Search Results for ‘ada pool lift’

60 Minutes on ADA Drive-By Lawsuits

On Sunday Anderson Cooper at CBS “60 Minutes” covered one of our favorite issues: the way lawyers and clients sue retail businesses by the dozens or hundreds over defects in ADA accessibility compliance and then cash in the complaints for quick settlements. Actually entering the business is not always necessary: it can be enough to drive around the parking lot spotting technical violations.

South Florida store owner Mike Zayed says “no disabled customer had ever complained about the ramp, the sign, or the parking space,” which failed to comply with ADA specs. Zayed “doesn’t think the person who sued him was a real customer because the man claimed he encountered barriers inside the store that didn’t exist.” And now we’re beginning to see “Google lawsuits” in which the complainant consults online aerial maps to discover, for example, which motel owners haven’t yet installed the pool lifts that federal law recently made obligatory. The same attorney using the same client sued more than 60 defendants in 60 days over lack of pool lifts. “At last count, that attorney has sued nearly 600 businesses in just the last two years, many for not having pool lifts.” [Dec. 4 segment and script; full show here (segment begins 32:47).

Hotel pools and the ADA: a 60-day deadline extension

Following a substantial outcry (see Mar. 14), the Department of Justice has announced a 60-day stay of its new regulations requiring costly lifts and other fixes at hotel pools. It will also consider a six-month extension to address what it insufferably describes as “misunderstandings regarding compliance with these ADA requirements.” Translation: “opponents were persuading the public that the mandate was unreasonable.” Hotel and insurance officials had confirmed that many operators were considering closing pools or smaller water features such as whirlpools, which must often be given their own separate permanent lift installations under the rules. [Barbara De Lollis, USA Today] On the notion that it doesn’t pay lawyers to sue over uncompliant hotel pools, see this 2007 coverage of what was even then a busy litigation docket in California and elsewhere.

ADA: Everyone out of the pool

Unless hotels have moved to install expensive and cumbersome wheelchair lifts, they face new fines and litigation exposure under new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations taking effect today. I explain why many pools will close as a result — and trace some of the ideological background — in my new post at Cato at Liberty (& Adler, Alkon, Frank, Adam Freedman/Ricochet (“the regulators have truly gone off the deep end,”) George Leef/Locke).

More: Notwithstanding my comments about Congressional Republicans being unhelpful, Sen. DeMint has filed a bill that would prevent the regulations from taking effect on their March 15 date. [Daily Caller] And Prof. Bagenstos defends the regulations in a way that I much fear will mislead newcomers to the topic. He emphasizes, for example, that hotel payouts resulting from federally mandated damages to complainants are for the moment unlikely. But as we know, the incentive of (one-way) attorneys’ fees has all by itself been enough to fuel a sizable volume of ADA complaint-filing, while in states like California the availability of piggyback damages under enactments like the Unruh Act turn many nominally zero-damage federal cases into highly profitable extraction propositions. As for the limitation of exposure to what is “readily achievable,” the USA Today report illustrates how uncertainty over the meaning of that term can leave pool operators exposed to risky and high-cost litigation. In the real world, fixes that wipe out the economic viability of a given pool (or the facility of which it is a part) are indeed asserted by advocacy groups to be “readily achievable.” That makes it cold comfort that some facilities can stave off liability for the moment by pledging to install the equipment by some future date.

Disabled rights roundup

Disabled rights roundup

  • Lawprof’s classic argument: you thought I was capable of going on a workplace rampage with a gun, and though that isn’t true, it means you perceived me as mentally disabled so when you fired me you broke the ADA [Above the Law, ABA Journal, NLJ]
  • “Fragrance-induced disabilities”: “The most frequent MCS [Multiple Chemical Sensitivity] accommodation involves implementing a fragrance-free workplace [or workzone] policy” [Katie Carder McCoy, Washington Workplace Law, earlier here, etc.]
  • Netflix seeks permission to appeal order in captioning accommodation case [NLJ, Social Media Law via Disabilities Law, earlier here, here and here]
  • EEOC presses harder on ADA coverage for obesity [PoL, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • Disability groups seek class action: “ADA Suit Claims Wal-Mart Checkout Terminals Are Too High for Wheelchair Users” [ABA Journal, Recorder]
  • Crunch postponed until after election: “Despite delays, chair lifts coming to public pools” [NPR Morning Edition, earlier here, here, here, etc.] Punished for advocacy: disabled groups organize boycotts of “hotels whose leaders, they say, have participated in efforts to delay regulations.” [USA Today]
  • Disabled student sues St. Louis U. med school over failure to provide more time on tests [St. L. P-D]

April 11 roundup

  • “Public pool owners struggle to meet chair-lift deadline” [Springfield, Ill. Journal-Register, earlier]
  • Punitive damages aren’t vested entitlement/property, so why the surprise they’d be cut off in an administered Chrysler bankruptcy? [Adler]
  • More on how Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization would chip away rights of accused [Bader, Heritage, earlier]
  • Defending sale of raw milk on libertarian principle shouldn’t mean overlooking its real risks [Greg Conko/CEI; Mark Perry on one of many heavy-handed enforcement actions against milk vendors]
  • More tributes to longtime Cato Institute chairman Bill Niskanen [Regulation magazine (PDF), earlier]
  • Asbestos lawyers wrangle about alleged swiping of client files [Above the Law]
  • “Nathan Chapman & Michael McConnell: Due Process as Separation of Powers” [SSRN via Rappaport, Liberty & Law]

Archived personal responsibility items, pre-July 2003

Tipple your way to court, 2003:Shouldn’t have let him get so drunk” (Australia), May 12.  2002:‘Woman freezes; sues city, cabbie’“, Sept. 18-19; “Wasn’t his fault for lying drunk under truck“, Aug. 16-18; “Hey, no fair talking about the pot” (highway rollover), Apr. 12-14; “European workplace notes” (employer responsible for vodka overdose), Feb. 25-26; “‘Drunken Driver’s Widow Wins Court’s OK To Sue Carmaker’“, Feb. 25-26. 2001:‘Teen hit by train while asleep on tracks sues railroad’“, Dec. 12; “‘Man suing after drunken driving crash’“, Aug. 20-21; “Don’t rock the Coke machine“, Jul. 20-22; “Court says tipsy topless dancer can sue club“, Jul. 3-4; “Jury: drunk driver hardly responsible at all for fatal crash“, Jun. 15-17; “It was the bar’s fault“, Apr. 13-15; “‘Court upholds workers compensation for drunk, injured worker’“, Apr. 6-8; “‘Woman who drove drunk gets $300,000’” (Ontario), Feb. 7-8 (& see Sept. 24, second case: $18 million); “‘All you can drink’ winner sues over fall“, Jan. 31-Feb. 1.  2000:Zapped pylon-climber sues liquor-servers, utility“, March 6.  1999:Personal responsibility wins a round” (judge rejects case from Pa. man who got drunk and climbed high voltage catenary), Sept. 17-19. 

Maybe crime does pay, 2003:‘Robber sues clerk who shot him during holdup’“, May 6; “Not an April Fool’s joke“, Apr. 1; “‘Burglars to be banned from suing victims’” (U.K.), Mar. 10-11; “‘Family of electrocuted thief gets $75,000’“, Feb. 26; “Tried to outrun Coast Guard in chase“, Feb. 14-16; “‘No suits by lawbreakers, please’“, Jan. 27-28 (& Jan. 31-Feb. 2).  2002:‘Mom who drugged kids’ ice cream sues’“, Nov. 1-3; “‘Patient sues hospital for letting him out on night he killed’” (Australia, psychiatric case), Oct. 16-17; “‘Crime pays for teenage lout’” (Australia), Sept. 3-4; “‘After stabbing son, mom sues doctors’“, May 31-Jun. 2; “‘Barbed wire might hurt burglars, pensioner warned’“, May 28-29; “Hospital rapist sues hospital“, May 22-23 (& Mar. 5-7, 2003: court dismisses case); “Lawyers say taxpayers owe $41 million to smuggled illegals’ survivors“, May 10-12; “L.A. police sued, and sued” (by family of gunman killed in shootout), Apr. 12-14; “Should have arrested him faster” (frostbite in the open), Mar. 1-3; “Vandal’s dad sues store over blaze“, Feb. 6-7; “Paroled prisoner: pay for not supervising me“, Jan. 4-6.  2001:Firefighter’s demand: back pay for time facing criminal rap“, Aug. 29-30; “‘Man suing after drunken driving crash’“, Aug. 20-21; “‘Criminals could sue their victims’” (U.K.), July 26; “‘Woman who drove drunk gets $300,000’” (Ontario), Feb. 7-8; “Crime does pay” (Denver burglar shot by police gets $1.2 million), Feb. 2. 2000:‘Burglar sues for compensation’” (Australia), Nov. 21 (& see Apr. 1-2, 2002); “‘Fla. DUI Teen Sues Police’” (should have arrested him, he argues), Nov. 14; “Killed his mother, now suing his psychiatrists“, Oct. 2; “Not my fault, I” (woman who murdered daughter sues psychiatrists), May 17; “$65 million Texas verdict: driver at twice the legal blood limit” (drunk driver’s estate sues automaker), March 28; “From the labor arbitration front” (disallowed firing of employee who pleaded no contest to larceny), March 28; “Crime does pay, cont’d” (North Hollywood, Calif. bank robber killed in police shootout), Feb. 23 (& update March 23: mistrial declared after jury deadlock in suit by robber’s family); “County to pay ‘mountain man’ burglar $412,500“, Feb. 15. 1999:‘Two men shot in suspected drug deal win $1.7 million’“, Dec. 15 (& update June 6, 2001: appeals court overturns); “California’s worst?” (bank robber sues after hidden tear-gas device goes off in loot), Dec. 14; “Drunks have rights, too“, Dec. 1 (& update Jul. 24-25, 2000: appeals court throws out award).  See also our editor’s article on New York’s “mugger millionaire” case

