ARCHIVE -- MARCH 2003
March 10-11 --
"Burglars to be banned from suing victims". United Kingdom:
"Burglars who are injured while
committing a crime are to banned from suing their victims for compensation.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has bowed to public pressure after
the outcry over the case of Brendon Fearon, the burglar who is trying to
sue Tony Martin for £15,000 after being shot while breaking into
his home." (David Bamber, Daily Telegraph, Mar.
9). (DURABLE LINK)
March 10-11 --
Clear Channel = Deep Pocket. "With damage claims in the
Rhode Island fire expected to run up to $1 billion, two lawyers representing
victims have set their sights on a potential defendant with very deep pockets:
Clear Channel Communications. The broadcasting giant owns WHJY-FM,
a Providence radio station that ran ads for the Great White concert at
The Station that ended moments into the first song when pyrotechnics set
off by the band ignited the nation's fourth-deadliest fire. A popular disc
jockey at WHJY, Michael Gonsalves, introduced Great White and was among
the 99 who died in the fire or from injuries suffered in the blaze. The
two Providence lawyers, who between them represent about a dozen victims,
said yesterday their expected lawsuits will almost certainly name Clear
Channel as a defendant. The company, the largest operator of radio stations
in the country, has assets that far outstrip those of the 14 defendants
who were named in the only lawsuit filed so far." (Jonathan Saltzman,
"R.I. fire victims' lawyers eye firm", Boston Globe, Mar. 8).
March 10-11 --
New Medicare drug benefit? Link it to product liability reform.
"Even drugs like aspirin, which cause hundreds of deaths each year, could
not meet the safety standards patients expect today," argues Scott Gottlieb
of the American Enterprise Institute. " ... But putting [older] patients
on the pills they need means we need to prepare to tolerate more side effects
or tolerate more lawsuits.
Litigation should not be a cost of commerce when government puts itself
in the business of pushing pills. ... Without product liability reform,
prescription drug coverage will transform into a full employment act for
the lawyers, limiting development of new drugs and driving up prices for
everybody." (Scott Gottlieb, "More Drug Use Will Mean More Lawsuits," AEI
On the Issues, Mar.).
March 10-11 --
Lawsuits vs. free speech, cont'd: jailhouse rock. Last
year VH1 aired a special entitled Music Behind Bars, featuring the music
of prisoners. Now the family of a West Virginia man murdered in 1994
by one of the inmate-performers is suing the network. The family's
lawyers are arguing that whether or not the network compensated the convicted
killer for his performance -- it says it did not -- its broadcast
occasioned the family emotional distress for which it should have to pay
compensatory and punitive damages. (Maria Lehner, "Murder Victim's Family
Sues VH1", Fox News, Mar.
6). (DURABLE LINK)
March 8-9 -- Tobacco
fees: feds indict former Texas AG. One of the biggest
developments yet in the tobacco-fee
saga: a federal grand jury is charging former Texas attorney general Dan
Morales and his friend Marc Murr with conspiracy and mail fraud over Morales's
attempt to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for Murr from the
state's tobacco settlement. More recently, Morales has suggested
that he might be able to furnish information that would throw in question
the fee entitlements of five politically influential trial lawyers who
managed the state's case (R. G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, "Former Attorney
General Dan Morales indicted", Houston Chronicle, Mar. 6; April
Castro, "Ex-Attorney General Morales Indicted", AP/Washington
6; "Former Texas Attorney General Surrenders", AP/ABC News, Mar.
7). For earlier coverage, see Jul.
15, 2002 and links from there; Jan. 10-12,
2003. (DURABLE LINK)
March 8-9 -- Should
have watched his step answering call of nature. Update:
an appeals court in the Australian state of New South Wales has overturned
the $60,000 judgment (see Mar. 5, 2002)
awarded to Paul Jackson, who after a night drinking with friends walked
home along a highway and "stepped over a low guard rail in order to urinate,
not realising there was a drop of several metres." The "plaintiff
was not taking reasonable care for his
own safety as he was obliged to do," the justices said. ("That's a
long drop", Sydney Morning Herald, Mar.
5; "Wee change in fortune for Wollongong man", Aust. Broadcasting Corp.,
5). (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 -- Update:
hospital rapist's suit dismissed. Sandusky, Ohio: "A judge
has dismissed the $2 million lawsuit filed by a convicted rapist who claimed
the hospital where he sexually assaulted a woman was negligent because
it didn't prevent the crime, according to court records." ((Richard Payerchin,
"Ruling: Convict responsible for his own crime", Lorain Morning Journal,
20)(see May 22-23, 2002). (DURABLE
March 5-7 -- Stuart
Taylor, Jr., on lead paint litigation. At his most scathing:
"[O]ne group deserves a special niche in the annals of those who have perverted
the legal system for personal and political gain at the expense of everyone
else: the politically connected trial lawyers who have signed up Rhode
Island, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, and dozens of other governments,
school districts, and housing authorities to sue over health hazards associated
with sales of lead pigment and
paint for indoor use. The last of those sales took place more than
45 years ago." With details on the unusual "retainer agreement" with
which former Rhode Island AG Sheldon Whitehouse signed over the state's
sovereign authority to two influential private law firms: "It not only
guaranteed the lawyers a contingent fee of 16.67 percent of any money recovered,
plus all litigation expenses; it also gave them considerable control over
whom to sue, what to claim, whether to settle, and on what terms."
