June 20 — Mich. lawyer’s demand: get my case off your website. On April 3 we ran a brief item on the trademark lawsuit filed by Detroit-based jewelry-selling enterprise Love Your Neighbor Inc. against a Florida charity called Love Thy Neighbor, which assists homeless persons. A few weeks later Detroit Free Press legal correspondent Dawson Bell published a story going into more detail about the dispute and quoting Robert Dorigo Jones, director of the legal-reform advocacy group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW), who said that while the suit might not count as a frivolous one, he considered it unnecessary: “This falls into the category of lawsuits that can be filed, but shouldn’t be.” (Dawson Bell, “Love your neighbor is suing one, instead”, Detroit Free Press, May 5).
It turns out that M-LAW’s Mr. Dorigo Jones was living dangerously by making such remarks. Within days he had received a letter (which he’s shared with us) from “Love Your Neighbor”‘s attorney, Julie Greenberg of Birmingham, Mich.’s Gifford, Krass, Groh, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski, P.C. The tone of the letter might reasonably be called menacing coming from a lawyer: it says that for him to have called her lawsuit unnecessary had “caused damage to my personal reputation in the legal and social community”. It claims to be “particularly disturbed” that Mr. Dorigo Jones would presume to comment on her suit even though he is not an expert in trademark law; “indeed, you are not even an attorney”. And it proceeds to the following bottom-line demand: “In an effort to curb potential ongoing damage to my reputation from your quote in the Free Press, I request that you retract your statement made, and further that you take all references to me or this lawsuit from your [M-LAW’s] website, or your affiliated website Overlawyered.com, which is promoted and hyperlinked by your website. I look forward to your prompt response.”
Oh, dear. “Your affiliated website Overlawyered.com“? How’d we get dragged into this? As even casual investigation should have revealed to attorney Greenberg, Overlawyered.com and M-LAW aren’t “affiliated” with each other in any normal sense of that word: we link to them and they link to us, but that’s true of any number of other sites as well. Yet she seems to think Mr. Dorigo Jones has the power to get items removed from our site — or is that she thinks he should take down his site’s link to us? Whichever is the case, we have bad news for her: Mr. Dorigo Jones tells us that he has no intention of removing M-LAW’s link to Overlawyered.com, and we have no intention of removing our previous item mentioning Greenberg’s client, or this one either (& letter to the editor, July 6) (DURABLE LINK)
MORE: According to Bell’s report, Arnold Abbott founded the Florida charity in 1992 “in memory of his deceased wife”. Ms. Sims, who has registered the phrase as a trademark, had earlier challenged Mr. Abbott’s right to the domain name lovethyneighbor.org but lost in arbitration. Attorney Goldstein’s letter says the filing was “necessary” because owners of trademarks can lose their rights if they do not police infringement, and notes that various efforts by her client short of litigation had failed to keep the Florida charity from going right on calling itself “Love Thy Neighbor”. Mr. Abbott, for his part, told reporter Bell that “he is flabbergasted that it is possible to register rights to an expression that ‘has been around for 5,700 years. ‘If she’s right, then every time someone prints a Bible they’d have to pay her a royalty.”
June 20 — “Gambling addiction” class action. “A lawyer in Canada’s Quebec City is launching a class action suit against the province’s gambling monopoly for not warning players about the alleged dangers of its games.” The suit says the video gambling machines are addictive. (Mike Fox, “Addicted gamblers sue in Quebec”, BBC, June 14).
June 20 — By reader acclaim: “dog slobber” slip-fall case. Mary Lee Sowder of Rocky Mount, N.C. is suing a PetsMart store in Roanoke, saying she slipped on canine “slobber” on its floor. She claims knee damage and wants at least $100 grand. (Tad Dickens, “‘Dog slobber’ at pet store caused her fall, woman says in lawsuit”, Roanoke Times, June 19).
