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February 20 -- Start that movie on time, or else.  Lawyers filed suit Tuesday "against movie theaters that claim in their ads they'll show movies at a certain time, but, instead, show on-screen commercials at the advertised time, delaying the movie's start. Theaters are committing consumer fraud when they claim in advertising that a movie starts at a certain time but it really starts a few minutes later because of the ads, said Mark Weinberg, a Chicago attorney who filed the two suits."  But a lawyer in China (of all places) got there first, as we reported Jan. 10.  (Dave Newbart, "Pre-movie ads rip off theatergoers, suits claim", Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 19; Eric Krol, "If you don't like commercials at movies, why not sue?", Daily Herald (Chicago suburban), Feb. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

February 20 -- Reforming punitive damages.  "The best and most practical reform is to let the jury vote up or down on punitive damages, then have judges set the amount," argues Douglas McCollam, Washington correspondent of the American Lawyer.   Since punitive damages partake of the nature of civil fines, they should also be paid into a public fund, and plaintiff's lawyers should not be allowed to capture a percentage share of them; instead they should be "paid for their time and reimbursed for their costs, with amounts determined at a fee-award hearing."  ("Damaging Justice", Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2002, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 -- They'll be back for seconds.  Syndicated columnist Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune explains why we haven't heard the last of the lawsuits trying to make food companies pay for obesity.  Quotes our editor ("A fast track for fast-food lawsuits?", Feb. 13).  The New York Times's "Editorial Observer" is oh-so-impressed with the suits' logic (Adam Cohen, "The McNugget of Truth in the Fast-Food Lawsuits", Feb. 3).  But Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) says he plans to introduce legislation in the U.S. Congress to cut off obesity suits against food companies; the AP quotes the Association of Trial Lawyers of America as opposing any such move (Mike Schneider, "Bill would outlaw lawsuits blaming restaurants for obesity", AP/Naples Daily News, Jan. 28) (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 -- "Pass-the-parcel" accounting liability.  One company's newsworthy firing of its CFO may signal that Sarbanes-Oxley is already having perverse effects on the interactions of accounting firms with their corporate clients, according to Asymmetrical Information's pseudonymous "Mindles H. Dreck" (Feb. 17, and comments).  Michael Fox at Employers' Lawyer (Feb. 16) also has some thoughts.  (DURABLE LINK)

February 19 -- One solution to the malpractice crunch.  "A New York doctor is commuting 1,220 miles to work to avoid the city's high medical malpractice insurance rates.  Dr David Abraham, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist from Long Island, leaves his family twice a month to travel to Minnesota." According to the New York Post, Dr. Abraham had been paying $70,000 to insure his solo practice and can save up to $40,000 a year with the new arrangement. ("Doctor travels 1,220 miles to work", Ananova, Feb. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

February 18 -- It's all for the clients.  MedPundit Sydney Smith (Feb. 3) says next time you hear the trial lawyers' association saying that litigation is about protecting the public, rather than about making money, you should keep in mind this page(DURABLE LINK)

February 18 -- "Namibian tribe sues Germany for genocide".  "A Namibian tribe that came close to being exterminated by Germany's colonial forces nearly a century ago is suing the German government and two companies for £2.6 billion."  The forces of Kaiser Wilhelm committed atrocities against the Herero people in the then-German colony of South-West Africa between 1904 and 1907, as reprisals against the killing of white settlers.  Rights activists and lawyers plan to sue the German government and German companies for compensation in -- natürlich! -- American courts.  (Christopher Munnion, Daily Telegraph (U.K.), Jan. 31). (DURABLE LINK)

February 18 -- My lawyer says I'm the valedictorian.  Outside Boston: "The family of a student who could be denied valedictorian honors at Hull High School, even though she has the best grades, has sued the school district, arguing the top slot should be hers."  The suit filed by Sharisse Kanet's family "seeks to enjoin Hull from naming any valedictorian until the matter is resolved."  ("Would-Be Valedictorian Sues to Ensure Top Rank", WHDH Boston, Feb. 16) (DURABLE LINK)

February 17 -- Pet custody as legal practice area.  Everything you could want to know about the rapid rise of who-gets-Fluffy litigation, including the tale of a San Diego woman's $146,000 (in fees incurred) courtroom battle to get custody of Gigi, a greyhound-pointer mix: "At trial, the court entertained a 'day-in-the-life of Gigi' video proffered by the wife's divorce attorney, which showed Gigi sleeping under the wife's desk while at work, walking in the park, and playing on the beach."  (Quentin Letts, "Fur better or fur worse", Daily Telegraph (U.K.), Feb. 16; law firm of Blumberg Lorber Nelson LLP, "Who Gets Fido? Pet Custody in Divorce Cases", undated; PetCustody.com). (DURABLE LINK)