Pools & swimming, 2003:‘Lawyers spoil fun’” (Ga. water park), May 19; “‘Florida jury awards $100M for pool accident’“, Feb. 13.  2002:Australia’s litigation debate“, May 24-26.  2001:Australian roundup” (bodysurfer), Nov. 23-25; “Needed: assumption of risk“, Jul. 27-29.  2000:‘How’s the pool?’” (Las Vegas Strip’s Frontier Hotel recommended for its pre-big-lawsuits deep end), Feb. 23; “Latest shallow-end pool dive case“, Jan. 24.  1999:Razor wire on the pool fence” (homeowner finds it too big a legal risk to let local kids swim), Jul. 27. 

Should have watched his step answering call of nature“, Mar. 8-9, 2003.

Couldn’t help eating it, 2003:Give me my million“, Jun. 20-22; “Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case“, Jan. 23 (& Jan. 27-28); “Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers“, Jan. 13-14.  2002: Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Claim: docs should have done more to help woman quit smoking and lose weight“, Sept. 18-19; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12; “Fat suits, cont’d“, Jul. 26-28; “‘Ailing man sues fast-food firms’“, Jul. 25; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “McArdle on food as next-tobacco“, May 27; “‘Targeting “big food”‘“, Apr. 29-30; “Life imitates parody: ‘Whose Fault Is Fat?‘”, Jan. 23-24.  2001:‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’“, Nov. 18.  2000:‘Caffeine added to sodas aims to addict — study’“, Aug. 18-20.  1999:Toffee maker sued for tooth irritation“, Nov. 5-7; “Not just our imagination” (calls for class-action suits against fast-food, meat purveyors), Sept. 25-26.

Warning labels and disclaimers, 2003:‘Wacky Warning Label’ winners“, Jan. 13-14.  2002:Satirical-disclaimer Hall of Fame” (Australian humor magazine), Oct. 28-29; “‘Warning …’” (Dave Barry humor column), Aug. 16-18; “Read the label, then ignore it if you like” (flammable carpet adhesive), Jul. 12-14; “Pitcher, hit by line drive, sues maker of baseball bat“, Apr. 19-21; “Injured in ‘human hockey puck’ stunt“, Mar. 18; “‘Before you cheer … “Sign here”‘“, Mar. 15-17; “Didn’t know cinema seats retracted“, Feb. 13-14; “Warning on fireplace log: ‘risk of fire’“, Jan. 25-27.  2001:Et tu, UT?” (Utah will not enforce parent-signed release forms for children), Nov. 16-18; “Disclaimer rage?“, Oct. 15; “Needed: assumption of risk“, Jul. 27-29; “Quite an ankle sprain” (failure to warn of gopher holes in parks), Apr. 20-22; “‘Wacky Warning Label’ winners“, Jan. 19-21.  2000:Columnist-fest” (Girl Scout horseback riding disclaimer), Apr. 6; “Rise of the high school sleepover disclaimer“, Mar. 22; “From our mail sack: skin art disclaimers” (tattoo consent form), Mar. 1; “Weekend reading: columnist-fest” (Laura Pulfer on warning labels), Feb. 5-6; “Never iron clothes while they’re being worn” (Wacky Warning Label contest winners), Jan. 18 (& letter to editor, Jan. 21-23).  1999:Christmas lawyer humor” (Yuletide greetings consisting entirely of disclaimers), Dec. 23-26; “Weekend reading” (disclaimers “creeping into nearly every aspect of American life”), Jul. 31-Aug. 1. 

Blamed for suicides, 2003:‘No suits by lawbreakers, please’“, Jan. 27-28 (& Jan. 31-Feb. 2).  2002:The blame for suicide“, Sept. 25-26; “‘Addictive’ computer game blamed for suicide“, Apr. 3-4. 2001:Utah: rescue searchers sued“, Nov. 26, 2001; “‘Shooting range sued over suicide’“, Sept. 27; “$3 million verdict for selling gun used in suicide“, Sept. 17; “‘Suicide- Attempt Survivor Sues’” (department that issued cop his gun), Jan. 24-25. 

Excuse syndromes, 2002:Blue-ribbon excuses” (sex on train), Oct. 7-8; “So depressed he stole $300K“, Mar. 19; “Rough divorce predisposed him to hire hitman“, Feb. 13-14. 2001:Stories that got away” (multiple-personality defense), Jul. 23; “‘Pseudologica fantastica’ won’t fly” (judge’s fibs on resume), Jun. 7 (& Aug. 20-21); “Judge buys shopaholic defense in embezzling“, May 25-27; “The malaria drug made him do it“, Mar. 28.  2000:Blue-ribbon excuses” (baked goods mutilator, lawyer pleading incompetent self-representation), Oct. 6-9; “Predestination made him do it” (Pope’s assassin and Fatima prophecy), June 6; “Victim of the century?” (misbehaving school principal collects disability benefits for sexual compulsion), Jun. 2-4; “Prozac made him rob banks“, Mar. 1; “Blue-ribbon excuse syndromes“, Feb. 12-13; “Latest excuse syndromes“, Jan. 13-14.  1999: “Doctor sues insurer, claims sex addiction“, Oct. 13. 

Lightning bolt in amusement park’s parking lot“, Jun. 23, 2003; “‘Woman attacked by goose sues county’“, Jan. 27-28, 2003; “Quite an ankle sprain” (watch where you’re going in parks), Apr. 20-22, 2001. 

MIT sued over student’s nitrous-oxide death“, Feb. 25, 2003; “By reader acclaim: ‘Parents file suit over student’s drug death’” (abuse of Oxycontin), Jul. 25, 2001. 

Take care of myself?  That’s the doc’s job“, Feb. 14-16, 2003; “Claim: docs should have done more to help woman quit smoking and lose weight” (Pa.), Sept. 18-19, 2002.

Satirical-disclaimer Hall of Fame” (Australian humor magazine), Oct. 28-29, 2002; “Tobacco: Boeken record” (The Onion parody), June 19, 2001; “Jury orders ‘Big Chocolate’ to pay $135 billion to obese consumers” (parody), Aug. 3, 2000; “This side of parodies” (fictional account of self-inflicted icepick injury), Oct. 5-6, 1999. 

Sports risks:Sis-Boom-Sue” (cheerleading), Jan. 15-16, 2003; “Skating first, instructions later“, Sept. 25-26, 2002; “Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat“, Apr. 19-21, 2002; “Australian roundup” (Perth bodysurfer), Nov. 23-25, 2001; “Needed: assumption of risk” (baseball thrown into stands, skydiving), July 27-29; “‘Lawsuits could tame ski slopes’“, Feb. 6, 2001; “Promising areas for suits” (foul-ball cases and other stadium injuries), Dec. 7, 2000; “Teams liable for fans’ safety” (Colorado: hockey puck hit into stands), Aug. 15; “‘Skydivers don’t sue’“, May 26-29; “Trips on shoelace, demands $10 million from Nike“, April 7-9, 2000. 

Gambling: Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12, 2002; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “‘Next tobacco’ watch: gambling“, May 20-21, 2002 (& May 31); “‘Gambling addiction’ class action” (Quebec), June 20, 2001.