June 19 — Keeping child in her lap = homicide conviction. Prosecutors have prevailed on a Chattanooga, Tenn. jury to convict 20-year-old Latrece Jones of criminally negligent homicide in the death of her 2-year-old son Carlson Bowens Jr., “who was in her lap instead of a car seat during a car crash.” When we use the phrase “safety cops”, we’re really not kidding. (“Car seat conviction”, ABCNews.com, June 15) (& letters to the editor, July 6).
June 19 — Tobacco: Boeken record. Per AP and CNN reports, $3-billion jackpot winner Richard Boeken started smoking in 1957, yet “testified that he ‘never heard or read about the health risks of smoking until congressional hearings were held in 1994.’ This claim does not simply strain credulity; it smashes credulity into a million tiny pieces. … Until 1997, California law … classified tobacco as a product that is ‘known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer…with the ordinary knowledge common to the community.’ Now we see the sort of idiocy that provision was holding back.” (Jacob Sullum, “Beyond belief”, June 12). The Onion weighs in with a satire, if it’s possible to satirize such things (“The $3 Billion Judgment“). See also Robert Jablon, “Los Angeles Jury Orders Philip Morris to Pay $3 Billion to Lifelong Smoker”, AP/Law.com, June 7; Bob Van Voris, “Big Bucks Guy Shows Little Ego”, National Law Journal, June 15 (profile of winning attorney Michael Piuze). And after Salon ran a piece by veteran tobacco-litigation advocate Elizabeth Whelan trying to defend the outcome of the L.A. case it immediately drew an influx of reader mail strongly disagreeing with her (“Tobacklash!”, June 15; letters, June 18). Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.
June 19 — Docs and Dems. The American Medical Association, which used to take a dim view of the litigation biz but now eagerly builds it up as a way of revenging itself against managed care, is tilting its campaign contributions these days toward lawsuit-friendly Democrats (OpenSecrets.org “Money in Politics Alert — New Friends: The American Medical Association, Democrats and the Patients’ Bill of Rights”, June 18). See also Kelley O. Beaucar, “Critics Decry ‘1-800- LAWSUITS’ Bill”, FoxNews.com, June 18 (quotes our editor); Fred Barnes, “The Right Medicine” (editorial), Weekly Standard, June 25. And SmarterTimes, the indispensable corrective to each morning’s dose of West 43rd St. tendentiousness, finds a number of misleading assertions in Monday’s New York Times editorial on “patients’ rights”. For instance: “The editorial says, ‘The White House, for its part, says the bill would open the floodgates to a wave of frivolous lawsuits, a claim not supported by the evidence in those states that have adopted similar legislation, including Texas under Governor Bush.’ This is misleading; the Texas patients’ bill of rights included limits on civil damage awards that are not included in the federal legislation to which the White House is objecting.” (June 18 — scroll to “Patients’ Bill of Wrongs”; “The Right Patients’ Bill of Rights” (editorial), New York Times, June 18).
June 19 — “Candles might be polluting your home, EPA says”. A new indoor environmental menace: just what we needed to ruin our wick end. (Traci Watson, USA Today, June 14).
June 18 — Lawsuits on overseas terrorism: guess who foots the bill. “Thanks to Congress’ largesse, U.S. taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims of foreign terrorism. And the tab might soon soar.” Given American jurors’ low opinion of regimes like those of Iran and Libya, trial lawyers often score big awards suing them — which they can then present to U.S. taxpayers for at least partial payment. “Stuart Eizenstat, deputy Treasury secretary under President Clinton, says lawyers are pressing cases under two laws: a 1996 statute that lets Americans file suit in U.S. courts against seven countries on a State Department list of terrorist states, and a 2000 law that authorizes the government to pay some damages. Congress has to approve new awards, but it has in every case so far. ‘It has become a race to the courthouse and then a race to get Congress to appropriate funds,’ Eizenstat says.” (Barbara Slavin, “Taxpayers get the bill when terrorists lose in court”, USA Today, June 14). “Two former hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian kidnappers sued Iran on Tuesday, contending the country was responsible because its Muslim government shields and supports terrorists. The lawsuits, filed by Rev. Benjamin Weir and Frank A. Regier, seek $100 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.” (“Former Iran [sic] Hostages File Lawsuits”, AP/FindLaw, June 13).
