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ARCHIVE -- FEBRUARY 2003 (III)


February 28-March 2 -- NYC challenges class action fees; taxpayers save $200 million.  Litigation over financial wrongdoing at Cendant Corp. led to a mammoth award of fees to class action lawyers.  Some major class members, including the states of California and New York, acquiesced in the judge's ruling on fees, but New York City's Corporation Counsel courageously "appealed -- and won a decisive victory: The entire $207 million saving will revert to the pension funds."  Among other things, the "story is also a window into the amazing power lawyers now wield in our economy."  (William Tucker, "Shark Hunt", New York Post, Feb. 27).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 28-March 2 -- We have an RSS feed.  We're not exactly sure how these work, but they allow subscribers to obtain the latest "headlines" from this site by means of a kind of remote broadcasting.  See the orange "XML" button at the left column of this site's front page.  If it malfunctions, could readers let us know?  Courtesy of the nice folks at Janes' Blogosphere. (DURABLE LINK)

February 28-March 2 -- "Trauma centers warn lives could be at risk".  "Trauma centers across Central and North Florida warned Thursday that they may be unable to take up the slack when Orlando Regional Medical Center, barring a 'miracle,' shuts its Level 1 trauma unit April 1."  The trauma unit, which serves 33 counties, is losing its existing neurosurgery team and has been unsuccessful in recruiting out-of-state replacements to a legal climate symbolized by liability insurance costs that run as much as $175,000 a year.  It is expected that central Florida trauma victims will be airlifted to already overburdened trauma centers in Tampa and Jacksonville, if there is room for them there, but the added time needed to fly them may rob them of their chance of survival.  "Hospital officials and emergency-services personnel said they expect the shutdown will cost some people their lives.... 'I don't think there is any question that patients will be compromised,' said John Hillenmeyer, Orlando Regional's president." (Greg Groeller and Jerry W. Jackson, Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 28).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 27 -- Obstetric liability: "Delivering Justice".  Our editor has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal summarizing some of the implications of a new and comprehensive study finding that -- contrary to the premises underlying many medical malpractice suits -- most cases of cerebral palsy and other brain damage in newborns have nothing to do with mistakes by obstetricians.  (Walter Olson, "Delivering Justice", Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27.  See Jane E. Brody, "Labor Problems Do Not Cause Most Cerebral Palsy, Study Finds", New York Times, Feb. 26; Carey Goldberg, "Disputed study finds doctors not to blame in most cerebral palsy", Boston Globe, Jan. 31; William Tucker, "Profiteers of Tragedy", New York Post, Feb. 10; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "Neonatal Encephalopathy and Cerebral Palsy: Defining the Pathogenesis and Pathophysiology", executive summary and press release (& welcome "Robert Musil" readers) (DURABLE LINK)

February 26 -- Our editor profiled in New York Sun.  Where he's called "intellectual point man for the tort reform movement ... Mr. Olsonís vision could be the inspiration for John Grisham's latest legal thriller 'The King of Torts,' in which obscenely rich trial lawyers fly their private jets in ostentatious loop de loops, landing every now and again to mine an industry for everything it's worth."  Plus more about his home life than you could have wanted to know (Lauren Mechling, "Heís Taking On the 'Tort Kings'", New York Sun, Feb. 26) (& welcome InstaPundit readers; likewise those from Ernie the Attorney, whose kind words are much appreciated).  Last Friday's Wall Street Journal also pursues the Grisham parallel: "Trumped-up charges of neglect. Huge lawsuits. Lurid tales of lawyerly sleight-of-hand. Whopping jury awards. Fat legal fees. Bankrupt businesses. Abused clients. Above all, an appalling indifference to morality and justice.  I am referring, of course, to the shocking details to be found in Walter Olson's 'The Rule of Lawyers,' a recent account of real-life class-action litigation, from asbestos and tobacco to breast implants and diet pills. John Grisham writes about this world, too..." (Erich Eichman, "Bookmarks", Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21 (online subscribers only)).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 26 -- "Family of electrocuted thief gets $75,000".  "The family of a convicted burglar who was electrocuted in 1997 when he tried to break in to a bar in Aurora after-hours and triggered a homemade booby trap has been awarded a $75,000 jury verdict to be paid by the owners of the bar and the property."  Frustrated by repeated burglaries, Jessie Ingram electrified the inside of his tavern's window and "then posted several warning signs outside, including one outside the window [Larry] Harris broke in through.  Drunk and high on cocaine, Harris, 37, either didn't see or ignored the warnings."  (Dan Rozek, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 25).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 26 -- Punitive damages soared in 2002.  "In 2001, total punitives [awarded in the fifty biggest jury verdicts, of which 22 included punitive damages] was $3.2 billion. For 2002, the figure was $32.6 billion. ... [T]he ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages shot up substantially". (Gary Young, "Juror Anger Leads to Larger Punitive Awards", National Law Journal, Feb. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

