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March 20 -- Kids' art on walls ruled a fire hazard.  In what might be a bit of an overreaction to the recent deadly nightclub blaze in West Warwick, R.I., the Fire Department and building inspector of Attleboro, Mass. "sent word this month to the public schools: From now on, zero tolerance for breaking fire codes. Those bright-colored handprints and cheery stick figures have got to come down from the walls."  School board member Richard Correia "wonders, in this cautionary age, what might be next to go. 'What do we do about our children who hang their coats in those little closets?' Correia said. 'Are they fire retardant?'" (Joanna Weiss, "Does future of art ed hang on safety", Boston Globe, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

March 20 -- Florida: "New clout of trial lawyers unnerves legislators".  Trial lawyers have built a position of powerful influence in the Florida legislature, in particular by "[s]upporting Republicans who have shown an appreciation for the civil justice system", as a trial lawyer official puts it.  In what Gov. Jeb Bush called "kind of a breath-taking example of their power", the president of the state senate couldn't even get a hearing in his own chamber for one of his major priorities, a bill to limit pain-and-suffering damages in fast-growing litigation against nursing homes (see Mar. 19). Limits on medical malpractice suits may be doomed in the state as well (Alisa Ulferts and Michael Sandler, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

March 19 -- Jury clears Bayer in cholesterol-drug case.  In perhaps the most widely watched product liability trial of the year so far, the New York Times may have bought the plaintiff's lawyers' case, but a Corpus Christi jury didn't, and awarded $0.00 instead of the requested $560 million.  Just another 8,400 plaintiffs to go, of whom the "vast majority", according to Bayer's lawyer, are not in fact injured ("Jury Clears Bayer of Liability in Baycol Suit", AP/Quicken, Mar. 18; "Bayer lawyer: Most Baycol plaintiffs not injured", Reuters/Forbes, Mar. 18) (DURABLE LINK)

March 19 -- $12,000 a bed.  "Nursing homes [in some states] now pay close to $12,000 per bed annually on liability insurance, according to [a new] report [by AON Risk Consultants]."  Nationally, liability costs per bed grew from an average of $300 annually a decade ago to $1,120 in 1997 and $2,880 in 2002, according to the study.  Defenders of rising litigation say it provides long-overdue recourse against bad care, but the former administrator of the recently closed Gadsden Nursing Home in Quincy. Florida, doesn't buy the idea that only poorly run homes can expect to be sued.  "'We were ranked 51st out of 668 homes in the state the day we closed. If you're ranked in the top 7.5%, you're not a bad home,' he said."  (Reuters Health, "Legal liability costs surge for US nursing homes", Mar. 14).  (DURABLE LINK)

March 18 -- Would you go into medicine again?  "Then there is the issue of so-called malpractice -- a rapidly growing income-transfer system from doctors to lawyers that, quite apart from its toll on doctors, gives injured parties ever-diminishing shares of the proceeds. ... [T]here must be a system for removing from practice those physicians who are guilty of multiple errors. (As I know from my service on the D.C. Medical Society's disciplinary committee, this is now, ironically, made exceedingly difficult by the threat of suit from those under scrutiny.)" (Devra Marcus, "I'm a Doctor, Not an Adversarial Unit of the Health Care Industry", Washington Post, Mar. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

March 18 -- "Runaway asbestos litigation -- why it's a medical problem".  One doctor's view of the morass (Lawrence Martin, M.D., MtSinai.org, Nov. 18, 2002.  The site relates to Cleveland's former Mt. Sinai hospital, not the one in New York). (DURABLE LINK)

March 17 -- Australian roundup.  Sued if you do, sued if you don't dept.:  "A netball star banned from playing because she was pregnant was awarded $6750 yesterday for hurt, humiliation and loss of match payments. ... Netball Australia excluded any pregnant women from playing because of fears of legal action over injuries to mothers or unborn babies." (Ellen Connolly, "Banned pregnant netballer wins damages for discrimination", AAP/Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 14).  "A woman whose little finger was cut while working on a processing line at a doughnut factory has been awarded damages of [A]$467,000".  (Leonie Lamont, "Cut little finger reaps $467,000 damages", Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 12).  "Non-lawyers are constantly baffled by legal decisions that seem to have little to do with reality, let alone justice," opines commentator Evan Whitton, offering some examples from the Down Under legal scene ("The law of diminishing reality", Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 12).  (DURABLE LINK)

March 17 -- Steering the evidence: an update.  Forbes follows up on the episode described in our May 23 and June 26, 2000 posts: "In June 2000 a judge found that three Texas lawyers (or someone they hired) had tampered with evidence in a $2 billion suit blaming Chrysler for a deadly car crash. The judge slapped the San Antonio lawyers with nearly $1 million in sanctions -- one of the largest such penalties in memory. Last August an appellate court called the lawyers' conduct 'an egregious example of the worst kind of abuse of the legal system.' And now the FBI is investigating the trio's actions. 

