“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has a rejected a products liability claim against Apple alleging that a woman’s neurobiological response to looking at a text message on her iPhone 5 while behind the wheel was the cause of a car crash that killed two people and paralyzed a child.” [John Council/Texas Lawyer, Tim Cushing/TechDirt; Meador v. Apple]
A number of states have banned driver use of handheld cellphones, but the Ohio legislature has now gone further by enacting a ban on distracted driving that
retains [such a ban] while also expanding distracted to include “Engaging in activity that is not necessary for the vehicle’s operation and that impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the driver’s ability to drive safely.”
The new law provides no further explanation of the new definition, leaving it to the discretion of officers and the courts. It is thought that this definition could be applied to any kind of distraction that is related to an accident, including consuming food and beverages or adjusting car systems like climate and radio.
The problem here with vagueness and enforcement discretion go beyond the scope of the penalty, which for now is only $100. [Tim Zubizarreta, Jurist; Scott Greenfield; Tim Cushing on Twitter (“a blank check for pretextual stops”); earlier]
Following robberies, the FBI is hitting Google with “reverse location” orders demanding that it turn over information on all users who were near crime locations at times crimes were committed. “Those users could be Android phone owners, anyone running Google Maps or any individual running Google services on their cell,” which will include many innocent persons. In a Henrico, Virginia, case, the FBI ordered Google to supply identifying information on all users within a several-block radius in a busy area. “Requests like this act as ‘general warrants’ and may violate the Fourth Amendment because they are not tied to a specific device,” said Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Thomas Brewster, Forbes]
“If forms of ‘digital addiction’ qualify as a diagnosed psychiatric disorder, then employees who suffer from it may be protected by the ADA.” Employers might then be obliged under federal law to enter the so-called interactive process to negotiate possible courses of action and accommodations with the affected employee, rather than lay down hard-and-fast rules for what sorts of conduct will result in termination. [Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer Law Blog]
- “San Francisco Bans Straws, Cocktail Swords” [Christian Britschgi; more (funny memes proliferate)]
- Sharper distinction between legal treatment of “threatened” and “endangered” species would help species recovery efforts and line up with Congress’s intent [Jonathan Wood, PERC Reports]
- “It’s really interesting to me that the conversation around vegetarianism and the environment is so strongly centered on an assumption that every place in the world is on the limited land/surplus water plan.” [Sarah Taber Twitter thread]
- New podcast from Cato’s Libertarianism.org on eminent domain and civil forfeiture, with Tess Terrible and Trevor Burrus. More/background at Cato Daily Podcast;
- “OMG cellphone cancer coverup” piece in Guardian’s Observer “strewn with rudimentary errors and dubious inferences” [David Robert Grimes; David Gorski, Science-Based Medicine corrects piece by same authors, Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, that ran in The Nation]
- Oh, that pro bono: despite talk of donated time, trial lawyers stand to gain 20% of proceeds should Boulder climate suit reach payday [John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine, earlier]
- Florida law firm that served drinks isn’t responsible for death of employee who walked home intoxicated and was hit by train [Florida appeals court, Salerno v. Del Mar Financial Service]
- Family speaks out after local motels hit with Scott Johnson ADA suits [Allison Levitsky, Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily Post first and second posts]
- “When third-party funders weigh in on settlements, they may pressure plaintiffs and their attorneys to settle early” to make Wall Street numbers [Matthew Goldstein and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times] More/related: Miles Weiss, Bloomberg on George Soros involvement; Chris Bryant and Federalist Society teleforum with Travis Lenkner and John Beisner on proposed amendments to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require disclosure of litigation financing arrangements;
- Phone-answering for dollars: “Man who has filed at least 83 TCPA lawsuits loses one in Tennessee court” [John O’Brien, Legal Newsline, earlier] “RICO case settled with TCPA firm accused of teaching former students to avoid paying loans by suing” [same]
- “The science on a link between talcum powder and cancer is uncertain” which didn’t keep Mark Lanier from scoring a $4.69 billion win in a St. Louis case [Jonathan D. Rockoff and Sara Randazzo, Wall Street Journal/Morningstar, Tim Bross, Margaret Cronin Fisk, and Jef Feeley, Bloomberg and related Fisk 2016 (“Welcome to St. Louis, the New Hot Spot for Litigation Tourists”), Reuters and more]
