir Nigel", Daily
10 (memorial for show star Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who died Dec. 26)).
March 13-14 --
"Greedy or Just Green?". "In the last few days of December,
Kamran Ghalchi sent more than 3,000 California businesses an unwelcome
holiday greeting -- legal notices claiming they were in violation of Proposition
65, a one-of-a-kind California law requiring warnings on products that
contain potentially dangerous chemicals.
More than half of Ghalchi's December notices were filed against car dealers
and other automotive businesses throughout the state. Warnings at gas stations
are a familiar sight to Californians, but car dealers do not warn customers
that buying a car could expose them to oil, gasoline and car exhaust.
In a letter offering to settle with one dealer, Ghalchi demands $7,500
to settle right away: $750 of it in fines to the attorney general, the
rest split evenly between Ghalchi and Citizens for Responsible Business,
a new Proposition 65 enforcement group that is the plaintiff in all of
Ghalchi's December filings."
Recent figures from Sacramento indicate that of "citizen suit" settlements
by companies for failing to post Prop 65 warnings, less than eight percent
of payouts go to the state, while two-thirds go to plaintiff's attorneys'
fees and costs, and much of the remainder to freelance enforcement groups
that work with the lawyers. Even California attorney general Bill
Lockyer, no friend of business, detects "an odor of extortion around many
of these notices that concerns me'". (Bob Van Voris, National
March 13-14 --
U.K. soldiers' claim: brass didn't warn of war trauma.
In Great Britain, a high court lawsuit accuses the Ministry of Defence
of "failing to adequately prepare service personnel for their inevitable
exposure to the horrors of war". Nearly 2,000 potential claimants
have registered an interest in the action, which seeks to recover for post-traumatic
stress disorder, according to Queen's Counsel Stephen Irwin, arguing on
their behalf. "Mr. Irwin said that the case was 'enormous', would
take a very long time and would cost a 'great deal of money'". ("MoD
sued over trauma from 'horrors of war'", London Times,
4; Joshua Rozenberg, "2,000 sue MoD over psychiatric injuries of war",
5)(see also "Britain's delicate soldiery", Dec.
March 13-14 --
Education reforms could serve as basis for new suits.
"Robin Hood" lawsuits prevailing on courts to order equalization of spending
between rich and poor public school
districts have been a dismal failure even on their own terms, undermining
local taxpayers' willingness to shoulder property tax burdens. But
undaunted by previous fiascos, activist education lawyers figure the answer
is yet more litigation: they're hoping to latch onto new federal mandates
for uniform test scores as the basis for a renewed round of lawsuits arguing
that underperforming schools have a constitutional right to more money.
(Siobhan Gorman, "Can't Beat 'Em? Sue 'Em!", Washington Monthly,
March 13-14 --
I've got a legally protected bunch of coconuts. "A Slidell
businessman who painted 150 green-and-white coconuts to pass out at the
city's St. Patrick's Day parade got a visit Thursday from a business partner
of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which has been tossing gilded
and glittery coconuts on Mardi Gras for decades. 'The guy told me
that as soon as I put paint on a coconut, I was infringing on their copyright,'
said Ronnie Dunaway, who owns Dunaway's Olde Towne Market. 'I was
absolutely dumbfounded that there were laws about what you can and can't
do with a coconut.'" (Paul Rioux, "Zulu partners clamp down on copy-cat
coconuts ", New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mar.
March 12 -- Texas
trial lawyers back GOP PAC. Sneaky? In Houston,
plaintiff's lawyers traditionally aligned with the Democratic Party are
funding a "Harris County GOP PAC" which has endorsed candidates in today's
Republican primary for Supreme
Court, Congress, the state legislature, and county attorney. Though
unaffiliated with the official Republican organization, the PAC has sent
voters a slickly produced brochure whose "logo even mimics the official
logo of the Harris County Republican Party, which features an elephant
inside of a star". ("Harris County GOP PAC funded by plaintiff’s
lawyers", Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston,
March; John Williams, "Republicans want distance from PAC", Houston
March 12 -- Liability
concerns fell giant sequoia. "The Sonora Union High School
District, owner of the property, had been concerned about liability if
the 85-foot-tall tree fell on its own." (Melanie Turner, "Giant sequoia
felled despite legal wrangling", Modesto Bee,
23) (via MaxPower blog, Feb.
March 12 -- A "Jenny
Jones Show" question. Why do ads
for injury lawyers so often air on the same TV shows as debt-restructuring
ads aimed at viewers desperate for financial relief? -- wonders blogger
Patrick Ruffini (March
March 11 -- Fast-food
roundup. The Chicago Tribune is reporting
that McDonald's Corp. is on the verge of settling lawsuits brought on behalf
of vegetarians over its use of beef extract as a flavoring agent for French
fries; the terms include "$10 million to charities that support vegetarianism
and $2.4 million to plaintiffs' attorneys." Yum! (Ameet Sachdev,
"McDonald's nears deal on fries suit", Chicago Tribune, March
7; AP/Fox News, Mar.
9; see May 4, 2001, and Rediff.com
coverage: May 4,
8, July 3,
2001). Public health activists are taking aim at the food
industry's sinister ploy of providing customers with big portions,
in a contrast with the inflationary 1970s when activists denounced the
same companies' shock-horror practice of shrinking the size of the candy
bar or taco (Randy Dotinga, "Super-Size Portion Causing U.S. Distortion",
19). Whatever happened to the old notion of "leave some on the
plate for Miss Manners", anyway? On EnterStageRight.com, Steven Martinovich
analyzes the next-tobacco-izing of snack food, quoting our editor on the
subject ("The next moral crusade", Feb.
25). Also see accounts on ConsumerFreedom.com: Jan.
5. And a lefty commentator for a British newspaper has concluded
that our battle with the waistline is really all capitalism's fault: Will
Hutton, "Fat is a capitalist issue",
The Observer, Jan.
March 11 -- Parole
board's consideration of drug history could violate ADA.
In a case filed by inmates at the state prison in Vacaville, Calif., a
Ninth Circuit panel has ruled that parole boards may violate the Americans
with Disabilities Act if they regard a prisoner's history of drug addiction
as a reason to accord any less favorable disposition to his request to
be turned loose early, such history counting as a disability protected
under the law. Sara Norman, a lawyer for the inmates, said the ruling
"might also apply to those suffering mental disabilities covered by the
ADA. ... The panel also suggested that the ADA covers a panoply of law
enforcement decision making, including arrests." The case "could
lead to a swell of court challenges". (Jason Hoppin, "ADA Applies
to Decisions About Parole, Says 9th Circuit",
The Recorder, Mar.
March 11 -- Editorial-fest.
Sense is breaking out all over: "The government's impulsive entrance into
the victim-compensation business was born of a one-time mix of compassion
and political expediency, but it sets an unaffordable precedent at a time
when the nation faces the likelihood of more terrorist acts." ("Why
Is One Terrorism Victim Different from Another?" (editorial) USA Today,
8). The Washington Post, which has helped lead the case
for reform of nationwide class action
procedures, is back with another strong editorial on the subject ("Restoring
class to class actions", Mar.
9). And following the lead of its sister Fortune (see
18-19), Time is out with a piece asking why workers themselves
should put up with the widespread abuse of
litigation ("The Asbestos Pit", Mar.