ARCHIVE -- JANUARY 2003
January 20 -- U.K.:
coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury... In Britain,
a "leading public health expert" is proposing a legal ban on extra-large
chocolate bars and a code of conduct for snack
food companies which "would include promises to cut the size of their
portions by 20 per cent and to stop selling 'over-sized' sweets".
Particularly offensive to coercive nutritionists is some food companies'
practice of offering an extra-large package at a price only slightly higher
than that of the smaller size. (Severin Carrell, "Why that big, fat KitKat
could be the death of you", The Independent, Jan.
19) (& welcome TongueTied
January 20 -- ...
and climbing cost of "compensation culture". "The compensation
culture, in which 'every mishap leads to a complaint' and often to legal
action, is changing the face of Britain and costing about £10 billion
a year, a report says today. ... Compensation paid by insurance companies
and public authorities amounts to one per cent of GDP, actuaries estimate.
The figure is growing by 15 per cent a year. ... However, the 35 per cent
spent on administration in Britain compares well with the 58 per cent in
America." Schools, police forces and the ministry of defense are
all being sued more frequently. (Joshua Rozenberg, "Price of 'suing
for every mishap' is £10bn", Daily Telegraph, Dec.
17; "Compensation claims 'costing UK £10bn a year'", Ananova/Guardian,
17; Robert Verkaik, "Lawyers earn £3bn yearly from injuries culture",
17; London Institute of Actuaries/Edinburgh Faculty of Actuaries, press
release; "The Cost of Compensation Culture", Dec.
2002 (PDF)). (DURABLE
January 17-19 --
Vt. high court: ALL-CAPS DISCLAIMER on front page of employee handbook
not unambiguous enough. "Sidestepping an all-capitals
disclaimer on page one of an employee
handbook, Vermont's Supreme Court has revived a woman's right to sue her
ex-employer for breaching an implied contract when it fired her."
Although the disclaimer said: "THE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN
THIS MANUAL CONSTITUTE GUIDELINES ONLY. THEY DO NOT CONSTITUTE PART OF
AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT, NOR ARE THEY INTENDED TO MAKE ANY COMMITMENT TO
ANY EMPLOYEE," the court ruled that the woman could nonetheless ask a jury
to construe the manual's contents as generating a legally enforceable promise.
(Andrew Harris, "Big Disclaimer No Bar to Employee Suit", National Law
January 17-19 --
"Ich Bin Ein Tort Lawyer". Train disasters in the Austrian
Alps and in Germany in recent years, which killed 155 and 101 people respectively,
have resulted in the filing of massive personal-injury lawsuits in New
York City, although very few Americans numbered among the victims and most
of the defendants being sued are European companies. American lawyers
(including Edward Fagan, who also drew critical attention in the Holocaust-assets
litigation -- see Jun. 24, 2002) argue
that so long as they designate at least one American as lead plaintiff,
they should be able to bring any number of other nonresident plaintiffs
in on the same action. Such forum-shopping enables the lawyers to
sidestep rules in German and Austrian courts that ban contingency fees,
cap damages, require the losing side to compensate the winners, and restrict
discovery and the use of class actions. (Michael Freedman, Forbes,
6). (DURABLE LINK)
January 17-19 --
Blog-appreciated. Yesterday (Jan.
16) we got Slashdotted, with a reader's suggestion that we cover a
lawyer's cease-and-desist letter sent to the maintainer of a "free PCI
device table" (we readily admit we don't know what those devices are).
AngryRobot describes an indecorous canine-generated outdoor hazard which
seems only too likely to eventuate in the sort of personal injury case
"destined to be on Overlawyered" (Jan.
16). Our return from hiatus last month was generously hailed
by Susanna Cornett in Cut on the Bias (Dec.
13), and by the web's premier chronicler of appellate law, Howard Bashman's
How Appealing (Dec.
15 and Dec.
30). Dean Esmay (Dean's World, Jan.
10) calls us "one of the best sites on the web". We've also been
mentioned lately on Employers' Lawyer (Jan.
12), MedRants (Jan.
11), Larry Sullivan's Delaware Law Office (Nov.
