January 2003 archives

January 10-12 — Tobacco fees, cont’d: “Not a pretty picture”. What with our hiatus, we’ve been remiss in updating readers about it, but the neglected story of how lawyers carted off billions from the 1998 tobacco heist has been breaking into the news in increasingly noisy fashion. In November, former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who’d previously stonewalled efforts to investigate the private lawyers who worked under contract with his office, surprised observers by approaching his successor’s office with word that he has information about how at least one of those lawyers (unnamed thus far) may have breached his fiduciary duty to the state and may be subject to a potential forfeiture of fees. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Former Texas AG Offers Info on Tobacco Lawyers’ Conduct”, Texas Lawyer, Nov. 18). The Dallas Morning News calls for the private lawyers to stop dodging the state’s efforts to put them under oath about the fee affair, as they have been doing for years now (“Clearing the air: Abbott should examine new tobacco claims” (editorial), Dallas Morning News, Nov. 15)(reg).

Last month, American Lawyer published what seems to be the first major journalistic account of one of the most secretive aspects of the whole scandal: the unaccountable arbitration panel that has repeatedly awarded unheard-of sums to the trial lawyers. We’ve covered the doings of this panel many times on this site, and our editor discusses its rulings at some length in his new book The Rule of Lawyers, but we’re delighted to see a professional news organization finally devote its resources to scrutinizing the arbitration panel’s role in the fee scandal. Reporter Susan Beck digs up a large trove of material previously unknown to us in what the magazine terms “a behind-the-scenes account of the controversial awards. Warning: It’s not a pretty picture.”

“The proceedings were private, and only the awards were made public. According to transcripts and interviews with more than 20 participants, the hearings were loosely run events. A labor mediator, Wells had never conducted an arbitration. Testimony was not taken under oath. Celebrity witnesses — some paid, others with personal ties to the parties — offered testimonials in person and on professionally produced videotapes. The hearings were punctuated with folksy aphorisms and down-home appeals to [arbitrator John Calhoun] Wells, whose swing vote determined the outcome every time.” The whole article (and its sidebars) deserve close study. (Susan Beck, “Trophy Fees”, The American Lawyer, Dec. 2; “As Murky as a Clay Hole”, Dec. 2; “And the Winners Are…”, Dec. 2). And this month, the same reporter details the internecine strife that has gone far to tear apart the firm that made off with the greatest share of the ill-gotten gains from tobacco, Charleston, S.C.’s Ness Motley Loadholt Richardson & Poole, as the formerly cordial partners spar about … well, it basically seems to come down to money. “So maybe a couple billion dollars can’t buy happiness after all.” (Susan Beck, “Jet Blues”, The American Lawyer, Jan. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

January 10-12 — China: lawyer sues over 4-minute cinema delay. Emulating the American way of doing things, with a vengeance? “A disgruntled cinema-goer who went to watch the hit Chinese film Hero is suing the picture house and a movie production company because the movie started four minutes late. Zhang Yang, a lawyer, took action after being forced to watch four minutes of advertisements, which delayed the start of the film until 9.34pm when his ticket said it was due to commence at 9.30pm, according to the weekly Beijing Today.” However, Zhang does not appear to have adopted American lawyers’ ideas of suitable compensation: he appears to be asking for a mere $17, “a refund of his 40 yuan ($8.50) ticket and 40 yuan ($8.50) in compensation.” (“Chinese man sues after adverts delay movie by four minutes”, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 6)(& see Feb. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — “Drunk Driving Victim Sues Designated Driver”. New frontiers of liability dept.: in Boulder, Colo., a lawyer for car-crash victim Doris Gray is suing not just the drunken driver whose vehicle hit her car but also “the driver’s friend, who reportedly failed to keep her promise to be a designated driver”. Although none of the participants could think of any earlier cases in which persons have been held liable for shirking a designated-driver role, a former head of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association claims the new theory is “pretty solid”. (TheDenverChannel.com, Jan. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — Playing chicken on malpractice reform. New Jersey’s Democratic pols propose dealing with their state’s medical liability crisis by enacting a cap on insurance rates while doing nothing to reduce the spiraling cost of judgments, settlements and defense costs. Columnist Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger isn’t impressed. (“MDs will fly the coop rather than play chicken”, Jan. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — “The Lawyers Are Lurking Over S.U.V.’s”. “The beginning of a new year is a good time for predictions, so here’s mine: S.U.V.’s are next on the agenda for the plaintiff’s bar. … [Suits of this kind] have less to do with the law or the facts than with the social climate… Don’t be surprised if some ambitious state attorneys general get into the act, too.” (Daniel Akst, New York Times, Jan. 5)(reg). (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — Disabled-access suit could stop Super Bowl. “Super Bowl XXXVII may have to move from Qualcomm Stadium unless the city expands access for the disabled at the stadium. Attorney Amy Vandeveld filed an application for an injunction Friday in U.S. District Court in an attempt to get the city to comply with the terms of a 2001 a settlement aimed at expanding access for disabled people at the stadium.” (“Super Bowl XXXVII may be blocked in San Diego”, The Sports Network, Jan. 3). In the March 2001 settlement, San Diego officials agreed to spend more than $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to improve access to the stadium; attorney Vandeveld “received $1.3 million in attorney fees and other payments”. Linda Woodbury, the city’s disability services coordinator, estimated that the city’s overall “to-do” list of accessibility projects would cost at least $175 million. (Caitlin Rother, “Disabled activists threaten suit on Padres’ new ballpark”, SignOnSanDiego, Feb. 11, 2002). And ABC correspondent John Stossel recently devoted a segment to lawyers’ use of the ADA to extract settlements from retailers and other defendants (“Equal Access to the ‘Wild Side'”, 20/20, Nov. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — Trial lawyer’s purchase of Alabama governor’s house said to be “arm’s-length”. “Wray Pearce, the Birmingham accountant who bought Gov. Don Siegelman’s Montgomery home for twice its appraised value, was acting as an intermediary for trial lawyer Lanny Vines, who subsequently bought the house from Pearce, according to court records filed last month in a lawsuit involving the two men. … The governor and his representatives have described the house sale as an arm’s-length transaction, with the governor and his wife placing the property on the market, and a buyer coming along and paying the asking price. … None of the records in the court file specifically state why Vines used his longtime accountant as an apparent straw buyer for the home. Nor do they explain why Vines was willing to pay a sum that a county appraisal and a Register review showed was about twice the home’s value.” Vines is considered one of the most politically influential plaintiff’s lawyers in Alabama. (Eddie Curran, “Papers show trial lawyer paid accountant for Siegelman house”, Mobile Register, Nov. 11). Also catch the editor’s note at the end of the article: “The governor’s office has a stated policy of refusing to comment to Register Reporter Eddie Curran.” (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — “The Politics of Family Destruction”. Scorching indictment of the divorce industry by Howard University professor and fathers’ rights advocate Stephen Baskerville (Crisis, Nov.). And civil liberties advocates are uneasy about a developing trend in which courts in Ohio and Wisconsin have ordered men behind in their child support payments not to father any more children. (Dee McAree, “Deadbeat Dads Told to Stop Having Kids”, National Law Journal, Sept. 26; see Nov. 28, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Courting stupidity: why smart lawyers pick dumb jurors”. If you’d like an advance peek at our editor’s forthcoming bookThe Rule of Lawyers, this is your chance: the chapter on jury excesses is excerpted in January’s Reason. (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Doctors strike over malpractice costs”. “More than two dozen orthopedic, general and heart surgeons in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle began 30-day leaves of absence Wednesday or planned to begin leaves in the next few days.” Doctors in Pennsylvania are also on the brink of a job action to protest the legal system, despite a letter from a state official menacing them with having their licenses revoked for patient “abandonment”. (MSNBC, Jan. 2; Josh Goldstein, “Pa. warns doctors not to quit”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 28; Google news; see Jan. 21, 2002) (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — U.K.: “Killer claims over loss of interest”. “A murderer is demanding thousands of dollars in lost interest because his prison savings were not invested wisely.” John Duggan, 53, jailed for life in 1984 after he admitted battering his girlfriend to death, says officials of the British Prison Service wrongfully left his money “in a zero-interest prison account designed for spending in jail on phonecards and toiletries” and says they had a duty to invest his earnings in an interest-bearing account. (Melbourne Herald Sun, Dec. