“A mom found to be insane when she drowned her three young children can’t get money from the wrongful death settlements that followed their killings, a Nassau judge ruled [last week].” [Newsday, earlier]
“… wants cut of wrongful death settlements.” “A mentally disturbed suburban New York woman who drowned her three young children in a bathtub in 2008 wants a cut of $350,000 in wrongful death settlements obtained by the children’s fathers, attorneys said Friday. Leatrice Brewer, 33, was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect in the deaths of her children, so her attorneys say she should not be subject to laws that bar convicts from profiting from their crimes.” [Associated Press/NY Daily News]
The old joke is that chutzpah is defined as the case of the orphan who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan.
A pair of Philadelphia parents, however, may redefine the idea for all time. Danieal Kelly, who suffered from crippling cerebral palsy, was 14 when she starved to death in a West Philadelphia rowhouse, covered in bedsores, weighing just 42 pounds. Her mother, “Andrea Kelly was charged with murder on July 31. Daniel Kelly, who authorities say abandoned his daughter despite knowledge of her mother’s neglect, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child.” (Three friends of the mother were charged with perjury for lying to a grand jury; four social workers were also charged with felony endangerment, which will no doubt screw up incentives further for over-reacting child protective services everywhere.)
The parents responded as any parents would, and sued the city, the state, city and state agencies, and four social workers, blaming them for Kelly’s death, and seeking damages for “love, tutelage, companionship, support, comfort and consortium” as well as the “economic value of her life expectancy”–which couldn’t possibly be anything other than the taxpayer-funded disability benefits. Public outrage has caused the lawyers, Brian Mildenberg and Eric Zajac, to substitute other parties as plaintiffs so that there is no direct hint of Daniel and Andrea Kelly profiting, but the underlying appallingness of the suit remains. (Julie Shaw & Catherine Lucey, “Lawsuit by Danieal’s parents called ‘disgusting'”, Phil. Inquirer, Aug. 13; Nancy Phillips and Kia Gregory, “Danieal Kelly’s parents sue the city”, Phil. Inquirer, Aug. 13; John Sullivan and Craig R. McCoy, “Nine indicted in fatal neglect of girl”, Phil. Inquirer, Aug. 1; ongoing Inquirer coverage).
Family members of the children Banita Jacks murdered, who apparently cared so much about the children that they didn’t notice Jacks had starved them to death months before they were discovered, “have hired lawyers to pursue claims against the D.C. government for failing to prevent months of neglect and abuse. … In interviews yesterday, the grandmothers’ lawyers declined to say when their clients last saw Jacks or her daughters.”
DC taxpayers will be thrilled to note that the city is refusing to rehire three workers fired in a scapegoating frenzy after the Jacks revelations, even after a hearing officer has held that the firings were unwarranted. More lawsuits to come. (Keith L. Alexander and Petula Dvorak, “D.C. Could Have Done More To Help 4 Sisters, Families Say”, Washington Post, Feb. 28).
- Court won’t unseal settlement arising from $105 million Aramark/Giants Stadium dramshop case for fear girl’s father will try to get his hands on money [NJLJ, NorthJersey.com, Childs; earlier]
- Great moments in insurance defense law: you mean it wasn’t a good idea to infiltrate that church meeting to investigate the crash claim? [Turkewitz first, second posts]
- Columnist Paul Mulshine rejoices: Ninth Circuit decision “if it stands, will lead to the end of the SUV as we know it” [Newark Star-Ledger]
- Is it unfair — and should it be unlawful? — for insurers to settle crash victims’ claims too early? [Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog]
- If Ron Krist prevails in shoot-out of Texas plaintiff titans, he vows to have sheriff seize John O’Quinn’s Batmobile [American Lawyer; see also Ted’s take earlier]
- In much-watched case, Australian high court by 3-2 split upholds highway authority against claim defective bridge design was blameworthy after youth’s dive into shallow water [RTA NSW v. Dederer, Aug. 30]
- Redesigning Toyota’s occupant restraint system? Clearly another job for the Marshall, Texas courts [SE Texas Record; Point of Law; more]
- Bench trial results in $55 million verdict against U.S. government after Army employee on business runs red light and paralyzes small child [OC Register]
- Vision in a purple Gremlin: her Yale Law days shaped Hillary in many ways [Stearns/McClatchy]
- Zero tolerance for motorists’ blood-alcohol — are we sure we want to go there? [Harsanyi, Reason]
- Driver falls asleep, so of course Ford must pay [two years ago on Overlawyered; much more on our automotive page]
- Represented by repeat Overlawyered mentionees Cellino & Barnes/The Barnes Firm, this injured upstate New Yorker got a settlement of $35,000 which worked out after expenses to — are you ready? — $6.60 [Buffalo News]
- Not yet a laughingstock: AMA backs off idea of labeling video-game addiction [Wired News, L.A.Times/CinciPost, HealthDay/WilmNJ]
- Restaurant critics fear losing their physical anonymity, which means a Bala Cynwyd eatery has a sword to hold over the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer it’s suing [PhilaWeekly] (More: AP/CNN)
- Dad of the year? Father who didn’t have much contact with 30-year-old son during his life shows up to claim half his $2.9 million 9/11 compensation award [NYDN, NYLJ, PDF brief courtesy Taranto/WSJ]
- Fie on goodness: Geoffrey Fieger engages Harvard’s Dershowitz to try to quash federal grand jury probe, and he’s still battling Michigan judges too [DetNews]
- In suburban D.C. middle school, high-fiving could mean detention under no-touching rule [Washington Post, AP/CNN]
- Law firm whistleblowers? Ex-employees allege billing fraud in tobacco suit by high-flying Kansas City, Mo. trial lawyer [Legal NewsLine]
- U.K. government panel bans egg ad as not encouraging healthy eating [Times Online, Guardian, Telegraph]
- Lawprof is keen on expanding tort law to open door for more suits against schools over kids’ bullying [Childs]
- 1,001 ways to self-publicize: one is to become a “trial groupie” [Elefant]
- Guess what? This site just turned eight years old [isn’t it cool]
You may be interested in the tragic story from Cincinnati. Three year old Marcus Fiesel was taken from his mother. She had three children by three fathers and they lived in a flea infested place which was smeared with feces and lacked food. She told police that the children were “their problem” now. The children were put into foster care. Marcus was placed in a home where he should not have been, as the foster father had a police record that was not discovered. His foster mother pretended to faint at a local park, and when she awoke she said Marcus was missing. There was a huge community search, but Marcus was never found. Later police discovered that the foster parents had wrapped him in a blanket and left him in a hot closet for 2 days while they attended a family reunipn.Then the foster father burned his body. The birth mother is suing everyone she can for $5 million and saying it is “not about the money.” There is outrage in Cincinnati first over the circumstances of his death and now over this outrageous lawsuit. The Cincinnati press has covered the story for the last 2 weeks with almost daily updates. Here is a report on the lawsuit and a Cincinnati Enquirer editorial.