Hot beverages:Litigation good for the country?” (Carl T. Bogus), Aug. 19, 2002; “British judge rejects hot-drink suits“, Mar. 29-31, 2002 (& Aug. 10, 2000); “By reader acclaim” (Illinois case; complainant sues mother), Jan. 11, 2001; “‘Court says warning about hot coffee unnecessary’” (Nevada Supreme Court), Jul. 18, 2000; “Now it’s hot chocolate“, Apr. 4, 2000. 

‘Family of boy injured by leopard may sue’“, Jul. 18, 2002; “Skinny-dipping with killer whale: ‘incredibly bad judgment’“, Sept. 21, 1999 (Oct. 7 update: case dropped). 

Wasn’t his fault for lying drunk under truck“, Aug. 16-18, 2002; “‘Win Big! Lie in Front of a Train!’“, Jun. 26-27, 2002 (& Jul. 12-14); “Australian roundup” (graffiti artist on train), Nov. 23-25, 2001; “Hit after laying on RR tracks; sues railroad“, Oct. 23, 2001. 

‘Man awarded $60,000 for falling over barrier’“, Mar. 5, 2002. 

Utah: rescue searchers sued“, Nov. 26, 2001. 

Suit blames drugmaker for Columbine“, Oct. 24-25, 2001. 

Mosh pit mayhem“, Sept. 7-9, 2001. 

Urban legend alert: six ‘irresponsibility’ lawsuits“, Aug. 27-28, 2001.

Don’t rock the Coke machine“, Jul. 20-22, 2001. 

Tobacco: Boeken record“, June 19, 2001. 

Scary!:From dinner party to court” (U.K. hypnotist), May 22, 2001; “Hypnotist sued by entranced spectator“, March 3-14, 2001; “Girl puts head under guillotine; sues when hurt“, March 8, 2000; “Haunted house too scary“, Jan. 6, 2000; “‘Scared out of business’” (decline of community Halloween haunted houses), Nov. 5-7, 1999. 

Stop having fun (children’s recreation): see schools page

Tendency of elastic items to recoil well known“, Mar. 6, 2001.

By reader acclaim” (sues alleged crack dealers over own addiction), Jan. 11, 2001.

Smoker’s suit nixed in Norway“, Dec. 18-19, 2000; “Personal responsibility takes a vacation in Miami” (Engle tobacco verdict), July 8, 1999.

Highway responsibility” (Derrick Thomas suit), Nov. 28, 2000.

Fat tax proposed in New Zealand“, Oct. 31, 2000. 

More things you can’t have: raw-milk cheeses“, Oct. 3, 2000; “More things you can’t have” (unpasteurized cider, New England square dances), Sept. 27, 1999; “More things you can’t have” (rare hamburgers, food sent to summer camp), August 9, 1999.

Smoking and responsibility: columnists weigh in” (after Florida verdict), Jul. 28-30, 2000. 

‘”Whiplash!” America’s most frivolous lawsuits’” (book collects cases), Jul. 14-16, 2000. 

Inmate: you didn’t supervise me” (horseplay alone in cell), Jul. 7, 2000. 

Can’t sue over affair with doctor” (court rules it was consensual), Jun. 13, 2000. 

Risky?  Who’da thunk it?” (currency speculator sues over losses), Jun. 9-11, 2000. 

‘Jury awards apparent record $220,000 for broken finger’” (hurt while dancing), May 22, 2000. 

Videogame maker agrees to furnish safety gloves“, Mar. 13, 2000. 

Letourneau scandal: now where’s my million?” (boy sues), Apr. 20, 2000.

All dressed up“, Apr. 19, 2000. 

Down repressed-memory lane I: costly fender-bender” (eggshell-psyche plaintiff), Dec. 29-30, 1999. 

Down repressed-memory lane II: distracted when she signed” (separation agreement), Dec. 29-30, 1999.

GM verdict roundup” (lawyers shift drunk drivers’ responsibility to automakers), Dec. 16, 1999; “Drunks have rights, too“, Dec. 1, 1999. 

Rolling the dice (cont’d)” (Internet gambler sues credit card companies that advanced him money), Dec. 7, 1999; “Rolling the dice” (same), Aug. 26, 1999.

Responsibility, RIP” (columnist Mona Charen), Nov. 2, 1999. 

The art of blame” (death of child left in hot van), Oct. 20, 1999. 

Nominated by reader acclamation” (killer’s parents sue school district, lawmen for failing to prevent Columbine massacre), Oct. 18, 1999. 

Block PATH to lawsuits” (fall out of tree in yard, sue your employer), Sept. 1, 1999. 

To restore individual responsibility, bring back contract principles” (Cato Institute paper by Prof. Michael Krauss), Aug. 16, 1999.

Somebody might trip” (NYC condemns prints-of-the- Hollywood-stars sidewalk as slip hazard), Aug. 13, 1999. 

All have lost, and all must have damages” (huge award to salesman who hawked bad insurance policies since he’s a victim too), Aug. 3, 1999.


Through much of American history, courts discouraged lawsuits arising from risks that individuals were deemed to have assumed in the course of going about familiar activities, such as the risk of being thrown while horseback riding, of slipping on toys underfoot while visiting a house with children, or of being hit with a foul ball while attending a ball game.  (Stored search on “assumption of risk”: Google, Alta Vista). Under the doctrine of “contributory negligence”, they often dismissed, as a matter of law, cases where a complainant’s own negligence had helped cause an accident.  They were even less likely to entertain cases in which someone’s knowing or deliberate dereliction had placed him in physical peril, such as cases in which people sue over injuries sustained in the course of committing crimes or attempting suicide.  And finally, they gave broad respect to express contractual disclaimers or waivers of liability: if a party was on notice that the other side in a transaction wasn’t willing to assume a responsibility, it wouldn’t be easy to tag them later with that responsibility in court. 

By the 1950s all these old barriers to liability had come under sustained attack in the law schools, where they were viewed as insulating defendants’ misconduct from legal scrutiny and impeding the forward march of liability law as a (high-overhead) variety of social insurance.  Most states moved from contributory negligence to comparative negligence, which allows a plaintiff whose negligence helped cause an accident to sue over it anyway, though for a reduced recovery.  Waivers and disclaimers began to be struck down as unconscionable, against public policy, not spelled out with sufficient clarity, etc.  And assumption of risk was whittled down by way of a dozen techniques: the most influential torts scholar of the postwar period, William Prosser, took the view that “that implied reasonable assumption of risk should not be allowed to reduce a plaintiff’s damage in any way” (Chase Van Gorder, “Assumption of Risk Under Washington Law“). 

The result is today’s American legal environment in which plaintiffs routinely try their luck at suits after being injured climbing high-voltage utility structures while drunk, skinny-dipping in icy pools with captive killer whales, trying “wheelies” and other stunts on industrial forklifts, and smoking for decades.  Some of these suits succeed at obtaining settlements while others fail, and it’s important to bear in mind that assumption of risk and related doctrines have not disappeared entirely.  Their general decay, however, has been important in bringing us today’s hypertrophy of such areas of law as premises liability, product liability and recreational liability. 

The website of attorney D. Pamela Gaines has useful resources on assumption of risk as it applies to such areas as premises liability, recreation and amusement parks. At the International Mountain Bicycling Association site, Tina Burckhardt explains “recreational use statutes” which grant some protection from liability lawsuits to landowners who allow free recreational use of their property.

