For Overlawyered content before June 24, 2003, consult this page.
From an interview aired in Australia with the plaintiff in the McDonald’s obesity lawsuit:
CAESAR BARBER: I’m saying that McDonald’s affected my health. Yes, I am saying that.
RICHARD CARLETON: So what do you want in return?
CAESAR BARBER: I want compensation for pain and suffering.
RICHARD CARLETON: But how much money do you want?
CAESAR BARBER: I don’t know ? maybe $1 million. That’s not a lot of money now.
(Richard Carleton, “Food fight”, 60 Minutes (Australia), Sept. 25, 2002). Only three years ago the possibility of suits blaming food companies for obesity furnished The Onion with material for humor (Aug. 3, 2000). “The parody has become reality.” (James Glassman, “From parody to reality”, TechCentralStation, May 21; Michael I. Krauss, “Today’s Tort Suits Are Stranger Than Fiction”, Virginia Viewpoint (Virginia Institute), May). A House panel heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would stop such lawsuits in their tracks (Maggie Fox, “Is It Your Fault I’m Fat? Congress Hears Debate”, Reuters, Jun. 19; Bruce Horovitz, “Fast-food restaurants told to warn of addiction”, USA Today, Jun. 17). A CNBC poll, with 2000 votes as of midnight Friday morning, was running 92 to 8 percent against holding fast-food restaurants responsible for expanding waistlines.
Now at a stable URL, last Friday’s interview mostly concentrated on our editor’s new book The Rule of Lawyers (David Isaac (interviewer), “Frivolous Lawsuits Creating New Power Class — Lawyers”, Jun. 13, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site).
Special all-critical edition — nothing but letters taking issue with us. Topics include the MTV “Jack Ass” suit, Ann Arbor substitute teachers, the ADA, high verdicts as an inspiration to young lawyers, and medical malpractice.
If you are reading Overlawyered archives in backward sequence, this marks the breakpoint between new and old archiving systems. To continue reading back in time for our commentaries before June 20, 2003, proceed to our archive page (old system) for second part of June 2003. If you know you want an earlier date than that, proceed to our guide to old archives.
Posts that follow below with dates earlier than Jun. 20, 2003 in our new archive system are intended for housekeeping purposes, to establish many of the resources of the old site in locations where they can easily be found by search on the new.
The following advisory originally appeared Aug. 27, 2001 on Overlawyered in slightly different form. It is reprinted here because it is among the information most often requested by visitors to the site.
You’ve probably seen it in your inbox: a fast-circulating email, often labeled “Stella Awards”, which lists six awful-sounding damage awards (to a hubcap thief injured when the car drives off, a burglar trapped in a house who had to eat dog food, etc.). Circumstantial details such as dates, names, and places make the cases sound more real, but all signs indicate that the list is fictitious from beginning to end, reports the urban-legends site Snopes.com (Barbara Mikkelson, “Inboxer rebellion: tortuous torts“). Snopes also has posted detailed discussions of two of the other urban legends we get sent often, the “contraceptive jelly” yarn, which originated with a tabloid (“A woman sued a pharmacy from which she bought contraceptive jelly because she became pregnant even after eating the jelly (with toast).” — “Jelly babied“) and the cigar-arson fable (“A cigar aficionado insures his stogies against fire, then tries to collect from his insurance company after he smokes them.” — “Cigarson“). And the story about the man setting the cruise control in his new Winnebago recreational vehicle, leaving the driver’s seat, and then suing the company after the resulting accident? That’s an urban legend too. What we wonder is, why would people want to compile lists of made-up legal bizarreries when they can find a vast stockpile of all-too-real ones just by visiting this website [and in particular its personal responsibility archives, older and newer series]?
NAMES IN STORIES: The never-happened stories include tales about “Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas” (trips on her toddler in furniture store); “Carl Truman of Los Angeles” (hubcap theft) “Terrence Dickson of Bristol Pennsylvania” (trapped in house), “Jerry Williams of Little Rock Arkansas” (bit by dog after shooting it with pellet gun), “Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania” (slips on drink she threw), and “Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware” (breaks teeth while sneaking through window into club). All these incidents, to repeat, appear to be completely fictitious and unrelated to any actual persons with these names.
The following links and commentaries were written circa 1999 for Overlawyered.com.
Chapter 1 of your editor’s The Litigation Explosion (1991), unfortunately not online, tells the story of how in the 1970s the mood in elite legal circles changed: client-chasing by lawyers, long considered a serious ethical breach, began to be viewed less unfavorably as litigation itself came to be seen as socially positive rather than destructive. The shift culminated in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court according Constitutional protection to most lawyer advertising and some solicitation.