June 18 — Villaraigosa and the litigation lobby. One group that may be less than happy about leftist Antonio Villaraigosa’s June 5 loss to James Hahn in the L.A. mayoral race: trial lawyers, who’ve found Villaraigosa a close ally in his powerful post as speaker of the California Assembly. “In the 1997-1998 campaign cycle, Villaraigosa received $612,400 in campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers, a number that works out to be 25% of the almost $2.4 million given to California Assembly candidates,” notes California’s Torrance-based Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (“2001 L.A. Mayor’s Report“, undated). “In the 1999-2000 campaign cycle, he received $220,600 from personal injury lawyers, which works out to be 10 percent of funds contributed to California Assembly candidates.” See also Todd Purdum, “Hahn Wins Los Angeles Mayor’s Race”, New York Times, June 6 (reg).
June 18 — Next time, “endorse” only products you like? Tennis pro Martina Hingis has sued the Sergio Tacchini Italian sportswear company, claiming that its shoes caused her feet to hurt and made her drop out of tournaments. Couldn’t she just have removed the offending footgear? Well, she’d agreed to wear it as part of a $5.6 million endorsement deal. (“Hingis claims shoes injured her feet”, AP/ESPN, June 11; “Shoemaker says Hingis has no basis for claim”, AP/ESPN, June 12).
June 18 — Reader contributions pass $1,000. We’re doing better with the Amazon Honor System than most sites we know, thanks to generous readers like you; our average contribution is nearly $10. Have you done your bit yet?
June 15-17 — Jury: drunk driver hardly responsible at all for fatal crash. A Broward County. Fla. jury has found the state Department of Transportation and a highway construction firm to be 90 percent responsible for the 1995 traffic accident that took the life of former Miami Dolphins linebacker David Griggs. Griggs “had a blood-alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit of .08, after which a person is considered drunk in Florida, according to the toxicology report from the Broward County Medical Examiner.” A second trial is set for the fall to determine damages. (“Jury: Road firm, government mostly to blame for Griggs’ death”, AP/Sacramento Bee, June 14).
June 15-17 — “Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”. On Wednesday an Alameda County, Calif. jury found Dr. Wing Chin liable for recklessness and elder abuse for not giving sufficient pain medicine to 85-year-old William Bergman, who died three days later of lung cancer. “During the month-long trial, the doctor testified he followed established protocols in prescribing pain medication to Bergman. His attorney Bob Slattery also argued neither the patient nor his family requested that the doctor prescribe more pain medication to alleviate the suffering.” Plaintiff’s lawyer Jim Gearan said Dr. Chin had failed to take training in pain management. (“Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”, CNN, June 14). We wonder whether this case ties in in any way with the phenomenon convincingly documented by Jacob Sullum, namely the widespread undertreatment of pain by doctors in a medical culture swayed both by fear of narcotics themselves and by fear of the enormous hassle from state regulators and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that can descend on the heads of doctors perceived as too ready to furnish narcotics (“Who’ll stop the pain?”, Reason, Jan. 1997).
June 15-17 — “Lender hit with $71M verdict”. A Holmes County, Mississippi jury voted $69 million in punitive damages and $2.2 million in compensatory damages after a group of 23 plaintiffs accused Washington Mutual Finance Group of “goading customers into renewing loans with additional undisclosed charges”. The plaintiff’s lawyer was Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., who chairs one of the two Judiciary committees in the lower house of the Mississippi legislature; his wife Barbara, also a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, serves in the state Senate where she sits on the Judiciary committee and is vice chair of the Insurance committee. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, June 14).