May 2003 archives


May 9-11 — Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback. “Senators working on a tax bill Thursday stripped a proposal that would have forced attorneys in a landmark tobacco lawsuit to give $9 billion in fees back to the states they represented.” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had proposed requiring plaintiff’s lawyers in the tobacco affair to return to their state-government clients fees in excess of $2,500/hour or thereabouts. “But Democrats, led by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and joined by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon, won a 12-8 vote to strike the language. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that if Congress can change the terms of the tobacco settlement, there is nothing to stop it from telling every business in America to change the way they pay their executives.” It’s almost as if Sen. Kerry doesn’t realize that 1) a host of federal laws already on the books, notably tax provisions, do purposely shape the way businesses compensate their executives; 2) lawyers, unlike business execs, practice under professional ethical codes which are supposed to bar them specifically from charging excessive fees; 3) lawyers who claim to represent the government (and thus the public) come under some of the most stringent ethical constraints of all. (“Senate Democrats Strike Proposal to Limit Fees for Lawyers in Tobacco Case”, AP/Tampa Bay Online, May 8; Stephen Moore, “Targeting lawyers who got rich off tobacco trials”, Scripps Howard/Nando Times, May 2) (& welcome Law.com readers). (DURABLE LINK)

May 9-11 — Update: “U.S. is sued for deaths of crossers”. “The families of 14 illegal entrants who died crossing the desert east of Yuma in May 2001 have filed a $42 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior.” As we reported a year ago when the cases were at an earlier procedural stage, “The suit charges the government with failing to authorize the placement of water stations intended for use by unlawful visitors, though it knew smugglers of immigrants were active in the desert area.” (Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), May 8). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 — “No Crueler Tyrannies”. Dorothy Rabinowitz’s long-awaited book on the mass-child-abuse accusation frenzy of the 1980s and 1990s is now available at this link. It collects and extends the widely acclaimed Wall Street Journal reporting that prepared the way for the author’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize (review by Carol Iannone, Commentary, May; C-SPAN “Booknotes” interview with Brian Lamb, May 4; Suzanne Fields, “A cruel tyranny at home”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 3; other reviews at Amazon site). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 — More on Edwards’ law-firm donations. Washington periodical The Hill digs deeper into the curiously uniform $2,000 contributions Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign got from so many receptionists, paralegals and other low-level staffers at plaintiff’s law firms. The $2,000 donors include many employees who had not given to candidates or even voted in the past, and others who are listed on the voting rolls as Republicans. Many spouses and relatives of the staffers likewise contributed the maximum. Some of the munificent staffers have recently gone through the kind of personal financial reverses — bankruptcy filings, for example — which would not seem to correlate in the natural order of things with having a large available checkbook for political donations. “In many instances, all the checks from a given firm arrived on the same day — from partners, attorneys, and other support staff.” Employees denied that their law-firm employers had signaled any willingness to reimburse the donations, which would constitute a violation of federal law. (Sam Dealey, “Donations to Sen. Edwards questioned”, The Hill, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 — Mississippi investigation heats up. Per the Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), the “net may be widening” in the FBI’s previously reported investigation of improper ties between Mississippi judges and well-known trial lawyers (see Oct. 9-10 and 11-13, 2002). “Sources said this week as many as 25 indictments could be issued …While reports of the investigation have focused on the Gulf Coast, sources said the probe now includes campaign contributions from trial lawyers connected to Southwest Mississippi,” renowned as the center of intense litigation against pharmaceutical companies. (“Bob Pittman, “FBI widening its investigation of campaign funding”, Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), May 5. See also “Diaz’s dad testifies before grand jury”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Apr. 12; Jerry Mitchell, “Judicial probe intensifying”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 2).

“Meanwhile,” the Hattiesburg paper continues, “four trial lawyers who have been active in lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers are named as defendants in a growing number of court actions in Jefferson County. In at least four suits filed to date, trial lawyers Dennis Sweet, Shane Langston, Richard Freese and Richard Schwartz, all of Jackson, have been named as defendants in cases in which it is alleged that the four either withheld settlement money from clients or failed to pay hired ‘runners’ who were employed to enroll plaintiffs in cases which the lawyers filed in several different counties in Mississippi, including Jasper County.” (May 5 article, cited above). See also Bob Pittman, “Judge asked to step aside in trial lawyer suit”, May 1; Bob Pittman, “Suit alleges lawyer used ‘fake clients'”, May 1. (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 — Jury selection in Britain. Notwithstanding the understandable outcry over a recent case in which a British judge excluded prospective jurors from a politically sensitive trial based on their religion, the general rule in the English system is for jurors to be drawn from a near-universal pool and selection to be made at random. “English lawyers are not pestered by jury consultants: they do not exist here. We do not have days of jury selection before a trial starts, as I have seen for myself several times in the United States, with prospective jurors questioned in depth and sometimes with aggression by lawyers anxious to explore possible prejudices. Defense barristers in England used to have the right of seven (then whittled down to three) peremptory challenges without any need for courtroom interrogation….But Parliament abolished peremptory challenges by the defense in 1989, and although not technically abolished, ‘standing by for the Crown’ [the equivalent for the prosecution] now seldom occurs.” For-cause challenges are rare as well. (Fenton Bresler, “Picking juries — or not”, National Law Journal, Mar. 17, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 — “Robber sues clerk who shot him during holdup”. Muncie, Ind.: “A convicted robber is suing the convenience store clerk who shot him as he fled after a holdup. Willie Brown, 44, claimed the clerk acted ‘maliciously and sadistically’ in firing five shots as Brown ran out of Zipps Deli with money from the store’s cash register.” Brown, who was struck by bullets in the back and side, pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison. His earlier convictions included one for robbery and two for burglary. (AP/Indianapolis Star, Apr. 18). And in Great Britain, “Government lawyers trying to keep the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin behind bars will tell a High Court judge tomorrow that burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders.” (Robert Verkaik, “Government lawyers say burglars ‘need protection'”, The Independent (UK), May 5). Plus: in Bentonville, Ark., inmate Kenneth J. Lewis II is suing Nina Baugh for $140,000 in damages; according to affidavits, Lewis was shot by Baugh after he attempted to burglarize her family’s pawn shop and another business. Lewis was sentenced in January to 12 years’ imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to commercial burglary and aggravated assault (Tracy M. Neal, “Convicted burglar sues woman who shot him during crime”, Benton County Daily Record, Apr. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 — Year’s most injudicious judges. The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of misbehavior on the bench includes jurists alleged to have slept with litigants, offered to fix cases, set new records for rudeness, and run a Ponzi scheme from chambers, not to mention the jurist who is said to have referred to himself as “God”. (Gail Diane Cox, “The Injudicious: Judges who crossed the line — or erased it”, May 5). (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 — Friends in high places, cont’d. A bill expanding wrongful death damages — a top priority of the state’s trial lawyer association — is moving quickly through the GOP-controlled New York state senate; it happens that the “head of the Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the bill is big-time trial lawyer John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). It’s not just Democrats like Assembly Speaker (and trial lawyer) Shelly Silver who are in the lawyer lobby’s pocket.” (“Lawyer leeches would bleed N.Y.C.” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 18)(more on bill, Business Council of New York State)(see Dec. 13-15, 2002, Oct. 4, 2000). And in Kansas, “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius used her first veto to reject a bill designed to promote rural tourism. Specifically, the bill would shield from lawsuits farmers and ranchers who, for a fee, let people watch and take part in some farm activities. … The strongest opposition to the bill came from the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, which employed Sebelius as executive director before her election to the House in 1986.” (Steve Painter, “Sebelius vetoes farmer liability shield”, Wichita Eagle, Apr. 16). While with the KTLA Sebelius “worked closely with the Legislature as a lobbyist” (bio) and then went on to attract widespread notice as her state’s insurance commissioner before running for governor. (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 — Prospering despite reform. Some observers thought the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 law “was aimed at putting [class action firm] Milberg Weiss — and especially partner William Lerach, the lawyer many corporate executives love to hate — out of business. … Instead, according to a new study by Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research, Milberg Weiss is doing better than ever.” (Tamara Loomis, “Milberg Weiss Stronger Than Ever Despite Reform Act”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 24). An analysis for the Cato Institute by Adam S. Pritchard of the University of Michigan Law School concludes that the law has, as intended, worked to raise the average quality of securities suits and weed out those with least merit. (“Should Congress Repeal Securities Class Action Reform?”, Cato Policy Analysis, Feb. 27 (executive summary, full text in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 — “Streets Strewn With Glass, Gold”. Don’t miss this profile of D.C.’s subculture of “accident investigators” who solicit participants in car crashes to file lawsuits, often bombarding their phones with evening and early-morning calls for days. “The lawyer who introduced him to the business was killed by a car while standing on an exit ramp, apparently talking with accident victims, [“personal injury specialist” Warren] Johnson says.” (Libby Copeland, Washington Post, May 1). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 — By reader acclaim: “Student sues over top title”. “A Moorestown [N.J.] High School senior, contending that the district superintendent is engineering new rules that would force her to share the title of valedictorian with another student, sued school officials yesterday. Blair L. Hornstine, 18, who aspires to be a lawyer, asked a federal judge to prevent the school from declaring valedictorian anyone other than the student with the highest GPA.” (John Shiffman, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2; Tanya Barrientos, “Student’s lawsuit shows lack of class”, May 3). Update May 13: Hornstine wins suit (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 — It ain’t heavy to him, he’s my brother. In September, according to the National Law Journal‘s “Verdicts and Settlements” column (Oct. 7, 2002, not online) a Texas jury awarded $134,000 to Jennifer Grobe, an employee of the Granite & Iron Store in Fredericksburg. “According to Grobe, she suffered two herniated lumbar discs when she lifted one of two 100- to 125-pound granite tables that the store’s owners had left in the entrance”. Why Grobe’s claim went to a jury in the form of a lawsuit, rather than to the workers’ comp system, is not clear from the context.