Solicitation: some extreme cases
Among cases mentioned in The Litigation Explosion are those where lawyers’ agents posed as a priest to mingle among grieving families after an air crash, and as Red Cross workers to dig out and sign up survivors after a store collapse. (Even in today’s much-relaxed climate, these sorts of practices still expose attorneys to punishment if they can be proved.) Ken Dornstein’s book Accidentally on Purpose reports on how personal injury operators set up a supposed religious charity, the “Friends of the Friendless”, whose real function was to secure them access to patients in the giant Los Angeles County Medical Center; “techniques included pressing an unconscious patient’s inked thumb to a legal retainer and threatening those who said no with deportation”.
This September 1998 Cincinnati Enquirer article reports on a case where a lawyer was accused of soliciting a dead man.
Lawyer promotion on the Web:
Client-chasing lawyers pioneered spam in the notorious 1994 “green card lawyers” episode, in which an Arizona law firm posted an ad to several thousand Usenet newsgroups offering immigration services; the fury among Netizens went on for months. This account is by David Loundy in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Two articles still worth a look, though written at a time when web technology was in its infancy, are “Pushing the Advertising Envelope” by T.K. Reid (State Bar of Georgia) and Mark Hankins, “Ambulance Chasers on the Internet: Regulation of Attorney Web Pages” from the Spring 1996 Journal of Technology Law and Policy (U. of Fla. Law School). Hankins writes that “the Web is unfortunately already home to undignified attorney advertising, including a DUI attorney who sponsors a ‘drunk browsing test’ inviting users to perform the tongue-in-cheek computer equivalent of a roadside sobriety test”. (That link is gone, however.) Reid reported, “In an informal poll I did of ten attorneys owning sites on the Web, I inquired as to what steps they had taken to insure that their page complied with their State Bar’s rules for advertising. To my great surprise several responded that they did not consider their sites to constitute advertising, and therefore had done nothing. Instead of advertising their services as an attorney, they maintained that they were acting in another role – that of a publisher of free information.”
Which brings us to “Ethics Spotlight: Attorney Malpractice for Web Site Content” by Laura W. Morgan, part of the Divorce.Net site. Morgan looks at the question whether lawyers might be liable for offering bad advice on their websites which visitors rely on to their detriment. The general answer is no, because law-firm websites are usually well plastered with disclaimers saying, “this isn’t real advice and don’t even think of relying on it”. Fair enough, except that the same lawyers often aren’t so willing to respect other people’s attempts to disclaim liability.
The following essay was written circa 1999 by our editor and formerly appeared on the site’s topical page on loser-pays.
* * *
America differs from all other Western democracies (indeed, from virtually all nations of any sort) in its refusal to recognize the principle that the losing side in litigation should contribute toward “making whole” its prevailing opponent. It’s long past time this country joined the world in adopting that principle; unfortunately, any steps toward doing so must contend with deeply entrenched resistance from the organized bar, which likes the system the way it is.
Overlawyered.com‘s editor wrote an account in Reason, June 1995, aimed at explaining how loser-pays works in practice and dispelling some of the more common misconceptions about the device. He also testified before Congress when the issue came up that year as part of the “Contract with America”. Not online, unfortunately, are most of the relevant sections from The Litigation Explosion, which argues at length for the loser-pays idea, especially chapter 15, “Strict Liability for Lawyering”.
Archived entries before July 2003 can also be found here.
2003: “Stuart Taylor, Jr. on lead paint litigation“, Mar. 5-7.
2001: “From the paint wars: a business’s demise, a school district’s hypocrisy“, Nov. 13; “Forbes on lead paint suits, cont’d“, Jun. 8-10; “Ness monster sighted in Narragansett Bay” (Rhode Island, Ness Motley), Jun. 7 (& see Dec. 27-28, 1999 re R.I.); “Reparations: take a number“, Apr. 17 (& see Olson, Reason, Nov. 2000); “‘Painting the town — with lawsuits’“, Mar. 7-8; “‘Bogus’ assault on Norton“, Jan. 18.
2000: “The right to be poisoned“, Nov. 30; “A job offer for the judge“, Sept. 25-26 (see also April 12, 2001); “Maryland: knowledge, notice not needed to sue landlords over lead“, Apr. 24; “Game over four decades ago: let’s change the rules” (retroactive Md. legislation), Mar. 15; see also Baltimore Sun special coverage); “New York court nixes market-share liability for paint“, Jan. 17.