12)(on loser-pays, which Sullivan dubs "winner wins"), Nikita Demosthenes
19), and on many link lists including those of Rick
Henderson, Nikki, Esq.,
Gage, Professor Bunyip, John
Skunk by the
Ocean. All this incoming link activity leaves us at #155
in the BlogStreet Top 200 blogs (ranked by number of those who link to
us). A special tip of the hat to Scott Norvell's recently launched
site, cataloguing excesses of political correctness, which generates an
impressive amount of traffic for us. And we turn up in a sidebar
in Germany's Der Spiegel Online (Frank Patalong, "Wahre Lügen",
on the "Stella Awards" list of spurious cases, Nov.
January 15-16 --
Furor over California complaint mills. Beverly Hills,
Calif. law firm Trevor Law Group has used the state's bounty-hunting consumer-protection
laws to file complaints en masse against auto repair shops, nail
salons, and hotels, from which it then demands settlements. Even
Calif. attorney general Bill Lockyer, no foe of the plaintiff's bar, says
he is "disgusted and appalled" by Trevor's most recent mass litigation
campaign, against more than 1,000 restaurants and food stores, many small
and immigrant-owned. Business owners are organizing in response and
many news outlets have run indignant editorials (Cindy Chang, "Backlash
against lawsuit gains steam", Pasadena Star-News, Jan.
2; Traci Jai Isaacs, "Business owners claiming old law used in 'shakedowns'",
South Bay Daily Breeze, Jan.
14; California Restaurant Association "Call to Action", Jan.;
KABC-TV 7, "Auto Lawsuits", Dec.
3; Civil Justice Association of California, "Legal Shakedowns Hitting
Thousands of California Businesses",
6; "Mass Produced Claims Against Nail Salons", Dec.
6 (PDF)). Radio's "John and Ken Show" has also been covering
the controversy and its online audio segments (three
December dates) are described by one reader as quite lively in tone,
although we haven't had the chance to listen to them. (& see
Mar. 3) (DURABLE
January 15-16 --
Sis-Boom-Sue. Jenny Lawson is suing the Des Moines school
district, alleging she broke her leg when she collided with another
cheerleader while cheering for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School.
"The suit claims the district was negligent for -- among other things --
failing to have cheerleaders perform on an absorbent mat and encouraging
more than one cheerleader to jump at once. Drew Bracken, an attorney
for the Des Moines district, said he knew of no schools with such rules.
'I'm not aware of a requirement that cheerleaders perform on an absorbent
mat. I've never heard of it before,' Bracken said." (Mark Siebert,
Des Moines Register, Jan.
2). (DURABLE LINK)
January 13-14 --
"Wacky Warning Label" winners. This year's winner in Michigan
Lawsuit Abuse Watch's Wacky Warning Label contest is a label on a robotic
massage chair that warns,
"Do not use massage chair without clothing" along with "Never force any
body part into the backrest area while the rollers are moving". "Second
place goes to a snowblower label that says 'Do not use snowthrower on roof.'
Third is a kitchen label that says, 'Do not allow children to play in the
outlets; Business Wire, Jan.
8) (earlier winners: Jan. 25-27, 2002;
19-21, 2001; Jan. 18, 2000) (DURABLE
January 13-14 --
Cochran: City Hall to blame for arson/murder by drug dealer.
"In a legal memo expected to land at City Hall in a matter of days, attorney
Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. will claim the city bears responsibility for the
October arson murder of an East Baltimore family -- in part because the
anti-drug 'Baltimore Believe' campaign encouraged residents to speak out
against dealers, a lawyer working with Cochran said yesterday. Cochran
is representing relatives of the Dawson family, who prosecutors say were
killed in retaliation for reporting neighborhood dealers to police." (Laura
Vozzella and Del Quentin Wilber, "Anti-drug campaign blamed in Dawson arson
deaths", Baltimore Sun, Jan.
Best of the Web) (DURABLE
January 13-14 --
Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers. "U.K.-based
psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, is planning
a lawsuit against Weight Watchers on behalf of what she says are thousands
of women and men who have paid out many hundreds of British pounds to the
company, only to end up fatter than before they started the program. ...
Orbach's suit would be the first to hold a weight-loss company responsible
for clients' gaining the weight back." ("Diet Dispute", ABC News, Jan.
9). "'Now that the general public is taking absolutely no responsibility,
we retailers are starting to get anxious,' says Simon Doonan, creative
director of the Manhattan clothier Barney's. 'If people are suing
McDonald's for making them
fat, one does wonder how far we are from an era where individuals will
attempt to sue us when they buy clothes that make them look fat.'"
(Joanne Kaufman, "Seasonal Pain and Suffering", Wall Street Journal,
Nov. 29) (DURABLE