The bit in the NLJ‘s report that drew our attention was the following: Grobe’s suit alleged that her employer was negligent “for placing the tables in the entrance and for failing to comply with store policy by not having two male employees available.” Perhaps we’re missing something, but wouldn’t the employer have faced likely liability exposure if it had enforced a policy of “having two male employees available” to handle heavy deliveries? As any self-respecting sex-discrimination litigator would point out, such a policy closes off some work opportunities to women and trades on impermissible (no matter how generally accurate) stereotypes of men as wielding greater upper-body strength. (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 — Those litigious Americans. “An ad for Dutch brewer Heineken NV depicts lawsuit-happy Americans suing each other over spilled beer…The idea is that Heineken is so good it makes Americans abandon their litigious natures.” (Erin White, “National Lampoon: U.K. Ads Satirize American Demeanor”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)


May 20 — Suing ’til the cows come home. From a Forbes article on why the city of Fresno, Calif. and its surrounding Central Valley are so economically depressed: “Then there is the assault from the greenies. In Fresno’s surrounding counties, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment [a unit of the federally funded California Rural Legal Assistance — ed.] has used lawsuits to halt 125 new and expanded dairy projects since 1998, projects that would have increased the state’s milk cow population by a third.” (Lynn J. Cook, “Economic Death Valley”, Forbes, May 26). See also Larry Serpa, “Dairies can coexist with environment”, Visalia Times-Delta, Nov. 3-4, 2001; Michael Boccadoro, “Activist groups do more to cause poverty than cure it”, Dairy Business, Feb. 2002, both reprinted at DairyCares site. (DURABLE LINK)

May 20 — “A Grand Façade”. “[Few Americans] have any idea about what the grand jury is supposed to do and its day-to-day operation. That ignorance largely explains how some over-reaching prosecutors have been able to pervert the grand jury, whose original purpose was to check prosecutorial power, into an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of government and now runs roughshod over the constitutional rights of citizens.” (W. Thomas Dillard, Stephen R. Johnson, and Timothy Lynch, “A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by Government”, Cato Institute Policy Analysis #476, May 13 (executive summary; full paper in PDF format)) (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — Sauce for the gander dept. Texas: “A major criticism of class-action lawsuits is that the public often gets nothing but coupons while their lawyers wind up with millions of dollars. If a proposed law makes it through the Legislature, the lawyers may be getting coupons, too. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is proposing that lawyers who win class-action suits get the same thing that their clients get. If half the award to the clients is in coupons and discounts, the lawyers will get half their fees in coupons and discounts, too.” (Terry Maxon, “Bill would give attorneys same class-action payout as clients”, Dallas Morning News, May 5)(via Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse). (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — “Lawyers spoil fun”. Georgia: “Families and kids who found summertime fun and enjoyment each year at the Krystal River Water Park in Evans will have to find somewhere else to cool off in the months ahead. The park is closing up shop because its liability insurance costs jumped from $8,000 a month to a whopping $58,000 a month. Customers couldn’t possibly afford to pay the higher admission price park owner Ken Edwards would have to charge to offset the 700-percent premium increase.” (Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, May 11). (DURABLE LINK)

May 19 — “Law firms in tobacco suit seek $1.2b more”. Massachusetts: “As Beacon Hill grapples with a fiscal crisis, the lawyers who worked on the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry are demanding the state now pay them an additional $1.25 billion in legal fees. In recent court filings, four law firms, led by Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels of Boston, asked a Superior Court judge to enforce a contract that called for the lawyers to be given 25 percent of whatever proceeds Massachusetts received in the case. … The lawyers’ push to obtain more of the tobacco funds [on top of the $775 million they have already been awarded] has roiled the legal community in Massachusetts and nationally, with some worrying that the case will reinforce an image of avarice that dogs trial lawyers.” (Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, May 4)(see Jan. 2-3, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — Go ahead and have your Oreos (for now). The San Francisco lawyer who announced that he was suing Kraft/Nabisco (see May 13) now says he’s dropping the action and “only wanted to get the word out about the dangers of unlabeled fats contained in the popular black and white cookies. …[‘]Now everybody knows about trans fat.’ He expressed no remorse for using California courts as a publicity tool.” (Ron Harris, “SF lawyer says he’s dropping suit against Oreo cookies”, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, May 14). Bloggers Brian Peterson (May 13) and Timothy Sandefur (May 14) have their doubts about whether it’s actually consistent with legal ethics to file lawsuits in search of free publicity for causes, while George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, an old friend and collaborator of ours who’s just launched his own law blog, notes that (like it or not) lawsuits are often extraordinarily effective as bids for attention (May 15, archives busted, scroll down). Meanwhile the New York Times, which ran an “Editorial Observer” commentary favorable to the McDonald’s obesity suit (see Feb. 19), chimes in with an article presenting the Oreo affair exclusively from the plaintiff’s point of view, with not a syllable of dissent or skepticism about the suit’s merits (Marian Burros, “A Suit Seeks to Bar Oreos as a Health Risk”, New York Times, May 14). On the other hand, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown rejoices that he’s “found a way to finance my children’s college education. … I don’t intend to quit until I’ve eaten all 45 cookies in the package.” (“In search of the lethal dose of Oreo cookies”, May 14). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — After California bounty-hunting scandal, lawyers win again. When people talk about the trial lawyers’ controlling the California legislature, this is the sort of thing they have in mind. For several months editorial and public opinion in the state has registered outrage at lawyers’ use of the state’s broad unfair-competition law to extort cash settlements from thousands of small-business owners (see Jan. 15, Mar. 3). But “The attorneys, to the utter surprise of no one, emerged as victors in a showdown hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Voting largely along party lines, in what was clearly a scripted scenario, the committee killed three bills that would have imposed some reforms on the unfair competition law — UCL, as it’s called — and approved a lawyer-backed substitute that contains only superficial changes and, if enacted, would actually make it easier to collect money in UCL cases.” The committee passed “a measure written by the personal injury attorneys lobby, Consumer Attorneys of California, [which] in conjunction with another lawyer-written measure in the Senate, would impose very mild new requirements on attorneys filing UCL suits, but it would also add a provision, called ‘disgorgement,’ that would allow more money to be obtained from UCL defendants and thus increase plaintiffs’ leverage. Recent state Supreme Court decisions had barred ‘disgorgement’ in UCL suits.” (Dan Walters: “Democrats side with lawyers over small-business owners”, Sacramento Bee, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)

May 16-18 — “Suit Seeks to Keep Elephant at L.A. Zoo”. “A woman has filed suit to stop the Los Angeles Zoo from sending its female African elephant, Ruby, to the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, a move she said would break a longtime bond between the animal and a female Asian elephant, Gita.” (Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times, May 15) (see also SoCalLaw) (DURABLE LINK)

May 15 — Judge kicks class-action lawyers off case. “It was a stunning ruling by a federal judge exposing what she saw as lawyers trying to settle a big class-action lawsuit for their own benefit and with little regard for their clients. U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo last month booted six Chicago-area lawyers off a national class-action suit that accused H&R Block Inc. of cheating customers who took out tax-refund loans. In her ruling, she chastised the lawyers for doing little spadework to prove their case. The settlement fund was to be capped at $25 million for a potential class of 17 million people. The lawyers, whom she described as ‘inadequate,’ would have received $4.25 million.” (Ameet Sachdev, “Class-action reform pushed into spotlight”, Chicago Tribune, May 1; “Federal Judge in Illinois Rejects Settlement In Suit Against H&R Block Over Refund Loans”, BNA Class Action Litigation Report, Apr. 2; Mark Tatge, “A Pox on Both Houses”, Forbes, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

May 14 — NTSB blames pilot error, but airport told to pay $10 million. “A Cook County jury awarded $10.45 million to the family of a pilot killed in 1996 when the executive jet he was at the controls of slid off the runway and burned at Palwaukee Municipal Airport. The pilot, Martin Koppie, 53, had been accused in earlier lawsuits of causing the crash that killed three other people.” The new verdict, on the other hand, throws $9.9 million worth of blame onto the municipalities of Wheeling and Prospect Heights, which own and operate the airport, for allegedly locating a drainage ditch too close to the runway. “In a 1998 report, the National Transportation Safety Board faulted Koppie for not aborting the takeoff and co-pilot Whitener for not taking ‘sufficient remedial action.’ In 2001, a Cook County jury awarded $18.9 million to Whitener’s family, who had argued that Koppie caused the crash and Chicago-based Aon Corp. was responsible as his employer.” (Michael Higgins, “$10 million award in ’96 plane crash”, Chicago Tribune, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)