Pharmaceuticals, 2003: “‘Diet drug litigation leads to fat fees’” (fen-phen, ephedra), May 30-Jun. 1; “Courtroom assault on drugmakers“, May 27; “Mississippi investigation heats up“, May 7; “Jury clears Bayer in cholesterol-drug case“, Mar. 19; “New Medicare drug benefit? Link it to product liability reform“, Mar. 10-11. 2002: “Fen-phen settlement abuses: the plot thickens“, Sept. 27-29 (& Dec. 16-17, 2002, Feb. 25-26, 2002, Dec. 28, 2001, Aug. 18, 1999); “Ignominious wind-down to Norplant campaign“, Sept. 9-10 (& Aug. 11 & Aug. 27, 1999); “You mean I’m suing that nice doctor?” (Propulsid), Aug. 1 (& see Sept. 6-8); “‘Tampa Taliban’ mom blames acne drug“, Apr. 18 (& Feb. 1-3); “Pharmaceutical roundup” (fen-phen, contraceptive Pill, Viagra, psychiatric drugs), Apr. 16-17; “‘Can pain treatment survive our addiction to law?’” (OxyContin), Apr. 10 (& Aug. 27, May 30, Jan. 23-24, 2002, Aug. 7-8, July 25, 2001)(& letter to the editor, Apr. 11); “Omit a peripheral defendant, get sued for legal malpractice” (tetracycline), Feb. 15-17; “‘Companies may be liable for drugs used in rapes’“, Jan. 25-27. 2001: “Texas jury clears drugmaker in first Rezulin case“, Dec. 19 (& update Jan. 9-10, 2002: it loses second trial); “For client-chasers, daytime TV gets results“, Dec. 18; “Bioterror unpreparedness“, Nov. 28; “Cipro side effects? Sue!“, Nov. 1; “Suit blames drugmaker for Columbine“, Oct. 24-25; “‘Plaintiff’s lawyers going on defense’” (Scruggs represents Sulzer Orthopedics), Oct. 9; “Propulsid verdict; ‘Robbery on Highway 61’“, Oct. 1; “Antidepressant blamed for killing spree” (Paxil), June 13; “Mississippi’s forum-shopping capital” (Fayette), May 4-6 (& see June 22-24 (Amity Shlaes)); “Anti-Ritalin lawyers still acting out“, Apr. 13-15 (& Sept. 18, Sept. 22-24, 2000); “Target: Alka-Seltzer” (PPA), Apr. 6-8 (& see Sept. 10); “The malaria drug made him do it“, Mar. 28. 2000: “Turn of the screw” (pedicle screw lawsuits), Oct. 24 (& see “Fee fights“, Aug. 2, 2001); “‘Controversial drug makes a comeback’” (Bendectin may be reintroduced in U.S.), Sept. 27-28 (& July 21, 1999); “Australian roundup” (Copper-7 IUD), Sept. 6-7; “‘Lilly’s legal strategy disarmed Prozac lawyers’“, May 8. 1999: “World according to Ron Motley” (drugmakers among next targets of earth’s richest lawyer), Nov. 1; “Rhode Island A.G.: let’s do latex gloves next“, Oct. 26.
Breast implants, 2002: “Pharmaceutical roundup” (silicone implants popular in Canada), Apr. 16-17. 2001: “Fee fights“, Aug. 2. 2000: “O’Quinn a top Gore recount angel“, Dec. 15-17; “‘Hush — good news on silicone’“, Nov. 29; “No breast cancer link“, Oct. 23; “From our mail sack: hyperactive lawyers“, Sept. 22-24; Feds file Medicare recoupment lawsuit over silicone implants“, April 6; “Study shows breast implants pose little risk“, March 20. 1999: “No spotlight on me, thanks” (John O’Quinn obtains gag order against lawyers for dissatisfied clients), August 4; “Never saying you’re sorry”, July 2.
Vaccines: “Trial lawyers vs. thimerosal“, Dec. 20-22, 2002 (& Jun. 18-19, 2003); “Vaccine industry perennially in court“, Nov. 7-8, 2001; “Lawsuit fears slow bioterror vaccines“, Oct. 22; “Study: DPT and MMR vaccines not linked to brain injury“, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2001; “Vaccine compensation and its discontents“, Nov. 13, 2000.
Other links: Breast implants:
Gina Kolata, “Panel Confirms No Major Illness Tied To Breast Implants”, New York Times, June 21, 1999.
Reason magazine “Breaking Issues”
Food and Drug Administration update
Breast Implant Litigation Page (Prof. David Bernstein, George Mason U.)
Marcia Angell, “Science on Trial: Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo, August 1996.
Walter Olson, review of Marcia Angell, “Science on Trial” (National Review, November 11, 1996)
Other links: Contraceptives:
Marc Arkin, “Products Liability and the Threat to Contraception” (Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo, February 1999).