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Jack Ass blasts ‘Jackass'”. “A Montana man who legally changed his name to Jack Ass in 1997 (to raise awareness of the perils of drunk driving) says Jackass, the controversial MTV stunt-fest and subsequent film, has besmirched his sterling reputation, and … has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Viacom.” (Julie Keller, E! Online, Jan. 2; Michael Rosenwald, “The Appellative Court: The Real Jack Ass”, The New Yorker, Jan. 6). (& letter to the editor). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — Milberg copyrights its complaints. The leading class-action law firm has sent cease-and-desist letters to about ten other law firms, informing them that they are in violation of its rights when they swipe large amounts of language from Milberg Weiss suits — sometimes pretty much the entire complaint — for purposes of filing their own copycat lawsuits against the same defendants. Annoyed by the free riders, star litigator Bill Lerach “started putting copyright notices on some of his complaints, and registering those notices with the U.S. Copyright Office last September.” (Janet L. Conley, “Milberg Weiss Tries to Nail Class Action Imitators”, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

January 20 — U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury… In Britain, a “leading public health expert” is proposing a legal ban on extra-large chocolate bars and a code of conduct for snack food companies which “would include promises to cut the size of their portions by 20 per cent and to stop selling ‘over-sized’ sweets”. Particularly offensive to coercive nutritionists is some food companies’ practice of offering an extra-large package at a price only slightly higher than that of the smaller size. (Severin Carrell, “Why that big, fat KitKat could be the death of you”, The Independent, Jan. 19) (& welcome TongueTied readers). (DURABLE LINK)

January 20 — … and climbing cost of “compensation culture”. “The compensation culture, in which ‘every mishap leads to a complaint’ and often to legal action, is changing the face of Britain and costing about £10 billion a year, a report says today. … Compensation paid by insurance companies and public authorities amounts to one per cent of GDP, actuaries estimate. The figure is growing by 15 per cent a year. … However, the 35 per cent spent on administration in Britain compares well with the 58 per cent in America.” Schools, police forces and the ministry of defense are all being sued more frequently. (Joshua Rozenberg, “Price of ‘suing for every mishap’ is £10bn”, Daily Telegraph, Dec. 17; “Compensation claims ‘costing UK £10bn a year'”, Ananova/Guardian, Dec. 17; Robert Verkaik, “Lawyers earn £3bn yearly from injuries culture”, Independent, Dec. 17; London Institute of Actuaries/Edinburgh Faculty of Actuaries, press release; “The Cost of Compensation Culture”, Dec. 2002 (PDF)). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — Vt. high court: ALL-CAPS DISCLAIMER on front page of employee handbook not unambiguous enough. “Sidestepping an all-capitals disclaimer on page one of an employee handbook, Vermont’s Supreme Court has revived a woman’s right to sue her ex-employer for breaching an implied contract when it fired her.” Although the disclaimer said: “THE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN THIS MANUAL CONSTITUTE GUIDELINES ONLY. THEY DO NOT CONSTITUTE PART OF AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT, NOR ARE THEY INTENDED TO MAKE ANY COMMITMENT TO ANY EMPLOYEE,” the court ruled that the woman could nonetheless ask a jury to construe the manual’s contents as generating a legally enforceable promise. (Andrew Harris, “Big Disclaimer No Bar to Employee Suit”, National Law Journal, Jan. 15). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — “Ich Bin Ein Tort Lawyer”. Train disasters in the Austrian Alps and in Germany in recent years, which killed 155 and 101 people respectively, have resulted in the filing of massive personal-injury lawsuits in New York City, although very few Americans numbered among the victims and most of the defendants being sued are European companies. American lawyers (including Edward Fagan, who also drew critical attention in the Holocaust-assets litigation — see Jun. 24, 2002) argue that so long as they designate at least one American as lead plaintiff, they should be able to bring any number of other nonresident plaintiffs in on the same action. Such forum-shopping enables the lawyers to sidestep rules in German and Austrian courts that ban contingency fees, cap damages, require the losing side to compensate the winners, and restrict discovery and the use of class actions. (Michael Freedman, Forbes, Jan. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — Blog-appreciated. Yesterday (Jan. 16) we got Slashdotted, with a reader’s suggestion that we cover a lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter sent to the maintainer of a “free PCI device table” (we readily admit we don’t know what those devices are). AngryRobot describes an indecorous canine-generated outdoor hazard which seems only too likely to eventuate in the sort of personal injury case “destined to be on Overlawyered” (Jan. 16). Our return from hiatus last month was generously hailed by Susanna Cornett in Cut on the Bias (Dec. 13), and by the web’s premier chronicler of appellate law, Howard Bashman’s How Appealing (Dec. 15 and Dec. 30). Dean Esmay (Dean’s World, Jan. 10) calls us “one of the best sites on the web”. We’ve also been mentioned lately on Employers’ Lawyer (Jan. 12), MedRants (Jan. 11), Larry Sullivan’s Delaware Law Office (Nov. 12)(on loser-pays, which Sullivan dubs “winner wins”), Nikita Demosthenes (Oct. 19), and on many link lists including those of Rick Henderson, Nikki, Esq., Carey Gage, Professor Bunyip, John Ray, and Skunk by the Ocean. All this incoming link activity leaves us at #155 in the BlogStreet Top 200 blogs (ranked by number of those who link to us). A special tip of the hat to Scott Norvell’s recently launched TongueTied site, cataloguing excesses of political correctness, which generates an impressive amount of traffic for us. And we turn up in a sidebar in Germany’s Der Spiegel Online (Frank Patalong, “Wahre Lügen”, on the “Stella Awards” list of spurious cases, Nov. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

January 15-16 — Furor over California complaint mills. Beverly Hills, Calif. law firm Trevor Law Group has used the state’s bounty-hunting consumer-protection laws to file complaints en masse against auto repair shops, nail salons, and hotels, from which it then demands settlements. Even Calif. attorney general Bill Lockyer, no foe of the plaintiff’s bar, says he is “disgusted and appalled” by Trevor’s most recent mass litigation campaign, against more than 1,000 restaurants and food stores, many small and immigrant-owned. Business owners are organizing in response and many news outlets have run indignant editorials (Cindy Chang, “Backlash against lawsuit gains steam”, Pasadena Star-News, Jan. 2; Traci Jai Isaacs, “Business owners claiming old law used in ‘shakedowns'”, South Bay Daily Breeze, Jan. 14; California Restaurant Association “Call to Action”, Jan.; KABC-TV 7, “Auto Lawsuits”, Dec. 3; Civil Justice Association of California, “Legal Shakedowns Hitting Thousands of California Businesses”, Dec. 6; “Mass Produced Claims Against Nail Salons”, Dec. 6 (PDF)). Radio’s “John and Ken Show” has also been covering the controversy and its online audio segments (three December dates) are described by one reader as quite lively in tone, although we haven’t had the chance to listen to them. (& see Mar. 3) (DURABLE LINK)

January 15-16 — Sis-Boom-Sue. Jenny Lawson is suing the Des Moines school district, alleging she broke her leg when she collided with another cheerleader while cheering for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School. “The suit claims the district was negligent for — among other things — failing to have cheerleaders perform on an absorbent mat and encouraging more than one cheerleader to jump at once. Drew Bracken, an attorney for the Des Moines district, said he knew of no schools with such rules. ‘I’m not aware of a requirement that cheerleaders perform on an absorbent mat. I’ve never heard of it before,’ Bracken said.” (Mark Siebert, Des Moines Register, Jan. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — “Wacky Warning Label” winners. This year’s winner in Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch’s Wacky Warning Label contest is a label on a robotic massage chair that warns, “Do not use massage chair without clothing” along with “Never force any body part into the backrest area while the rollers are moving”. “Second place goes to a snowblower label that says ‘Do not use snowthrower on roof.’ Third is a kitchen label that says, ‘Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher.'” (multiple outlets; Business Wire, Jan. 8) (earlier winners: Jan. 25-27, 2002; Jan. 19-21, 2001; Jan. 18, 2000) (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — Cochran: City Hall to blame for arson/murder by drug dealer. “In a legal memo expected to land at City Hall in a matter of days, attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. will claim the city bears responsibility for the October arson murder of an East Baltimore family — in part because the anti-drug ‘Baltimore Believe’ campaign encouraged residents to speak out against dealers, a lawyer working with Cochran said yesterday. Cochran is representing relatives of the Dawson family, who prosecutors say were killed in retaliation for reporting neighborhood dealers to police.” (Laura Vozzella and Del Quentin Wilber, “Anti-drug campaign blamed in Dawson arson deaths”, Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8)(via WSJ Best of the Web) (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers. “U.K.