June 14 — Wal-Mart-as-“cult” suit: it is about the money. A lawsuit accuses Wal-Mart of maintaining a “cult-like” atmosphere which encourages employees to put in unpaid overtime. “You bet it’s about the money,” said litigant Taylor Vogue. (“Wal-Mart Brainwashes Workers, Suit Alleges”, AP/Omaha World-Herald, June 9).
June 14 — “Lawsuit rocks Virginia string quartet”. Further developments in the ongoing Audubon String Quartet mess, last reported on here June 5, 2000: estranged first violinist David Ehrlich is suing the other three members of the ensemble for $2 million and has obtained a court order preventing them from playing together under the Audubon name or any other group name (they can still use their individual names). Robert Mann, an original member of the Juilliard Quartet, thinks chamber musicians should not take differences to court: “If anyone who becomes disaffected with his group can sue the others for money, it would be disastrous.” (Chris Kahn, AP/ SFGate.com, June 8). Update Nov. 13, 2001: judge awards Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages.
June 14 — Fee fracas still going 23 years after case filed. Chick Kam Choo was a ship worker killed in 1977 in an accident on a tanker in Singapore harbor. His survivors’ wrongful-death suit against Exxon and other defendants was filed in Houston, Tex., with its big verdicts, rather than in Singapore. It finally settled this January for $2.7 million after protracted battles that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but as of April the plaintiffs hadn’t seen a penny because of new squabbling between eight different plaintiff’s lawyers over who gets fees. John O’Quinn of O’Quinn and Laminack, whose doings are frequently reported on in this space, says his firm gets it all. But Newton B. Schwartz Sr., C. Benton Musslewhite Sr. and his son Charles B. Musslewhite Jr., Richard Sheehy, Gary Polland, and Joseph C. Blanks all maintain that they deserve some or all of the fees. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “A Piece of the Action”, Texas Lawyer, April 17).
June 13 — Dodge ball on endangered list. “Educators in several states are fighting to ban dodge ball, but the game remains popular with kids.” A professor at Eastern Connecticut State University says the game is “litigation waiting to happen.” (“Educators want dodge ball tossed out”, AP/CNN, June 7). And a touch football game has brought youngsters to court in a Wisconsin broken-arm case unlikely to have any real winners (Tom Kertscher, “Trial is about pals, football, evening the score”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 10).
June 13 — Antidepressant blamed for killing spree. Three years after Donald Schell went on a murderous rampage, a Cheyenne, Wyo. jury has blamed the episode on Glaxo SmithKline, maker of the anti-depressant Paxil, with an $8 million verdict. (“Shooter’s family awarded $8 million in drug suit”, AP/CNN, June 7).
June 13 — Batch of reader letters. The latest sack of correspondent mail includes a note from Ric Espinosa, who filed the “library cat” suit reported on last month; letters on the ethics of ghostwriting for lawyers, class action suits, Prof. Richard Daynard’s conflicts and their tardy disclosure, the Casey Martin case, and flashlight warnings; along with the possibly relevant lyrics of an Al Stewart song.
June 12 — “Hearsay harassment” not actionable. Diane Leibovitz, a now-retired mid-level manager at the New York City Transit Authority, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the TA because, though she had not herself been a target of harassment, reports had reached her at second hand that other women employees had been. She got a $60,000 jury award after a trial presided over by federal judge Jack Weinstein, but the Second Circuit U.S. court of appeals has reversed it, saying the law does not confer a right to sue on a worker who “was not herself a target of the alleged harassment, was not present when the harassment supposedly occurred, and did not even know of the harassment when it was ongoing”. Leibovitz’s lawyer, Merrick Rossein, a law professor at CUNY and author of a widely used textbook on employment discrimination law, was disappointed: “They’re saying that since she didn’t directly observe the harassment and didn’t prove the harassment actually occurred, it is not cognizable under the theory of hostile environment.” (John Springer, “Court overturns transit authority sexual harassment award”, Court TV/Yahoo, June 11).