May 14 — “Prosecutor had ordeal as defendant”. An assistant Massachusetts attorney general gets caught up in charges of sexual harassment that mushroom into criminal charges before eventually collapsing, not before turning his life and reputation upside down. “Exculpatory evidence that surfaced during [Michael] Atleson’s trial, prosecutors now say, cast serious doubt on the credibility of his accusers.” Despite Atleson’s acquittal and the withdrawal of other charges against him, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley has no apologies: “The system worked for Mr. Atleson”, he claims. Read the story and see whether you agree (Ralph Ranalli, Boston Globe, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)

May 13 — Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids. “Oreo cookies should be banned from sale to children in California, according to a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco attorney who claims that trans fat — the stuff that makes the chocolate cookies crisp and their filling creamy — is so dangerous children shouldn’t eat it. Stephen Joseph, who filed the suit against Nabisco last week in Marin County Superior Court,… [is a “public interest lawyer” who has also] formed a nonprofit corporation called BanTransFats.com, Inc.” (Kim Severson, “Lawsuit seeks to ban sale of Oreos to children in California”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 12). “Fast food restaurants are facing claims that hamburgers can be as addictive as heroin in the next twist to the obesity lawsuits that threaten McDonald’s and Burger King. John Banzhaf, the self-styled ‘legal terrorist’ who pioneered tobacco litigation in the 1960s,” contends that studies suggest that fat-laden food can produce the same sorts of changes in the brain as powerful drugs. (Simon English, “Burgers are ‘as bad as heroin’, activist claims”, Daily Telegraph (UK), May 9). More: Lance Gay, “Food industry balks at mandatory labeling”, Scripps Howard/Bremerton, Wash. Sun, May 9; “A Twinkie Tax”, CBS News, May 12. (& update May 16-18: suit dropped) (DURABLE LINK)

May 13 — Update: court installs valedictorian. “A high school student won sole rights to Moorestown High School’s valedictorian title Thursday when a judge ruled that she should not have to share the honor with two other students.” (see May 3-4) “U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ordered the Moorestown district to name Blair L. Hornstine the valedictorian for the class of 2003.” (“Student Wins Valedictorian Lawsuit In Moorestown”, NBC10.com, May 9). Kimberly Swygert has a lot of commentary on the case at her No. 2 Pencil blog (May 9, May 2). (DURABLE LINK)

May 12 — Shouldn’t have let him get so drunk. Australia: “A Norlane man is suing Geelong Football Club for allowing him to get too drunk at a president’s lunch. …In Supreme Court documents seen by the Geelong Advertiser, Gregory Allan Clifford claims he consumed ‘excessive quantities of liquor’ supplied by the club at a president’s lunch about two years ago. Mr Clifford claims he fell down a set of stairs at the club function and severely injured himself. In the civil lawsuit against the club he claims the club should have exercised reasonable care to conduct the function in a way where people drinking were reasonably safe.” In a case that made considerable headway in the Australian courts before recently being dismissed, a woman sued a New South Wales rugby club for allegedly continuing to serve her alcohol although she was intoxicated; the “woman had claimed she was hit by a car while ‘wandering drunkenly’ 100 metres away from the club, the Supreme Court documents said.” (Natalie Staaks, “Cats sued”, Geelong Advertiser, May 8, no longer online) (via Brain Graze) (DURABLE LINK)

May 12 — Malpractice studies. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee publishes a new study finding that the medical malpractice litigation system performs poorly in both its major social roles: deterring medical negligence and fairly compensating the negligently injured. Reform including liability limits would offer substantial benefits that could include billions in annual budgetary savings to the federal fisc and improvements in medical care affordability that could permit millions of Americans to be priced back into the health insurance market. (Senior Economist Dan Miller, “Liability for Medical Malpractice: Issues and Evidence”, Joint Economic Committee, May (PDF format)). A similar study, focusing on Texas: Chris Patterson, Colleen Whalen and John Pisciotta, “Critical Condition”, Texas Public Policy Foundation, April (PDF format). In an April poll of Texas Medical Association members, nearly two-thirds of the 1,027 physicians responding “say the climate in which they practice medicine has forced them to deny or refer high-risk cases in the past two years.” (“Doctors forced to limit or deny patient care”, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston website, undated).

Although Massachusetts’s situation is not as bad as that as many other states, it is still seeing a departure of respected doctors from the liability-wracked field of obstetrics. “‘You start to think maybe this isn’t worth it,’ said Dr. Ronald Rubin, 41, of Shrewsbury, who gave up obstetrics after being sued and is now completing an anesthesia residency. ‘My case was dismissed, but I got deposed. It was six years of going back and forth and taking time off from work. It took a tremendous toll.'” (Liz Kowalczyk, “Insurance costs leave one less baby doctor”, Boston Globe, Apr. 27). And following a tripling of its insurance premiums, a 16-doctor radiologist practice in the Daytona Beach, Fla. area has announced that it intends to stop performing mammograms, which is particularly problematic since the practice currently performs the majority of the mammograms carried out in Volusia and Flagler counties. (“Radiologists say they’ll stop performing mammograms on June 1”, AP/Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 8)(see Nov. 2, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)


May 30-June 1 — “Judge Allows Lawyer to Add Shell Oil as Nightclub Fire Defendant”. Rhode Island: “Attorney Ronald Resmini, who sued for damages in federal court last month, said he added Shell Oil and its affiliate, Motiva Enterprises LLC, to his lawsuit because The Station nightclub owners distributed tickets to their club from a Shell gas station they owned. ‘They were giving away free tickets if you bought so much merchandise,’ Resmini said.” Lawyers’ quest for deep pockets has already resulted in the naming of brewer Anheuser-Busch and the town of West Warwick, among other defendants. (AP/MSNBC/7 News Boston, May 29). (DURABLE LINK)

May 30-June 1 — “Diet Drug Litigation Leads to Fat Fees”. “A federal judge in Philadelphia has awarded interim fees of more than $150 million to 83 plaintiffs’ law firms for their work in the massive fen-phen diet drug litigation that led to a $3.75 billion class action settlement. The interim fees are just a fraction of what the plaintiffs’ lawyers could ultimately earn, since it covers only work up to June 30, 2001. In their fee petition, the lawyers asked for $567 million.” (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, May 21)(see Sept. 27-29, 2002, and links from there). And, reports Texas Lawyer: “A group of Houston plaintiffs’ lawyers who were major players in fen-phen litigation in the late 1990s are now jumping into the ephedra arena and plan to use many of the tactics they learned in fen-phen suits in the new litigation.” Ephedra, an herbal remedy, promotes weight loss and energy but can have serious side effects. (Kelly Pedone, “Lessons Learned in Fen-Phen Suits Factor Into Ephedra Cases”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15)(see Sept. 10, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

May 30-June 1 — “Buchanan & Press”. Viewers who tuned into the popular MSNBC debate show last night (Thurs.) saw our editor debate former ATLA president Barry Nace on the merits of Common Good’s “early offers” proposals for limiting lawyers’ contingency fees (see May 29) A full transcript is likely at some point to be posted here. (DURABLE LINK)

May 29 — Hold the gravy? Common Good, the reform organization headed by author Philip Howard, has launched a new campaign to limit the fees plaintiff’s lawyers can charge in cases that settle promptly. “The proposal would require plaintiffs’ attorneys to submit a notice of a planned lawsuit to defendants in contingency fee cases. If a settlement offer is made and accepted within 60 days of the notice, the attorney must charge an hourly rate that cannot exceed 10 percent of the settlement amount.” (Elizabeth Neff, “Plan Would Cap Contingency Fees”, Salt Lake Tribune, May 25). Petitions to this effect have been filed in recent weeks by lawyers working pro bono in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. (Daniel Wise, “Attorney Fees in Personal Injury Cases Targeted”, New York Law Journal, May 8; Adam Liptak, “In 13 States, a Push to Limit Lawyers’ Fees”, New York Times, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

May 29 — Decorating for reconciliation. Okay, for a change, here’s a vignette that made us think maybe there’s hope for the profession: “Though hardly sentimental in the courtroom, Ms. Gold-Bikin [divorce attorney Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin of Philadelphia’s Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen LLP] says she often urges settlement and, even, reconciliation…. Coupons for free marriage-counseling sessions are set out on the coffee table. … ‘I’m a divorce lawyer who believes in marriage. So I started collecting old wedding photos and licenses. Then I found that if I put them up around the office, clients would have to walk past them and, hopefully, think twice about what they were about to do. There are plenty of marriages we’re never going to save. But there are a lot we can work on. Many people who come here shouldn’t be getting divorced. They’re just stuck, and I hope this makes them reconsider.'” (Nancy D. Holt, “The rite of matrimony”, CareerJournal.com (WSJ), May 15; also appeared in Wall Street Journal, May 14, as the “Workspaces” column). (DURABLE LINK)

