January 30-31 — Don’t mess with the taste cops. Arizona: Angelica Flores was handcuffed by police officers in front of her daughter and packed off to jail because “she and her husband, Tony, last year violated a code requiring Christmas decorations to be removed 19 days after the holiday.” Thinking that the charges had been dropped, the couple had skipped a court date with officials of the town of Peoria. (Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, “Couple jailed for Christmas lights see charge as humbug”, Arizona Republic, Jan. 28).
January 30-31 — “Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War’s Not a Slip-and-Fall Case”. “For centuries, it has been accepted that damage caused in wartime cannot be claimed as injuries deserving compensation. … combatants are not required to treat every invasion like a massive slip-and-fall case,” notes law prof/pundit Jonathan Turley of George Washington University (L.A. Times, Jan. 29) (via InstaPundit).
January 30-31 — Washington Post blasts HMO class actions. The paper’s editorialists warn of “a new rash of abusive class action lawsuits” that “are being filed by an array of plaintiff’s lawyers, led by Richard Scruggs — of tobacco litigation fame and fortune — and David Boies”. The suits’ premise that managed health care cost control amounts to “racketeering” is a “novel but silly” theory that has already been rejected by one federal appeals court, the Third Circuit. “The notion of a national class of HMO enrollees is absurd. … The suits are a transparent effort to hijack the policy debate about managed care.” (“More actions without class”, Jan. 28).
January 30-31 — All things sentimental and recoverable. Down, attorney, down! cont’d: trial lawyers are salivating at the prospect of getting the law changed so they can file malpractice suits against veterinarians not just for a pet’s economic or replacement value as an animal, as is mostly the rule now, but for its personal and sentimental value, which would clear the way for six- and even seven-figure recoveries. In a closely watched case called Bluestone v. Bergstrom, an Orange County, Calif. judge has ruled in favor of a plaintiff’s right to pursue the larger scope of damages. At present only one veterinarian in sixteen faces a malpractice claim every year, but insurance specialist Mike Ahlert of Mack & Parker predicts skyrocketing rates if courts adopt the new doctrines: “it will drive up the cost of claims and attract plaintiff’s attorneys looking for new sources of income”. (Jennifer Fiala, “Court rulings could up ante on DVM malpractice”, DVM (veterinary newsmagazine), Sept., reprinted at ABD Services site); see also Thomas Scheffey, “Putting a Price on Pets”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Nov. 21).
January 28-29 — “Probe of Milberg Weiss Has Bar Buzzing”. Rumors fly that a grand jury is investigating class-action behemoth Milberg Weiss. Accounts differ, but the focus of the investigation is said to be the firm’s financial relationships with clients serving as plaintiffs in securities cases. (Jason Hoppin, The Recorder, Jan. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
January 28-29 — State of prosecution in Iowa. In a bizarre application of federal sentencing guidelines, the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has gotten Dane Allen Yirkovsky, 38, sentenced to prison for 15 years for possessing a single .22 caliber bullet. “Yirkovsky’s saga began when he happened to come across a loaded .22-caliber round while pulling up carpets in the home of a friend who was putting him up in exchange for some remodeling work. He stuck the bullet in a box in his room. The bullet was discovered by police who were searching Yirkovsky’s room after his ex-girlfriend asserted he had some of her belongings.” (“Editorial: One bullet, 15 years”, Des Moines Register, Jan. 21). “The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Polk County authorities were within their rights to confiscate a $9,000 car for a $35.81 crime.” (Frank Santiago, “County seizure of $9,000 car for $35.81 crime is upheld”, Des Moines Register, Jan. 25) And thank the Iowa attorney general’s office for this one: “Critics say a state law aimed at confining sexual predators past their prison terms is being used to punish offenders for crimes that aren’t sex-related.” (Jeff Eckhart, “Predator law used in non-sex crimes, critics say”, Des Moines Register, Dec. 23 — via Free-Market.Net). (DURABLE LINK)
January 28-29 — Strain, sprain injuries get $350K. “A California shopper who sustained a lower-back injury after a slip and fall in a department store settled her case for $349,999. On Dec. 26, 1998, plaintiff Bianca Hernandez, an unemployed female in her early 50s, was shopping in the sportswear section of a J.C. Penney store when she slipped and fell on coat hangers, clothes and other debris that were left on the floor.” Hernandez was taken to an emergency room. “She suffered sprain and strain injuries to her lumbar spine, left knee and left ankle.” Her suit alleged “that the store was inadequately supervised because the department manager and the assistant manager were both on break at the time, and sales associates were fully occupied serving customers.” Hernandez v. J.C. Penney Co. Inc., No. VC 030 725 (L.A. County) (“Fall during post-holiday sale costs J.C. Penney”, National Law Journal, Jan. 21, not online). (DURABLE LINK)