(Stuart Taylor Jr., "Perverting the Legal System: The Lead-Paint Rip-Off",
Journal/The Atlantic, Feb.
19) (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 -- Incoming
link of the day. From the website
of a Fort Worth, Texas cardiology practice: "We do not provide ANY
email advice regarding medical
issues. DO NOT contact us by email with clinical questions. The email addresses
above are for business correspondence only. For some insight as to
why, click here." (DURABLE LINK)
March 5-7 -- $6
million fee request knocked down to $25,000. Ouch!
An appeals court in El Paso has upheld a trial judge's decision to "award
a group of plaintiffs' lawyers $25,000 in attorney fees instead of the
nearly $6 million they sought under a contingent-fee contract." However,
the attorneys, led by brothers Stephen F. Malouf and E. Wayne Malouf, are
unlikely to go hungry; they've apparently obtained upwards of $2 million
in fees from other aspects of the case, a complex litigation over oil rights.
(Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, "Appeals Court Says Trial Judge Had Discretion
to Reduce Fees", Texas Lawyer, Feb.
26). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 -- "The
Tort Tax". "According to a new study by Tillinghast-Towers
Perrin, the total cost of the U.S. tort system reached $205.4 billion in
2001, an increase of 14.3% over the previous year -- far faster than the
rate of economic growth. This is like a tax of 2% on everything in the
American economy that takes $721 per year out of the pockets of every citizen."
Also cites a certain "excellent website
that, unfortunately, I find too depressing to read regularly". (Bruce Bartlett,
syndicated/National Review Online, Mar.
3). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 -- Thrill
of the chase. NYC: "A half-dozen personal-injury lawyers
were charged [last week] in a scam that allowed a network of corrupt hospital
employees to do the ambulance-chasing for them, authorities said.
In at least three hospitals -- Elmhurst, New York Presbyterian and Lincoln
-- emergency-room workers sold the attorneys
confidential medical records of car-accident victims, evaluating the
sales potential of the information as doctors were evaluating the patients
for treatments, authorities said. Officials were clued in on the
scheme -- which ran for seven years -- by a hospital employee after patients
began complaining about calls at home from strangers who knew a lot about
their medical conditions, according to Manhattan District Attorney Robert
Morgenthau." (Tom Perrotta, "Personal Injury Lawyers Indicted for
Soliciting Scam", New York Law Journal, Feb.
27; Laura Italiano, "Lawyers Charged in Hosp. E.R. Scam", New York
27). (DURABLE LINK)
March 4 -- "Edwards
doesn't tell whole story". In stump speeches since
the outset of his political career, Sen. John Edwards has invoked the case
of little Ethan Bedrick, a cerebral palsy victim, as emblematic of "the
kids and families I've fought for.'' One reporter was curious to
learn more about Bedrick's case, but Edwards's campaign press secretary
"told me if I wanted to know any details, I should 'look it up.'''
So she did. It turns out Edwards' firm obtained a settlement, often
described as being for $5 million, of a lawsuit charging that asphyxiation
during delivery caused Ethan's disability. Edwards's speech picks
up the story only later, when Ethan's family battled a health insurer to
obtain needed therapy (Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 27) (&
see letter to the editor, Mar.
31). (DURABLE LINK)
March 3 -- By reader
acclaim: "Man who threw dog into traffic sues dog's former owner".
"A man who threw a dog to its death in a fit of road rage is suing the
dog's former owner and a newspaper, alleging mental anguish and seeking
more than $1 million in damages. ... [Andrew] Burnett was sentenced in
July 2001 to three years in jail in the death of Leo, a bichon frise whose
owner tapped Burnett's bumper in rainy-day traffic in February 2000 near
the San Jose Airport. Burnett threw the little dog into traffic before
driving off." (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Feb.
28; Dan Reed, "Leo the dog's killer claims mental anguish in suit",
San Jose Mercury News, Feb.
28). (DURABLE LINK)
March 3 -- Update:
Lockyer sues complaint mill. Following a continuing furor
in California (see Jan. 15-16) about entrepreneurial
lawyers' practice of filing assembly-line complaints against thousands
of small businesses, which then are informed that they must pay thousands
of dollars to get the charges dropped, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer
has announced that he is suing the most-publicized such law firm, Trevor
Law Group, under the same unfair-business-practices law that it employs
in its complaints. "Trevor Law Group operates a shakedown operation
designed to extract attorneys' fees from law-abiding small businesses,"
Lockyer said. "They've abused one of the state's most important consumer
protection statutes and dishonored attorneys who practice law in the public
interest. There's some delicious irony in turning the weapon around and
using it on them." (Monte Morin, "State Accuses Law Firm of Extortion",
Los Angeles Times, Feb.
27; Dan Walters, "In ironic twist, law firm finds itself on other end
of suit", Sacramento Bee, Mar.
3). See also Jessica V. Brice, "Wave of lawsuits threatens 70-year-old
consumer law", AP/Sacramento Bee, Jan.
21). (DURABLE LINK)