Update: Sept. 26.
The Daily Business Review has more on the Eller Media trial and verdict in Florida (Jul. 10). While the story unfortunately does not take any steps to resolve the question of whether the defense theory of a lightning strike had any legitimacy, the story does reveal that the beneficiary of the $65.1 million verdict will be a father who abandoned his son when he was two, and then had little to do with him over the next ten years before there was a potential deep-pocket defendant. The plaintiffs were allowed to argue to the jury that the profits of Clear Channel Communications—which bought the defendant years after the incident—should be considered. (Jessica Walker, “Strategies on the Way to a $65 Million Verdict”, Jul. 12).
Twelve-year-old Jorge Luis Cabrera Jr. was found dead next to a Miami bus shelter in October 1998 after he took shelter there during a rainstorm. Weather data shows a lightning strike near the bus shelter at the time the boy would have been there; the defense claims there were several signs of an indirect lightning hit on the Cabrera’s body and clothing. Accusations were made that faulty wiring in the bus shelter electrocuted the boy, but employees of Eller Media, which owned the bus shelter, were acquitted of manslaughter charges.
Civil lawyers resuscitated the argument on behalf of Cabrera’s father, noting that Victor Garcia, who wired the shelter, was unlicensed. A jury agreed, and awarded $4.1 million in compensatory and $61 million in punitive damages; Cabrera’s mother settled separately. “Jose Irizarry, the jury foreman, told The Herald on Friday that he and his fellow jurors did not believe lightning could have killed the boy.” (David Ovalle, “Firm to pay millions in boy’s death”, Miami Herald, Jun. 25; “Jury: Eller Media should pay $65.1M”, South Florida Business Journal, Jun. 27; Chrystian Tejedor, “Jury awards $65.1 million”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jun. 25; “Company Found Negligent In Boy’s Electrocution Death”, WTVJ-TV; “Unlicensed Electrician Admits ‘Regret’ In Boy’s Electrocution Trial”, Local 10 News, May 3; Colson Hicks Eidson press release; verdict form for Serrano v. Eller Media Co., Case No. 13-1998-CA-023808-0000-01 (Dade Cty. Fla. Cir. Ct.)).
Risibly unclear on the concept: the Miami Herald reports that “Today, more than 850 Miami-Dade Transit Authority bus shelters are lit by roof-mounted solar panels instead of electricity.” (I think they mean to say that the new bus shelters are lower voltage.)
The St. Petersburg Times has a feature on $15-million Dillard’s escalator settlement for Kerriana Johnson and her family (Feb. 2); just in time for Valentine’s Day, it’s a love letter to the plaintiffs’ attorney team of Justin Johnson and Michael Keane. It’s a little much, especially when the reporter marvels that Johnson and Keane were clever enough to videotape depositions, something that’s been all but standard practice for big cases for at least five years. Another all-too-typical strategy decision, credulously praised by the reporter who covered the trial: interrogate Dillard’s employees who had nothing to do with the accident, and then claim their ignorance about the facts shows the callousness of the corporation. (Jamie Thompson, “Legal ‘Odd Couple’ formidable in court”, Feb. 7; Jamie Thompson, “Witnesses recount store horrors”, St. Pete Times, Jan. 19). Interesting aspect we hadn’t previously commented on: the girl’s mother, Lori Medvitz, had been awarded only $20,000 by jurors; the settlement gives her (as opposed to her daughter) $3.8 million. None of the press coverage dares to suggest that there may have been a bit of a conflict of interest there. (Jamie Thompson, “Escalator suit ends in $15-million deal” St. Pete Times, Feb. 2).
The Los Angeles Times has more detail about the fraud case that led to a mistaken $1.8 billion verdict (Feb. 8); the defendant’s story is quite fishy. (Bob Pool, “Essay Flap’s Plot Takes Strange Turn”, Feb. 10).