February 17 -- Inmate entitled to disability payments.  "A Beverly Hills lawyer doing time for sinking his yacht to collect the insurance money won a judgment against two insurance companies that canceled his monthly disability payments because they suspected him of committing fraud. ...  The companies stopped paying [Rex K.] DeGeorge his $8,200-a-month disability payments in 1999, saying he faked his ailments and continued to work as a lawyer. DeGeorge filed the claims in 1990, saying he was disabled because of a heart condition and brain damage caused by an auto accident. ... The jury also found DeGeorge remains disabled, forcing Equitable to continue paying him $4,700 a month for the rest of his life. ... DeGeorge was sentenced last year to 7 1/2 years in federal prison for sinking his 76-foot yacht off the Italian coast to collect on his $3.5 million insurance policy, which prosecutors said was inflated through a series of phony sales transactions. He is appealing his conviction." ("California Inmate Wins Disability Case", AP/ABC News, Feb. 15(DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 -- Tried to outrun Coast Guard in chase.  Last month a Cuban smuggling boat tried to outrun a pursuit by the U.S. Coast Guard and instead capsized; the 34 persons aboard were rescued and most were repatriated to Cuba.  Now a lawyer for relatives of the Cubans is suggesting that the Coast Guard may have been overly aggressive in pursuit of the boat and thus responsible for its capsizing.   A spokesman for the Coast Guard begs to differ: the boat "was grossly overloaded ... and being captained by criminals with a ruthless intent.''  (Elaine DeValle, "Video on Cubans' boat that capsized sought by lawyer", Miami Herald, Jan. 28).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 -- Take care of myself?  That's the doc's job.  "Physicians, lawyers, insurers, juries -- all absorb criticism for the rising cost of medical premiums, a surge that has provoked the cry for tort reform. Meanwhile, patients remain generally blind to their own culpability in the crisis."  The story of how one Ohio man's bad habits contributed to his demise, and how his widow then prevailed in a $4.7 million suit against the physician who treated him for prostate cancer but did not push him to seek a cardiologist's help as well.  Quotes our editor (Martin Kuz, "Cash Diet", Cleveland Scene, Feb. 12) (see Sept. 18-19, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

February 14-16 -- Politico's law associate suspended over "runner" use.   "Louisiana's highest court has suspended a former law associate of a since-disbarred and imprisoned state senate president for her role in the use of 'runners' to solicit personal injury clients for the senator's law firm."  An official with the state bar says he has seen a sharp increase in offenses involving the use of "runners", who drum up injury cases. ("Louisiana Cracks Down on Client Solicitation", National Law Journal, Feb. 13).  "At the former O'Keefe law firm, more than $1 million was paid annually to 'runners' who hustled car accident cases.  One runner, caught on hidden camera, explains how the scheme worked.  'Say look, you ain't say you hurt, if you say no, ain't nothing there for you, understand what I'm saying? Because you can't collect nothing if you ain't hurt, you understand? If anyone say they ain't hurt ain't gonna make no more money,' he said. [Attorney Stephen] Bernstein ran the day-to-day business for attorney Michael O'Keefe, who bankrolled the entire operation and fronted the money to pay the runners, [reporter Richard] Angelico said.  O'Keefe is serving 19 and-a-half years in federal prison on other charges.  Although O'Keefe never performed any legal work, one lawyer who worked at the firm said that 60 percent of all legal fees flowed into O'Keefe's pocket." ("Feds Charge 'Canal Street Cartel' Lawyer, The New Orleans Channel, Oct. 16, 2000).  "O'Keefe served in the state Senate from 1960-84, the last 12 years as president." He was convicted for his role in a scheme that skimmed millions of dollars from an ailing medical malpractice insurer.  (Joe Gyan Jr., "Ex-legislator O'Keefe appeals conviction, argues witness lied", Baton Rouge Advocate, Aug. 21, 2002) (see Sept. 13, 1999, July 31, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 -- "Florida Jury Awards $100M for Pool Accident".  A case summarized by one of our readers thusly: "And the money goes to: the parents who left a 2 year old alone by the pool." The plaintiff's attorneys, in mock trials, "were careful about the composition of the jury.  They were cautious of young, new parents who might be too critical of the father's inattention".  (Dee McAree, National Law Journal, Feb. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 -- ABA endorses asbestos litigation reform.  What next -- a blue moon, a month of Sundays, the freezing over of Hell?  The nation's largest lawyers' group, the American Bar Association, can no longer be counted among consistent opponents of limits on litigation now that it's voted to back restrictions on asbestos suits; it may also endorse measures to require that nationwide class actions be heard in federal rather than state court.  Read, and rub your eyes: "ABA leaders argued that lawyers should accept blame for a crisis in courts overwhelmed with 600,000 asbestos claims, as well as the bankruptcies of dozens of companies that were sued. 'This is not tort reform, it's scandal reform,' said Terrence Lavin, a Chicago plaintiffs' attorney," whom this site hereby nominates our Man of the Week.  "'I have watched helplessly as some, but not all, members of the asbestos bar have made a mockery of our civil justice system and inflicted financial ruin on corporate America.'" (Gina Holland, "Lawyer group wants to restrict asbestos suits ", AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 12).  And over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan Non-Volokh catches out National Public Radio in a very funny bit of reportorial inconsistency -- at the least -- relating to asbestos litigation and this nation's Public Enemy #1. (Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