June 12 — Ghost blurber case. Almost as fast as Sony Pictures got caught inventing quotes from nonexistent film critic “David Manning” to hype four of its films, a class action lawyer sued on behalf of two L.A. moviegoers whose desire to engage the studio in legal battle no doubt welled up in a wholly spontaneous fashion (Denise Levin, “Sony’s Bogus Blurbmeister Spurs Class Action Suit”, Yahoo/Inside.com, June 8; Anthony Breznican, “2 Moviegoers Sue Sony Over Review”, AP/Yahoo, June 8). And even faster off the dime was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who seized on the scandal’s very tenuous Nutmeg State connection (the fictitious Manning was said to work for the Ridgefield Press) as excuse for an investigation (“Conn. AG to Investigate Film Reviews”, AP/Yahoo, June 6). According to Jim Knipfel of the New York Press, the investigation may be a wide-ranging one : “Blumenthal is not only upset by the fake critic business, but also by the age-old publicist’s trick of carefully editing lukewarm reviews into raves” via ellipses, and says that may be unlawful too. Where has he been for the past 30 years, Knipfel wonders? “Mr. Blumenthal should find himself some sort of hobby.” (“Billboard: ‘Stunning! … An Amazing Achievement … Seething with Forbidden … Desire!'”, New York Press, June 6 (strong language); Mickey Kaus, Kausfiles “Hit Parade” (left column — scroll to June 8).
June 12 — Bicycles not “motor vehicles”, court rules. Aren’t you relieved? If they had motors, you’d always be buying gasoline for them. (Danielle N. Rodier, “Bicycles Not Motor Vehicles Under Governmental Immunity Statute”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), June 7).
June 12 — Record traffic on Overlawyered.com. Last week set another record for pages served at 31,600 (with about 14,000 distinct visitors). We must have gotten some big publicity Thursday (more than 8,000 pages served on that day) but we’re not sure what it was.
June 11 — Blockbuster Video class action. Yet another headline-grabber from the world-famed courts of Beaumont, Tex.: customers will get various free-rental and cents-off coupons with a notional value approaching $450 million and a real value of some minute fraction of that, while class-action plaintiff’s lawyers will take home $9.25 million. The video chain’s sin was, allegedly, to have made too much money from late fees and to have changed its policies without notifying customers. (“Blockbuster settles suits”, AP/CNNfn, June 5; details; William F. Buckley, Jr., “Trial lawyers vs. sanity”, National Review Online, June 8).
June 11 — “Plastic surgery addiction” patient loses suit. In a unanimous ruling, New York’s highest court last week “tossed a lawsuit from a woman addicted to plastic surgery — she had over 50 operations — who claimed her doctor should have referred her to a psychiatrist before using the knife.” A lower court had ruled that the suit could proceed, raising fears that physicians might have to arrange psychiatric pre-screening of patients before many elective operations (see Aug. 15, 2000) (Kenneth Lovett, “Plastic-Surgery Addict Suit Gets Carved Up”, New York Post, June 8).
June 11 — $5,133.47 a cigarette. That’s how much the jury awarded plaintiff Richard Boeken last week when it told Philip Morris to pay him $3 billion for having enabled his smoking habit, according to calculations by reader Nathan Clark by WSJ OpinionJournal “Best of the Web” (June 8). “Based on Boeken’s claim that he smoked two packs a day for 40 years, Clark figured Boeken had smoked 584,000 cigarettes”, which divided into $3 billion “comes to $5,133.47 per cigarette Boeken smoked. Look for a big increase in teen smoking as word gets around the schoolyards that it’s a ticket to untold wealth.” Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.
June 11– End the dairy compact. Sen. Jeffords (I-Vt.) has been a leading defender of the “indefensible boondoggle” by which Northeastern milk prices are kept high, and his party switch makes a perfect opportunity to get rid of the thing (Jonathan Chait, “Spilled milk”, The New Republic, June 11). And Republican electoral victories in states like West Virginia are dearly bought if the quid pro quo for them is that consumers in the rest of the country have to suffer restrictions on steel imports (“Protectionist Bush?” (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, June 11).