-based psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, is planning a lawsuit against Weight Watchers on behalf of what she says are thousands of women and men who have paid out many hundreds of British pounds to the company, only to end up fatter than before they started the program. … Orbach’s suit would be the first to hold a weight-loss company responsible for clients’ gaining the weight back.” (“Diet Dispute”, ABC News, Jan. 9). “‘Now that the general public is taking absolutely no responsibility, we retailers are starting to get anxious,’ says Simon Doonan, creative director of the Manhattan clothier Barney’s. ‘If people are suing McDonald’s for making them fat, one does wonder how far we are from an era where individuals will attempt to sue us when they buy clothes that make them look fat.'” (Joanne Kaufman, “Seasonal Pain and Suffering”, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 29) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — “Cities Pay Big in Faulty Lawsuits”. Fox News picks up on the theme explored by columnist Deroy Murdock a few days ago of how persons hurt while committing crimes or trying to commit suicide now often show up in court demanding compensation for others’ negligence in letting them be injured. This site’s editor went on camera to take a less-than-enthusiastic view of such suits. (Jan. 30) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — FBI probes Philadelphia’s hiring of class-action firm. “An FBI investigation is focusing on why current and former city officials gave potentially lucrative legal work to a top Democratic donor and resisted a judge’s efforts to seek competitive bids for the work.” The administration of Ed Rendell, since elected Pennsylvania governor, hired prominent class-action firm Barrack, Rodos & Bacine to represent the city as lead plaintiff in a large class action in California representing investors in Network Associates, a software firm. Through its senior partner, the law firm says it plans to cooperate with the investigation. (Cynthia Burton, Mark Fazlollah and Joseph Tanfani, “FBI investigates Philadelphia’s Pension Board”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 30). Update and more coverage: Mar. 21-23. (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — “Valentine’s Card Burglar Sues Police”. From the U.K.: “A convicted burglar has been given legal aid to sue the police for sending him a Valentine’s card last year. Gary Williams, who has a 12-year criminal record, was one of 10 known burglars and car criminals who received cards from Brighton police. But when he opened the card, his girlfriend thought it must be from another woman. She was so cross that, before he could explain, she hurled an ashtray at him, and it went whistling past his head.” (David Sapsted, Daily Telegraph, Jan. 29) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — Fair housing law vs. free speech. On more than one occasion, when local residents have spoken out against the siting of low-income housing projects or group homes in their neighborhoods, they’ve faced (unsuccessful) lawsuits and attempted fines on the grounds that their speech constituted a civil rights violation. Now the Sixth Circuit has approved a more subtle way of discouraging residents from speaking their minds: impute their prejudiced views to the government that has allowed them to speak at a public hearing. It’s a good way of getting government bodies to stop holding public hearings for fear of liability, according to columnist Robyn Blumner (“Fair Housing Act cannot be used to gag residents’ displeasure”, St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — Manhattan Institute turns 25. The New York-based policy institute, with which our editor is associated, celebrates its quarter-century anniversary. Read more about it (Tom Wolfe, “Revolutionaries”, New York Post, Jan. 30; “Ideas Matter” (editorial), Jan. 30). Then visit the Institute’s website and sign up for its invaluable mailing list. (DURABLE LINK)

January 30 — “ADA Goes to the Movies”. The AMC chain pioneered stadium-style seating in movie theaters, which much improves sight lines for audiences and quickly became the industry standard. Then civil-rights activists swooped down, saying the new layouts (the earlier versions, at least) were unlawful because they provided too narrow a set of seating choices for patrons in wheelchairs. Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard takes up the story (Jan. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