February 13 -- "Illegal art".  An exhibit of artwork that could land its owners or creators in court, mostly consisting of parodies or adaptations vulnerable to attack by intellectual property owners. (via Jesse Walker, Reason "Hit and Run", Dec. 9).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 -- Feinstein set to back Bush malpractice plan.  California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, often at odds with the Bush administration, has emerged as an unexpected ally of the President on the issue of medical malpractice and plans to introduce a federal bill mirroring the provisions of MICRA, the California law.  "Feinstein said she agreed with much of Bush's speech. 'There is no question about malpractice,' she said. 'Before 1975, California had one of the highest malpractice insurance rates in the country.'  In 1975, the state enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act that capped pain-and-suffering judgments at $250,000. ... Cases filed in California are also subject to caps on legal fees. The percentage of jury awards allowed for attorney fees decreases as the settlement increases, with lawyers collecting only 15 percent of any award of $600,000 or more.  According to the California Medical Association, the state law has kept physician insurance rates considerably lower than in most other states."  (David Whitney, "Bush likes California medical suit law", Sacramento Bee, Jan. 17; Feinstein press release, Jan. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 -- Most overrated American judge ever?  Aaron Haspel at God of the Machine levels pretty much that charge against Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  (Feb. 9).  "Robert Musil" comments. (DURABLE LINK)

February 12 -- "Grieve for Fido, but don't litigate".  A bill pending in the Colorado legislature "would allow dog and cat owners to sue animal abusers and veterinarians and seek damage awards for 'loss of companionship' of up to $100,000.  ... [W]hatever the emotional distress of losing a dog or cat, we don't think the courts should treat it the same way it treats injury to or death of, say, a child, a best friend, or a nonmarital partner. ... would spur the statewide growth of the 'pet lawyer' industry, and we would soon see its ads in newspapers everywhere: 'Have you lost a pet lately?'"  (Rocky Mountain News (editorial), Feb. 11) (DURABLE LINK)

February 11 -- By reader acclaim: "Sisters Suing Southwest Over 'Racist Rhyme'".  "A judge has set a trial date in a discrimination lawsuit filed against Southwest Airlines by two black passengers who were upset when a flight attendant recited a version of a rhyme with a racist history. ... [F]light attendant Jennifer Cundiff, trying to get passengers to sit down, said over the intercom, 'Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we gotta go.'"  (AP/Fox News, Feb. 10; Robert A. Cronkleton, "Rhyme at center of lawsuit against Southwest Airlines", Kansas City Star, Feb. 10).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 11 -- Welcome The Lawyer (U.K.) readers.   Great Britain's leading legal periodical, The Lawyer, in its Jan. 20 issue (not online, alas) accords generous coverage to "the rather wonderful US website overlawyered.com, which chronicles the excesses of litigation culture on the other side of the Atlantic" as well as our editor's new book The Rule of Lawyers ("picking up rave reviews ...delivers a withering attack on lawyer greed ... a full-blooded attack on the massive class action culture that pervades US society").

"The most popular section of the vast overlawyered.com site is the 'Whatever happened to personal responsibility' section. A few headlines offer a flavour of the kind of stories posted there: 'Patient sues hospital for letting him out on the night he killed'; 'Rough divorce predisposed him to hire hitman'; and 'Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat'.  Before we get too smug, though, there is an increasing contribution from the UK, such as 'Stop clowning around, clowns told', which came from The Times last year. It tells the sorry tale of UK clowns terrified that unappreciative patrons would sue them over injuries from thrown pies and water-squirting.  Does it worry Olson that overlawyered.com is read as a comic site as opposed to a platform for his more earnest law reforming? Not at all. "I try to make sure it's humorous. Otherwise, frankly, you'd just cry," he says."

In other recent publicity, TechCentralStation columnist Duane Freese reviews The Rule of Lawyers together with Catherine Crier's The Case Against Lawyers, emphasizing our proposal that the litigation business be required to submit to more disclosure and transparency ("Legal Tyrannies", Feb. 6).  And in the New York Post, William Tucker flays Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for the way Spitzer has gone to court to defend the exorbitant fees being collected by tobacco lawyers representing New York state ("Spitzer vs. N.Y.", Feb. 4).   (DURABLE LINK)

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