January 28-29 — Third Circuit nixes Philly gun suit. Goodbye to the city’s nuisance of a suit against the gun industry: “gun manufacturers are under no legal duty to protect citizens from the deliberate and unlawful use of their products,” said the federal appeals court, which also ruled the city couldn’t show the gunmakers were the “proximate cause” of harm suffered. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Philadelphia’s Gun Suit Off Target, 3rd Circuit Says”, Legal Intelligencer, Jan. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
January 25-27 — Warning on fireplace log: “Risk of Fire”. Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has released the results of its fifth annual contest for the wackiest warning label, with the warning on the fireplace log coming in second. The winning entry, found on a CD player: “Do not use the Ultradisc2000 as a projectile in a catapult.” Third prize went to the label on a box of birthday candles: “DO NOT use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity.” (Larry Hatfield, “Dumbest warning labels get their due”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 24; M-Law press release, Jan. 22). (DURABLE LINK)
January 25-27 — Goodbye to zero tolerance? Democratic state senator Richard Marable is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Georgia legislature who want to give school authorities more discretion for lenience in cases of students found with weapons or weapon-like objects in their possession. The public has been soured on zero-tolerance policies by cases like that of Ashley Smith, the Cobb County sixth-grader suspended for 10 days for bringing to school a Tweety Bird keychain (see Sept. 29, Oct. 4, 2000), and an Eagle Scout punished after “return[ing] to school from a weekend expedition with a broken ax in his car … An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this past Friday found that 96 percent of respondents supported examining each case individually. Only 1 percent liked zero tolerance the way it was, and 3 percent wanted school safety laws to be stricter.” (“Georgia Pols Want ‘Common Sense’ to Trump ‘Zero Tolerance'”, FoxNews.com, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
January 25-27 — McMouse story looking dubious. Brett B., 32, “said he found a mouse inside his Big Mac sandwich in June of 2001.” His story has been looking a little peaked, however, since he and four others were busted “as part of a methamphetamine ring in Berkeley County. Police say [he] was also part of a scam that went around the state stealing people’s identities and credit cards. But one of his alleged accomplices spoke up about last June’s mouse incident, telling police, ‘Brett had got together with myself … and had planned to come up with a scam to pull on McDonald’s where Brett was going to say he had bit into a mouse that the employees of McDonald’s had put in there.'” (Dan Krosse, “McMouse Case Looks Like a Hoax”, WCIV-TV (Charleston, S.C.), Jan. 15). (DURABLE LINK)
January 25-27 — “Companies may be liable for drugs used in rapes”. “Drug manufacturers whose products are used by offenders to help them commit rape could be held legally responsible for the crimes, according to a Melbourne lawyer. Eugene Arocca was commenting on reports of increasing drug-assisted date-rape in and around Melbourne clubs and entertainment venues. … However, the managing director of Roche Australia, the drug company that produces several drugs that have allegedly been used in date-rapes, described the whole idea as ‘bloody ridiculous’.” (Heather Kennedy, The Age (Melbourne), Jan. 6). (DURABLE LINK)
January 23-24 — Life imitates parody: “Whose Fault Is Fat?” By reader acclaim: “Some say the food industry — particularly fast food, vending machine and processed food companies — should be held accountable for playing a role in the declining health of the nation, just as the tobacco industry ultimately was forced to bear responsibility for public health costs associated with smoking in its landmark $206 billion settlement with the states. Although no one is taking such legal action against the food industry, nutrition and legal experts say it is reasonable to think that someday, it may come to that. ‘There is a movement afoot to do something about the obesity problem, not just as a visual blight but to see it in terms of costs,’ says John Banzhaf, a George Washington University Law School professor.” (Geraldine Sealey, “Whose Fault Is Fat? Experts Weigh Holding Food Companies Responsible for Obesity”, ABCNews.com, Jan. 22). OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web” (Jan. 22) reports that “This past Sunday, ‘The Simpsons’ aired a new episode in which Marge, shocked to learn that Springfield is the fattest town in America, hires a lawyer to sue ‘big sugar.'” See Michael Y. Park, “Lawyers See Fat Payoffs in Junk Food Lawsuits”, FoxNews.com, Jan. 23 (quotes our editor).