January 30 — Targeting Wall Street. More than 200 mass tort lawyers recently met at Las Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel to discuss suing investment firms, at an event put on by the Mass Torts Made Perfect organization. Veterans of the breast-implant and fen-phen campaigns “are hoping to profit from the fallout of the $1.4 billion global regulatory settlement over stock-research conflicts, seeking to file claims on behalf of investors.” Law partners James Hooper and Robert Weiss “concede they don’t really know their way around Wall Street” but have already spent more than $1 million in television advertising in search of retired Florida clients who lost money in the market. “The pair is teaming up with Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor PA, a large mass-tort firm based in Pensacola, Fla., known for its filings against the tobacco industry, among others.” Messrs. Hooper and Weiss “recently filed 71 cases against Citigroup Inc.’s Salomon Smith Barney on behalf of investors who lost less than $25,000 apiece.” The newcomers have not met with a friendly reception from the existing plaintiff’s securities bar, however, who tend to sniff at their lack of a track record in the area. (Susanne Craig, “Lawyers Target Wall Street Following Regulatory Payoff”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29) (online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)

January 29 — State of the Union. “To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher costs — the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued. Because of excessive litigation, everybody pays more for health care and many parts of America are losing fine doctors. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit. I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform.” (President Bush, State of the Union speech Jan. 28, reprinted, Quad City Times). Charles Krauthammer’s take: “Sick, Tired and Not Taking It Anymore”, Time, Jan. 13 (MedRants comments). And see James M. Taylor, “States Take Lead on Medical Malpractice Reform”, Heartland Institute Health Care News, Jan.(DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — Latest Rule of Lawyers publicity. Following appearances in New York and Washington, our editor is speaking on the book to a lunchtime audience Tuesday in Chicago; details here. Trips to Texas, California and elsewhere are in the works, as well as many radio programs. Famed InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds gave us a nice lift Friday in his MSNBC column (Jan. 24). Fox News Channel has now put online a partial transcript of our editor’s appearance last Thursday on “The Big Story” (posted Jan. 24). A CNN appearance is still pending. Eric Schippers of the Center for Individual Freedom gave the book a favorable review in the Federalist Society publication Engage, reprinted here. And Reason’s recent cover story/excerpt included a mini-author profile which we neglected to link earlier. (Jan.)

There’s more: Barnes & Noble Online gave the book one of its rotating “We Recommend” designations (Law category); both the Conservative Book Club/National Review Book Service and Laissez-Faire Books have picked the book as a selection and given it good write-ups; and e-versions are available for download from Franklin.com (requires proprietary software) and Palm Digital Media. (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — “No suits by lawbreakers, please”. Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock says a good place to start with tort reform would be to cut off lawsuits where the complainant’s own crime or suicide attempt was the preponderant cause of his injury. Among eyebrow-raising cases: “Disturbed, Angelo Delgrande shot and wounded his parents and himself in a June 1995 dispute. He then received surgery at a Westchester County, N.Y. hospital. That night, he yanked the tubes and monitoring devices from his body, then leapt off the second story of an adjacent parking garage in a suicide bid. He is now paraplegic. Delgrande sued the hospital for failing to treat his depression and keep him indoors. Last October, he won $9 million.” Also quotes our editor (Scripps Howard News Service/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 23) (& see Jan. 31) (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — “Woman Attacked By Goose Sues County”. “A woman who says she was attacked by a 3-foot-tall goose is suing Palm Beach County, claiming the county should not have allowed the bird to roam in a public park.” Darlene Griffin, 30, says she was attacked on Feb. 5 in Okeeheelee Park. The county contends that it has no duty to protect parkgoers from “obvious” dangers. (Local6/WKMG, Jan. 24; CNN, Jan. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — Don’t break out the shakes yet. Judge Sweet’s ruling last week in favor of McDonald’s has been widely hailed as a blow for common sense and individual responsibility, but the judge “generously gave the plaintiffs a chance to try their luck again” and “take a second bite from the burger”. Lawyers are likely to refile both the case at issue and new ones, after due study of Sweet’s opinion which may even provide a “jurisprudential roadmap” to liability. “Make no mistake: This case is not about fat kids. It’s about fat paydays. For lawyers.” (“Mickey D’s Hollow Victory” (editorial), New York Post, Jan. 23; see also “Lawyers Run Marathons, Not Sprints”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Jan. 23). More: some well-known plaintiff’s lawyers pooh-pooh the fat suits (James V. Grimaldi, “Legal Kibitzers See Little Merit in Lawsuit Over Fatty Food at McDonald’s”, Washington Post, Jan. 27). On the other hand, a Fortune cover story argues for taking them seriously (Roger Parloff, “Is Fat the Next Tobacco?”, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 — Malpractice-cost trends. Many mainstream journalists, accepting arguments pressed on them by defenders of the litigation business, have uncritically repeated the notion that the crisis in medical malpractice insurance owes more to insurers’ unwise Wall Street investments than to galloping litigation costs. But in fact, according to an expert on insurer portfolio management, “asset allocation and investment returns have had little, if any, correlation to the development of the current malpractice problem. The crisis is rather the result of a generally unconstrained increase in losses and, over several years, inadequate premium income to cover those losses.” (Raghu Ramachandran, “Did Investments Affect Medical Malpractice Premiums?”, Brown Brothers Harriman Insurance Asset Management Group, Jan. 21; see also post and comments at Megan McArdle’s site and earlier Jan. 1 post and comments). Doctors’ increasing willingness to walk off the job to protest the law’s expropriation — and politicians’ heavy-handed hints that they will face punishment if they do so — recall the producers’ strike in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, according to Edward Hudgins of the Objectivist Center (“Doctors Shrug”, Washington Times, Jan. 12). Ramesh Ponnuru argues that the Bush administration has not come up with an adequate grounding in federalism for a Congressional override of state malpractice law, given that it is a state’s own citizens who are the main losers from irrational verdicts (“Federal Malpractice”, National Review Online, Jan. 24). See also President Bush’s speech in Scranton, Jan. 16; White House “Policy in Focus: Medical Liability“; Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak, “It’s Not Just ‘Sue the Docs’ Anymore”, MedJournal.com blog, Jan. 14; RangelMD, Jan. 18; MedRants, Jan. 20; MedPundit, Jan. 19; Sydney Smith (MedPundit), “Dangerous Lies”, TechCentralStation, Jan. 21. (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 — Race-bias cases gone wrong. “The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a Fort Lauderdale attorney accused of filing a string of racial discrimination lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray and BellSouth, which a federal judge labeled as extortion. Norman Ganz was disbarred for allowing his paralegal, a convicted felon, to engage in the unlicensed practice of law, charge an excessive fee and represent clients with adverse interests. … They were accused of filing a string of lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray, BellSouth, Broward County, Fla., and the Broward County School Board, then threatening to bring in the NAACP as a plaintiff. In return, the lawyers gave NAACP chapters some of the settlement money. … The cases also led to the ouster of Roosevelt Walters, former head of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP.” (Julie Kay, “Florida Lawyer Who Filed Controversial Racial Bias Suits Disbarred”, Miami Daily Business Review, Dec. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case. “A federal judge in Manhattan today threw out a lawsuit brought against the McDonald’s Corporation by two obese teenagers, declaring as he did so that people are responsible for what they eat and that the teenagers’ complaints could spawn thousands of ‘McLawsuits’ if they were upheld. … Samuel Hirsch, the Manhattan lawyer who represents the plaintiffs … noted that Judge Sweet said the two teenagers were not barred from filing an amended complaint, and Mr. Hirsch promised to do just that, asserting that he still had a ‘credible and viable lawsuit.'” New York Times (reg); opinion in PDF format; GoogNews compilation; Reuters/FoxNews; AP/Court TV; Yahoo Full Coverage). And — rather undercutting the much-bruited notion that the increase in portion sizes at restaurants constitutes some sort of sneaky maneuver by restauranteurs having nothing to do with consumer preferences — “In a new study, researchers looked at such foods as hamburgers, burritos, tacos, french fries, sodas, ice