"What's happened to the lawyers? Not much. Two are still practicing in Texas and the third moved out of the country. Only $289,000 of the penalty has been paid to Chrysler." (Joann Muller, "Crass Actions", Forbes, Mar. 31).(& update Jun. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

March 15-16 -- "Public deceit protects lawsuit abuse".  The Pennsylvania Medical Society excoriates Nader's Public Citizen for putting out a report on the Keystone state malpractice situation that the physicians say was marred by such basic errors as double and triple counting (legislative testimony, society president Edward H. Dench, Jr., MD, Mar. 5; press release, U.S. Newswire/ Boston.com, Mar. 5).  We regret to inform the good docs that it seems to be a hopeless task -- you can expose Public Citizen's output as shoddy as frequently as you like, but much of the media will go right on treating it as gospel.  And Radley Balko looks at the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups -- which cooperate with the rest of the Nader empire in fighting litigation reform -- reminding us of just how disreputably the PIRGs get their money ("Public Shakedown Artist", TechCentralStation.com, Mar. 3).  Mickey Kaus also comments (scroll to Mar. 13). Update: more flak for the PIRGs' New York affiliate, NYPIRG (David E. Seidemann, "Scrutinizing the Nader Legacy", Health Facts & Fears (American Council on Science and Health), Mar. 2, 2004) (via Megan McArdle).  (DURABLE LINK)

March 15-16 -- Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant's side.  Eyebrows arch as mass-tort lawyer Joe Rice, best known for the tobacco caper, cuts a deal in which Swiss-owned asbestos defendant ABB agrees to pay him $20 million personally for settling his clients' pending claims against ABB subsidiary Combustion Engineering; Rice will also, of course, receive a contingency share of what the clients get (Alex Berenson, "Class-Action Lawyer's Fee Under Scrutiny", New York Times, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

March 12-14 -- "Automakers may stop leasing vehicles in N.Y."   Major automakers and lenders are pulling out of the auto-lease business in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where laws allow leasing companies to be sued (in their role as titular owners) after a driver of one of their cars gets into an accident.  (Kenn Peters, Syracuse Post-Standard, Mar. 11).  "General Motors Acceptance Corp. notified dealers [in January] that it will quit buying leases in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island later this year unless those states change their 'vicarious liability' laws, which is unlikely."  (Jim Henry, "GMAC may end leases in three states", Automotive News, Jan. 15).  New York's state senate has passed a bill repealing the doctrine, but it is given little chance of success in the trial-lawyer-dominated Assembly.  Already many lease providers have hiked consumer fees by $600 or so in the high-liability states, a change that affects a large number of consumers, since around a third of cars sold are leased.  Trial lawyers are the main power defending the vicarious laws.  See also "Repeal sought of 18th-century doctrine affecting car leasing", AP/Stanford Advocate, Mar. 10; Amy Forliti, "Lender's pullout hurts R.I. leasing business", AP/Boston Globe, Feb. 25.  For our earlier coverage, see Aug. 26, 2002. (& see update May 21: Honda, GM, Ford, Chase all announce pullouts)

In another ambitious application of vicarious liability, the city of Detroit has argued -- and a Michigan appeals court has agreed -- that it can  go after Ford Credit in court to collect unpaid parking tickets of drivers who lease through Ford; the ruling does however require case-by-case hearings on who was in control of the vehicles at the time of the infractions ("Appeals Court OKs Hearings Over $1M Unpaid Parking Tickets From Ford Credit Leased Vehicles", Detroit News/Automotive Digest, Jan. 7; Robert Lane, "Ford Can Be Held Vicariously Responsible For Parking Fines", Blue Oval News, Feb. 4) (via WSJ Best of the Web, Feb. 4).  (DURABLE LINK)

March 12-14 -- Sports mascots litigation.  ESPN does a roundup, noting that the giant stuffed animals and other mascots "spend an inordinate amount of time in the courtroom" (Patrick Hruby, "Page Two: The seedier side of fur and fun" -- see "Mascot Court Report" sidebar, Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

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