February 26 -- Pigs' right not to be bored.   Under new European Community animal-welfare regulations, farmers will face fines if they do not provide toys such as balls for their pigs to play with.  "Farmers may also need to change the balls so the pigs don't get tired of the same ones," said a British official.  There is still no law requiring that human children be given toys, which suggests that "animals have a stronger constituency than children have in certain EU countries."  (Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle/TownHall, Feb. 10).  Addendum: a reader directs us to this Jan. 30 New York Times dispatch which reports that EU officials, irritated at public derision occasioned by earlier reports, have specified that balls and other toylike objects are not required, at least on solid floors, so long as the swine are provided with other "manipulable materials" such as straw, wood or sawdust to keep them interested.  See also Brian Kimberling, "Fat cats and laughing pigs", Prague Post, Feb. 28(DURABLE LINK)

February 25 -- The jury pool he faced.  One of MedPundit's readers recalls the following regarding the jury selection for the malpractice case against him in a jurisdiction known for high jury awards and aggressive lawyer advertising: "One of the questions the judge asked these twenty five people is, 'How many of you have filed or are in the process of filing a medical malpractice suit, personal liability claim, or disability claim?' 12/25 jurors raised their hands. Just about 50%. I was stunned." (Feb. 22(DURABLE LINK)

February 25 -- MIT sued over student's nitrous-oxide death.   The parents of the late Richard A. Guy Jr., a 22-year-old MIT student who died of asphyxiation after abusing nitrous oxide ("laughing gas"), have filed a wrongful death suit against the university, saying it should have taken stronger measures to keep students from stealing the gas from laboratories and that it should have been put on notice of illegal drug use by the condition of their son's dorm, where "the walls and ceilings of part of the 5th floor were painted black and light bulbs [were] painted pink and purple".  "The complaint admits that prior to 1999, Guy 'had engaged in experimental drug use, and had sought treatment from MIT's medical and health service staff for this problem.'"  (Kevin R. Lang, "Wrongful Death Suit Against MIT Filed By Parents of Richard Guy", The Tech, Nov. 8, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

February 24 -- Hotel sued in "Murder by Mercedes" case.  "A private investigation firm and a hotel chain were added Thursday as defendants in a civil lawsuit brought against a woman convicted last week of mowing down her husband in her Mercedes-Benz. ... Clara Harris, a 45-year-old dentist, ran over her orthodontist husband last year in the parking lot of a Hilton in suburban Houston after finding him there with his receptionist-turned-lover. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison Feb. 14. The lawsuit alleges Hilton had not properly trained employees to handle the confrontation".  ("Woman Who Ran Over Husband Named in Suit", AP/ABC News, Feb. 20). Update Jun. 27, 2004: hotel and investigation firm settle case. (DURABLE LINK)

February 24 -- Supervising the church hierarchy.  A Massachusetts judge has ruled that Boston's Roman Catholic archdiocese can be sued under a standard of whether it provided "reasonable care" to prevent sex abuse by priests, not unlike the standard of "reasonable care" applied to corporate boards of directors.  Blogger "Robert Musil" (who we wish would come out from behind that pseudonym) argues that the ruling bids to prescribe certain forms of governance for churches in violation of current Supreme Court precedent on religious liberty, and also makes a startling prediction: a legal motion, at some point down the road, "to replace the Archbishop with a trustee in bankruptcy" in the form of a secular lawyer representing the interests of plaintiff/creditors.  (Feb. 20).  And scroll up for a post on punitive damages, federalism and the asbestos mess (Feb. 22).  (DURABLE LINK)

February 21-23 -- Client-chasing: we interrupt your grief.  Following the stampede at Chicago's E2 nightclub, which killed 21, families are feeling besieged by lawyers hoping to sign them up as clients.  "The family of Nicole Patterson had not even had a chance to identify her body when the calls started coming. Did she need representation? attorneys wanted to know. 'I don't even know how they got our number,' said Sheretta Patterson-Pennington, Nicole's mother. ... [Felesa] Melvin-Childs said one funeral director offered her free services if she agreed to sign with the attorney he suggested."  (Bryan Smith, "Families feel besieged by lawyers, morticians", Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 20) (DURABLE LINK)

February 21-23 -- Client-chasing: tantrum-enablers.  The prominent law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP recently took out a half-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to hawk its litigation services to business clients.  What illustration did it employ to catch readers' attention?  A close-up of a bawling toddler in mid-tantrum, accompanied by the caption, "In litigation, getting what you want is everything." The subsequent text explains that "Litigation can be rough" and that the Bingham firm will "commit to achieving nothing less" than "what you want".

We can think of several ways of interpreting this ad campaign, none of them flattering to the Bingham firm.  Does it really conceive of its prospective clients as squalling infants who care for nothing but getting their own way?  (Or do the clients walk in its doors as sober, self-possessed adults, and get turned into red-faced me-machines only after spending time with Bingham litigators?)  We figured that most lawyers, like parents, realized that there are times when the demanding center of the household isn't entitled to get what he wants (when the object of desire rightly belongs to someone else, for example), other times when he expresses unrealistic wants (a million billion cookies), and other times when he shouldn't want something in the first place (as from revenge or mere destructiveness).  If Bingham wants to make itself the law firm for clients' inner brats, the sad truth is that it will have a lot of competition.  (DURABLE LINK)



 
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Feb. II - III - Mar. I

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