cream, pie, cookies and salty snacks and found that the portions got bigger between the 1970s and the 1990s, regardless of whether people ate in or out.” (Deanna Bellandi, “Study Finds Meal Portion Sizes Growing”, AP/Washington Post, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Justices nix vicarious personal housing-bias liability. More good news: vacating a Ninth Circuit ruling, the Supreme Court has unanimously decided that under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the owner of a real estate agency cannot in most cases be made to pay personally for the discriminatory acts of an underling without some further direct showing of fault. The agency’s liability was not in question; the question was instead whether the owner’s personal assets should be at risk if the agency lacked money to pay a judgment. A sobering aspect of the case: the Bush Administration entered it against the agency owner, arguing that he should be held personally liable but on a different legal theory (that the agency was legally an alter ego of his). The high court did not resolve that possible theory of liability. (Linda Greenhouse, “Justices Limit Housing Bias Lawsuits”, New York Times, Jan. 22)(reg) (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Our editor on TV. On Tuesday, kicking off a media swing to promote The Rule of Lawyers, our editor was a guest of Court TV’s Catherine Crier, who said some extremely kind things about the book (which rose to #265 on Amazon, helped by the WSJ‘s great review the same day). Today (Thursday) afternoon, watch for him to be interviewed by Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News Channel’s The Big Story with John Gibson. And although bookings are always subject to last-minute change, don’t be surprised if he turns up Friday evening on CNN. (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — Not my partner’s keeper. No joint and several liability for us, please: “In a sign of increased caution in the post-Enron world, two of New York’s most prominent law firms have elected to become limited liability partnerships. Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison both acquired Limited Liability Partnership status effective Jan. 1, thus ending a combined 250 years of operation as general partnerships.” The effect is to insulate partners from having to pay for each others’ negligence or other wrong, even if greater vigilance by the firm as a whole might have reduced the likelihood of wrongdoing. (Anthony Lin, “Prominent Law Firms Move to Limit Liability”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — ATLA’s hidden influence. From the Capital Research Center, which keeps tabs on activist groups: “The movement for tort reform has been stalled by an unholy alliance of trial lawyers and consumer advocates eager to preserve the power to sue. But few Americans understand the ties linking Ralph Nader-inspired groups to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.” Includes considerable information about ATLA’s generosity to various private groups which lobby against limits on medical malpractice litigation. Also quotes this site (Neil Hrab, “Association of Trial Lawyers of America: How It Works with Ralph Nader Against Tort Reform”, January (summary; “Foundation Watch” report in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — “Tort turns toxic”. Overview of how litigation is wreaking havoc in diverse sectors of the society, from medicine to terrorism insurance, includes particular attention to the problems it’s creating for affordable housing. Construction of condominiums and apartments in California and other Western states has become much more expensive to insure because of burgeoning litigation over allegedly defective construction, some of the allegations well grounded but others drummed up by eager solicitation of condo associations by lawyers. By the year 2000, insurers in California were paying out nearly $3 for every premium dollar collected from builders, and imposing big premium hikes. Multi-unit housing construction has now plunged, and major builders have shifted efforts from affordable condos to pricier freestanding homes, perceived as a lower litigation risk. (Steven Malanga, “Tort Turns Toxic,” City Journal, Autumn 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — Welcome Wall Street Journal readers. Highly favorable review of our editor’s new book The Rule of Lawyers: “an entertaining, but disturbing, chronicle of class-action abuses … Mr. Olson’s engaging prose, for all its charm, is propelled by a sense of outrage at the abuses he describes: He slams his opponents onto the mat, lets them rise slightly in a daze and then slams them down again, round after round.” Also mentions this website (David A. Price, “In a Class By Themselves”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21 (online subscribers only)). (DURABLE LINK)


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