May 28 — Vitamin class action: some questions for the lawyers. Last month “appeal court justices in San Francisco did something unusual: They mailed out a letter asking lawyers in a massive vitamin price-fixing class action to explain a few things. Why, the 1st District Court of Appeal wanted to know, are so many law firms involved? How did the number of coordinated cases grow by 12 in one six-month period? How many out-of-state law firms are involved? Which of the defendants previously entered guilty or no contest pleas to criminal charges?” At least fifty class action law firms nationwide are hoping to split a $16 million fee pot, but Oakland, Calif. attorney Larry Schonbrun, the nation’s best-known objector to class actions, says there’s “no reason why much fewer law firms could not have handled this case”. And: “This is a money machine. It’s feeding at the trough.” (Mike McKee, “Enriching the Record”, The Recorder, May 27). (DURABLE LINK)

May 28 — “Sex, God and Greed”. Forbes on the priest scandals and the associated “litigation gold rush” which could leave the Roman Catholic Church facing $5 billion in payouts. “The lawyers who are winning settlements from Catholic dioceses are already casting about for the next targets: schools, government agencies, day care centers, police departments, Indian reservations, Hollywood. … The lawyers are lobbying states to lift the statute of limitations on sex abuse cases, letting them dredge up complaints that date back decades.” (Daniel Lyons, Forbes, Jun. 9). Sidebars: “Battle of the Shrinks” (role of recovered memory in some cases); “Heavenly Cash” (questionable claims). Our editor weighed in a couple of years ago on the practice of lifting statutes of limitation. (DURABLE LINK)

May 27 — “State is suing ex-dry cleaners”. California Attorney General Lockyer is suing retired owners of Mom-and-Pop dry cleaners in the town of Chico under the federal Superfund law, accusing them of pouring dry-cleaning chemicals down their drains decades ago. “Bob and Inez Heidinger — he’s 87, has Alzheimer’s disease and is blind in one eye; she’s 83, has bone marrow cancer and needs shoulder surgery” — are being sued for $1.5 million on charges (which they deny) of disposing of PCE in such a manner between 1952 and 1974, when they sold the business. Also being sued is “Paul Tullius, a 57-year-old retired Air Force pilot, and his wife, Vicki, who own a warehouse that last housed a dry cleaner in 1972 — 16 years before they bought the building without knowing its entire history.” “This is the most draconian law you could ever imagine,” says Tullius. “…Can you imagine what that does to your life? I’m sort of thinking this isn’t the country I thought it was.” (Gary Delsohn, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

May 27 — Courtroom assault on drugmakers. A week or two ago the New York Times somewhat belatedly discovered that trial lawyers have ginned up a large amount of well-organized litigation against pharmaceutical makers over alleged side effects. (Alex Berenson, “Giant drug firms may face lawsuits”, New York Times/Oakland Tribune, May 18). Some reactions: Derek Lowe (“Because That’s Where the Money Is”, Corante, May 16), Ernie the Attorney (May 18), MedPundit (May 19), MedRants (May 19), William Murchison (“Lawyers Who Make You Sick”, syndicated/TownHall, May 20) (the last of these via SickofLawsuits.org, a new health-focused site associated with the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse tort reform groups). (DURABLE LINK)

May 24-26 — “‘Trial Lawyers Get Spanked'”. Our editor had an op-ed Friday in the Wall Street Journal celebrating the Florida appeals court’s striking down of the absurd $145 billion class action verdict in the Engle tobacco case. (Walter Olson, WSJ/ OpinionJournal.com, May 23). Other columns on the decision include Jacob Sullum, “Appealing Price”, syndicated/Reason.com, May 23, on the appeals bond issue; and George Will, “The States’ Tobacco Dilemma”, syndicated/Washington Post, May 23, on the hypocrisy of state governments. (DURABLE LINK)

May 24-26 — Hitting the jack-potty. “A city worker has hit the jack-potty. Cedrick Makara, 55, scored a $3 million jury verdict last week because he hurt his thumb trying to get out of the john of a Manhattan building where he works.” The building’s manager and owner are on the hook. The stall in question “had a missing doorknob. [Attorney Sheryl] Menkes said Makara reached his hand through a hole where the knob should have been and pulled the door toward him just as someone entering the bathroom pushed the door in,” causing him to injure tendons in his thumb and miss six months of work as a city claims examiner. (Helen Peterson, “He’s flush after $3M potty suit”, New York Daily News, May 21). More: Boots and Sabers comments on the case (May 25). (DURABLE LINK)

May 22-23 — Court overturns $145 billion Engle award. Not to say “we told you so” about yesterday’s Florida appellate decision reversing the tobacco-suit atrocity, but, well, we did tell you so back in 1999: “The smart money is betting last week’s Miami anti-tobacco jury verdict will be overturned on the issue of class certification — whether every sick Florida smoker should have been swept into a class suing cigarette makers despite vast differences among individuals on such issues as why they decided to smoke or quit.” We had more to say about the case, also in the Wall Street Journal, a year later (July 18, 2000), as well as on this site. The latest decision is on FindLaw in PDF format and a very fine decision it is indeed — if this keeps up, the Florida courts may start getting their reputation back (Manuel Roig-Franzia, “$145 Billion Award in Tobacco Case Voided”, Washington Post, May 21). (DURABLE LINK)

May 22-23 — Must be why the show has so many fans. Received recently from the publicity department at St. Martin’s Press, publisher of our editor’s latest book: “The Rule of Lawyers by Walter Olson will be a prop in the show, Sex and the City! It will be a prop in Miranda’s apt. thoughout the season. The pilot airs early June.” (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — Update: McMahon’s mold claim worth $7 mil. “Entertainer Ed McMahon reaped a $7 million settlement from several companies he sued for allowing toxic mold to overrun his Los Angeles home and kill his beloved dog, a national mold litigation magazine reported”. (“McMahon Gets $7 Mln in Toxic Mold Lawsuit – Report”, Yahoo/Reuters, May 7)(see Apr. 25, 2002). Addendum: blogger Stu Greene writes, “I wonder if the Prize Patrol delivered one of those oversized novelty checks with balloons tied to it.” (May 21) (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — Auto-lease liability: deeper into crisis. Honda has become the latest automaker to announce that it will stop leasing new cars to buyers in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island (see Mar. 12-14, 2003, Aug. 26, 2002). The problem is 1920s-era “vicarious liability” laws in those three states, fiercely guarded by the trial lawyer lobby, which expose leasing and rental car companies to unlimited personal injury claims when their customers get into accidents. Honda’s pullout follows withdrawals this spring by GM and Ford as well as by J.P. Morgan Chase, a major provider of auto financing in the Northeast. (“Industry report: Honda to stop leasing in 3 states”, Detroit Free Press, May 20 (scroll down); “American Honda Finance Corp. to Suspend All Leasing In Three States”, PR Newswire, May 19; “Auto lease fleece” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 22 (scroll down); SaveLeasing.com; “Ford Blames Liability Law for Decision to Stop Leasing Cars in NY”, Insurance Journal, Apr. 7; Zubin Jelveh, “Leasing Companies Exit Left and Right”, Newsday, May 4). “More than $1.5 billion in such claims are pending in New York, said Elaine Litwer, legislative coordinator for the National Vehicle Leasing Association…. [Proponents of easing the law] received a big boost last month when the 75,000-member New York State Bar Association split from the trial lawyers and said the vicarious liability law was never meant to apply to leases and supported changes.” (Barbara Woller, “GMAC leaves New York’s auto leasing market”, Journal News (Gannett, Westchester County), May 1; John Caher, “State Bar, Trial Lawyers Part Ways on Tort Reform”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 8). More: Jun. 9, 2003; Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

February 2003 archives


February 10 — By reader acclaim: “Student sues to get A+, not A”. Memphis, Mich.: “A high school senior says he earned an A+, not an A, and has sued to get the grade changed to bolster his chance at becoming valedictorian.” Brian Delekta’s suit “names the school principal, superintendent and all seven school board members as defendants.” (AP/CNN, Feb. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