- “Trio of Soda Cases Test the Limits of Attorney-Driven Class Action Lawsuits” [Jeffrey B. Margulies, WLF]
- “Now the Personal Injury Lawyers Have Scooters in Their Sights” [Anousha Sakoui and Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg]
- Jury orders Rams to pay $12.5 million for Reggie Bush injury [AP/Valley Morning News; St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
- “Lawsuit Against Snapchat Encouraging Speeding Can Proceed” [Eugene Volokh]
- “Art Imitates Life: ‘Billions’ Describes Six-Figure, Part-Time Jobs On Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher, Legal Newsline/Forbes]
- Lawsuit by insurer State Farm accuses prominent Michigan attorney of maintaining covert ties to medical imaging provider [JC Reindl, Detroit Free Press]
- “California Court Rejects Warranty Claims Where Rats Allegedly Chewed Through Soy-Coated Auto Wiring” [Neal Walters and Casey G. Watkins, Ballard Spahr]
In Friday’s Carpenter v. United States the Supreme Court by 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing and joined by the four liberals, held that police collection of cellphone location records covering a period of a week is a search covered by the Fourth Amendment and generally requires a warrant. Orin Kerr has first thoughts. Ilya Shapiro at Cato writes that the Court reaches “the right result for the wrong reason,” in an “artificial muddle” of a decision that carves an exception into the third-party doctrine without the more searching rethinking of search and seizure law that is needed.
More promising, Shapiro says, is Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion — which he styles as a dissent, but is a concurrence in all but name — which points the way to rethinking and strengthening Fourth Amendment search and seizure law along first principles of “the people’s right to be secure in their ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ based not on privacy expectations but on property rights, contract law, and statutory protections (all of which can certainly be applied in the modern digital age).” The alternative, says Shapiro, will be for the Court to fall back on “reinventing the Fourth Amendment with each technological revolution,” amid new ad hoc exceptions and elaborations. More background at Cato at earlier stages of the case: Matthew Feeney on oral argument, merits brief, certiorari brief.
A mini-roundup: “How State Pension Funds — and 401k Managers — Prioritize Politics over Returns” [Ike Brannon, Cato/Forbes.com, more; related, Eric V. Schlecht, Economics 21] “The California state teacher retirement system open letter to Apple about ‘smartphone addiction’ provides another point in favor of giving these workers individual accounts with a private provider.” [Caleb Brown on Twitter] “Those shares belong to the college savers, not him”: Illinois treasurer uses 529 funds to push Facebook, other firms on political issues [Cole Lauterbach, Illinois News Network]
“More than 25 years after its passage, a federal telemarketing law hasn’t just created a cottage industry for lawyers – it has spawned a group of professional plaintiffs like [Melody] Stoops who are armed with several cell phones for the purpose of receiving debt collection calls often intended for other individuals.” [John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine]
Forethought goes into the question of how to be legally injured by unlawful calls in the manner most lucrative under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA):
Individuals receiving calls they believe to be in violation have two options to try to maximize recovery.
-Answer the phone, tell the company to stop calling and hope the calls keep coming. Those calls could be construed as “willful” violations of the TCPA and lead to triple damages; or
-Don’t answer the phone, never tell the company to stop calling but chronicle how many times it does. This would lead to only $500 claims but keeps the company calling.
The “wait and build damages” strategy can sometimes pay off nicely:
“Mr. Spencer is seeking to exploit the TCPA to recover a $2.7 million jackpot in statutory penalties because he inadvertently received – on a five-dollar disposable cell phone that he seldom used – emergency text alerts that the previous user of his cell phone number had requested,” AT&T’s attorneys wrote in November while asking for summary judgment.
“(Spencer) waited for the text alerts to accumulate, and then filed this lawsuit seeking millions of dollars unrelated to any alleged harm that he experienced.”
Later entries in the three-part series include part two, “the story of a Polish immigrant who has allegedly made more than $800,000 with a phone number belonging to his ex-wife,” and part three, on a defendant firm that struck back with racketeering suit against a prolific California attorney who has filed many TCPA claims. (earlier)
P.S. And related, just out today: junk-fax suits, covered here extensively in the past, “are active in industries that still rely on faxes for conducting business, such as hospitality and health care, a review of court filings shows. Recent lawsuits complain of unwanted faxes hawking medical supplies, pet medications, air conditioners and mortgage refinancing.” TCPA is nicknamed Total Cash for Plaintiffs’ Attorneys [Sara Randazzo, Wall Street Journal]