January 23-24 — “Law hurts men, women”. Title IX, the feminist sports law run amok, is taking an ever-increasing toll: “Baseball at Boston University — gone. Kent State hockey — goodbye. Swimming at New Mexico — finished. The list goes on and on, more than 350 programs in virtually every sport on campus, and with it go the scholarships earned by student athletes and their dreams of competition to which most have devoted a lifetime. Incredibly, that has happened to more than 22,000 college athletes in recent years.” (Mike Moyer (executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association), Yahoo/USA Today, Jan. 21)(see Nov. 3, 2000, and our 1998 take).
January 23-24 — “Dangerous compensation”. “It seems that envy has replaced acceptance as the final stage of grief. … Washington’s payments to the victims of terrorism exposes the government to a potentially limitless array of future claims. Families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, received nothing from Washington; relatives of federal employees killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing collected approximately US $100,000 each. But if US $1.6-million per decedent is the going rate, then a proper accounting for past and future terrorist attacks might bleed the coffers dry.” (National Post (editorial), Jan. 21).
January 23-24 — Drug demagogy and needless pain. Doctors still underprescribe opioids for the control of chronic pain, and it doesn’t help when CBS “60 Minutes” lends its assistance to the campaign against one of the most important recent pain advances, the drug OxyContin (Jane E. Brody, “Misunderstood Prescription Drugs and Needless Pain”, New York Times, Jan. 22 (reg); Jacob Sullum, “Killing a Painkiller”, Dec. 18; Geov Parrish, “A junkie’s confession”, Seattle Weekly, Dec. 20-26) (see Aug. 7, 2001). A Google search on the drug’s name immediately calls up ads from the websites AboutOxyContin.com and OxycontinInfoCenter.com, which might sound neutrally informative but turn out to be client intake sites for trial lawyers.
January 21-22 — Med-mal: should doctors strike? Insurance rates for doctors are soaring in New Jersey, and the legislature in Trenton is too deeply entwined with trial lawyers to pass anything likely to curtail the bar’s prosperity. “Calling the supply of surgeons tenuous, Dr. Michael Goldfarb, chief of surgery at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, said that unless action is taken soon, New Jersey and the rest of the nation will have a surgeon shortage.” Neptune, N.J. ob/gyn Dr. George Lauback “gave up the obstetrical side of his practice, realizing that paying the $170,000 annual premium would mean he was working for the insurance company, not his family.” Brick, N.J. obstetrician Dr. Charles Brick suggests the state’s physicians stage a work stoppage of non-emergency care to draw attention to their plight (Naomi Mueller, “Malpractice costs driving doctors out”, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 19). In neighboring Pennsylvania, where payouts per doctor are said to be the highest in the country, the “Pennsylvania Medical Society reports that, according to data compiled by CASCO Consulting, a typical obstetrician in the regions of Pennsylvania with the highest average premiums, pays $83,541 a year in insurance premiums …[a] typical orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania’s highest region pays $96,199 a year … the average neurosurgeon in the same Pennsylvania region pays $111,296 a year.” (“Focus on medical malpractice”, Law.com, Oct. 31).
One Delaware County, Pa., orthopedic surgeon calculates that his liability insurance costs him $300 per surgery, which is more than some of the procedures are reimbursed for, so that “he’s losing money before other expenses are even factored into the equation.” (Tanya Albert, “Liability rates squeezing out specialties”, American Medical News (A.M.A.), Dec. 3; Tanya Albert and Damon Adams, “Professional liability insurance rates go up, up; doctors go away”, Jan. 7). On the withdrawal from delivering babies of half or more of the obstetricians practicing in various Mississippi Delta counties since just a year or two ago, see Hugh A. Gamble (president, Mississippi State Medical Association), letter to the editor, Mississippi Medical News, Dec., (PDF format, large download), at p. 4. (DURABLE LINK)
January 21-22 — “In a class of his own”. Profile of famed class-actioneer Melvyn Weiss of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. Quotes our editor (The Economist, Jan. 17).
January 21-22 — Student: clown college harder to get into than law school. Soon after graduating with his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, David Carlyon left it all behind to enroll in the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey clown training program. “Hey, listen, it’s harder to get into that Clown College than it is into a law school,” he told the Saginaw (Mich.) News. “Some 3,000 apply to it each year, only 60 get in and only 30 get contracts after they graduate.” (“Berkley [sic] grad says getting into clown school harder than getting into law school”, AP/AZcentral.com, Jan. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
January 21-22 — “Judo champion refuses to bend in lawsuit”. Challenging the ritual which begins sanctioned judo matches, a suit by three students “against three U.S. judo groups, as well as the International Judo Federation. …claim[s] that the forced bowing to inanimate objects, such as judo mats and pictures of the Japanese martial art’s founder, is religious in nature and violates federal and Washington state discrimination laws.” (Sam Skolnik, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec. 7) (via OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web“).