February 10 — “Woman files $500,000 lawsuit for ‘ruined’ fingernail”. Also from Michigan: “A Clinton Township woman who had a $5 fingernail repair job done at a local salon now wants $500,000 or more in damages, claiming a beautician nicked her finger with cuticle scissors.” Ann Laerzio’s lawyer says she had to undergo surgery after a resulting infection: “The $500,000 figure isn’t necessarily what we’ll get (in court). It’s to put some attention to the case, and to how important we consider it.'” (Chad Halcom, Macomb Daily, Feb. 5). (DURABLE LINK)

February 10 — Asbestos: “better than the lottery”. Inside one asbestos client-recruitment operation: “[A]s many as 70,000 new [lawsuits] are added each year. Most are workers or retirees invited into medical screenings by lawyers offering quick money. … ‘I saw the notice in the union newsletter and said, “Why not?”‘ said an automotive worker from Ford. Sitting on the tailgate of his shiny, new Chevy pickup and lighting a fresh cigarette off the one he had just finished, he added: ‘It’s better than the lottery. If they find something, I get a few thousand dollars I didn’t have. If they don’t find anything, I’ve just lost an afternoon.’ Standing nearby, a Boeing worker 10 days from retirement volunteered, ‘The lawyers said I could get $10,000 or $12,000 if the shadow [on the x-ray] is big enough, and I know just the fishing boat I’d buy with that.’ Asked if he’d ever worked with asbestos, he said, ‘No, but lawyers say it’s all over the place, so I was probably exposed to it.'” (Andrew Schneider, “Asbestos lawsuits anger critics”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 8). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-9 — After failed workplace romance, a $1.3 million bill. After a three day trial, a jury has ordered the village of Bloomingdale, Illinois to pay $1.3 million dollars to a former employee who alleged that supervisors ignored her complaints about a co-worker who she said continued to pester her after their romantic relationship ended. Worse yet, the village had given the man a promotion. “Something every manager who thinks he or she can date a subordinate without inviting trouble should think about,” comments EmployersLawyer (Feb. 3; Christy Gutowski, “Lost suit to cost village $1 million”, Daily Herald (suburban Chicago), Feb. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-9 — Discovery abuse: spitballs at the Opera. In a 148-page opinion, federal judge Loretta Preska ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Opera was entitled to judgment in a defamation case and an award of attorney fees because of misconduct by Local 100 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and the union’s law firm, Herrick Feinstein. Judge Preska said lawyers with the firm “completely abdicated their responsibilities”. “I am certainly familiar, both from practice and from my time on the bench, with discovery disputes that devolve into arguments about which child threw the first spitball,” the judge declared. “The discovery process in this case, however, transcended the usual clashes between adversaries, sharp elbows, spitballs, and even Rambo litigation tactics.” (Mark Hamblett, “Firm’s Discovery Abuse Leads to Win for Met Opera”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-9 — Do as we say dept.: Wellstone campaign didn’t buy workers’ comp for its employees. Although the late Sen. Paul Wellstone was a noted backer of stringent anti-employer legislation, it was disclosed last Friday that Wellstone’s re-election campaign had failed to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to cover its own employees, four of whom were killed with the senator in last October’s plane crash. Instead, a state fund is now being obliged to cover a large share of the benefits expected by the aides’ families. “State law requires employers to buy worker’s compensation insurance as a safety net in the event workers are injured or killed while on the job. But election campaigns are believed to widely overlook the requirement.” Translation: we don’t have to obey that stuff, do we? (Greg Gordon, “Wellstone campaign aides weren’t covered by worker’s comp insurance”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-9 — Tort suits over global warming. “Rather than treaties and regulations, litigation may soon be the weapon of choice for those concerned about human-induced global warming.” Among other efforts is that of recent Yale Law grad David Grossman: “In a paper to be published in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, Grossman argues that tort litigation over global warming — in which communities or states seek damages from oil companies, electric utilities and automobile manufacturers — is entirely feasible.” Among the desired effects: to “make fossil fuels more expensive and thus force corporations to pay more attention to renewable energy. … So don’t be surprised if ‘See you in court’ becomes the environmentalist’s new rallying cry.” (Madhusree Mukerjee, “Greenhouse Suits: Litigation becomes a tool against global warming”, Scientific American, Feb. 3) (see Jul. 31, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

February 4-5 — We own e-commerce. A little-known company in San Diego named PanIP, or Pangea Intellectual Properties, holds patents which it claims cover basic elements of electronic commerce. It files lawsuits against businesses across the country, particularly small and medium-sized companies engaged in Internet sales, and then demands sums ranging to $30,000 or more in exchange for dropping the complaints. Some of PanIP’s targets have organized a website entitled YouMayBeNext.com to spread the alarm and encourage resistance. (Jon Van, “Firm claims patent on e-commerce”, Chicago Tribune/Newark Star-Ledger, Feb. 3; “Every E-Commerce Site is Threatened”, press release, Internet News Bureau, Jul. 11; Slashdot thread, May 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

February 4-5 — “Governance by Lawyers”. “Tort law is not the only aspect of the litigation spectrum that should be on Congress’ agenda this term. Congress should also address the phenomenon known as institutional reform litigation. We refer to the process — which has grown exponentially over the last 30 years — in which advocacy groups bring suits resulting in consent decrees; those decrees then effectively — and inflexibly — run public agencies and institutions, sometimes for decades. Institutional reform decrees dealing with special education, foster care, mental health, public health and dozens of other state and local programs continue — sometimes decades after their issuance — without any real regard to whether court control still is needed to protect rights or whether the decree is the best way to achieve statutory goals. Courts base these cases mostly on rights embedded in federal statutes like the Americans With [Disabilities] Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod summarize the argument of their important new book Democracy by Decree (National Law Journal, Jan. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

February 4-5 — Slip, fall, learn who to blame. Law firm promotion, or lawsuit incitement? On the website of Florida plaintiff’s firm Jacobs and Goodman is found the following passage: “In the United States, more than a million people are injured each year in falls. Oftentimes, if your loved one has been previously injured or is elderly or disabled, you might have a tendency to assume that they are responsible for the accident. However, we at Jacobs & Goodman have worked with kinesiologists to help us understand the study of motion and to help you, the injured, look beyond your assumptions to find the actual cause of the accident.” (“Premises Liability” section) (DURABLE LINK)

February 4-5 — Sanity restored? Three cases ruled on by the courts in the last month or so “offer hope that sanity can be restored to product liability litigation“, writes syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum. Besides the dismissal of a McDonald’s-obesity case by a New York judge, and one of the pack of pending individual-smoker cases by a California judge, “a Florida judge threw out a verdict against the gun distributor that sold the pistol used by 12-year-old Nathaniel Brazill to kill schoolteacher Barry Grunow in the summer of 2000. Last November a jury found the distributor, Valor Corp., 5 percent responsible for Grunow’s death and said it should pay $1.2 million to his widow.” (see Dec. 13-15). Cites our editor’s new book on issues of jury selection (“Defective Arguments”, Jan. 31). Also see Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review “The Corner”, Jan. 14. (DURABLE LINK)

February 3 — Claim: marriage impaired by tough bagel. Panama City Beach, Fla.: “A couple is suing the franchisee of a McDonald’s restaurant, claiming an improperly prepared bagel damaged the husband’s teeth and their marriage.” John and Cecelia O’Hare “contend in the suit that John O’Hare broke teeth and bridgework on Feb. 1, 2002 when he bit into the bagel. The suit did not say what exactly was wrong with the bagel. The suit alleges the wife ‘lost the care, comfort, consortium and society of her husband.’ … Tracey Johnstone, owner of [franchisee/defendant] Johnstone Foods, said she never before had a bagel complaint and had no idea how it could have been prepared in a way that would damage teeth. ‘It’s a bagel,’ she said.” (“Couple Sue McDonald’s Over Tough Bagel”, AP/Kansas City Star, Feb. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

February 3 — NFL said to blame for Bengals’ haplessness. Cincinnati: “Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune sued the Bengals and the National Football League claiming the team violated its stadium lease by failing to be competitive. Portune filed the lawsuit Thursday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court as a private taxpayer, without backing from other commissioners. The complaint, which also named the other 31 NFL franchises as defendants, alleges fraud, civil conspiracy, antitrust violations and breach of contract.” In return for municipal concessions on stadium construction, “the Bengals promised to field a competitive team, Portune said. Cincinnati hasn’t made the playoffs since 1990, and just finished the worst season in franchise history at 2-14.” (Terry Kinney, “Commissioner sues Bengals, NFL”, AP/Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 31). (DURABLE LINK)


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)


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. Olson’s 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, “He’s 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)