Posts Tagged ‘Chrysler’

Update: Great moments in lawyer discipline

Reader Eric Bainter writes:

The shenanigans of the NC prosecutor Mike Nifong got me to thinking about misbehaving attorneys in general; me being from the San Antonio area, this led me to wonder “whatever happened to those attorneys in the fraudulent suit against Chrysler?” (covered on Overlawyered May 23 and Jun. 26, 2000; Mar. 17 and Jul. 10, 2003; Aug. 1, 2006). During a fit of insomnia I decided to find out.

I started by checking the coverage on your site which most recently had noted, in the post from August of last year, that the Texas bar had still not yet gotten around to dealing with Andrew Toscano, one of the lawyers implicated in the affair. I searched the Texas Bar website, and found this was not quite true – Toscano got his discipline, such as it is, the day before your entry. I have copied and pasted beneath (after the jump) the entries for all three lawyers. Robert Kugle, the central figure in the fraud, got disbarred in 2003. The other two, Toscano and Robert L. Wilson III, only relatively recently got their punishments – two year suspensions – and if I understand the term “fully probated” correctly, their “suspensions” are “suspended” and they can still practice law. Each was fined $2500 in attorney’s fees and court costs – I assume this goes to the Texas Bar. No mention of the $1 million in sanctions from Judge Peeples.

I also found this article from that sheds some light on the “suspensions”.

I searched on the Internet for the current whereabouts of Toscano and Wilson. Andrew E. Toscano apparently now practices with a firm called “Gene Toscano, Inc.” I don’t know whether that is a relative of his, or Andrew’s middle name happens to be “Eugene” and he has decided to practice under that. No website for that firm that I can find.

Robert L. “Trey” Wilson III apparently practiced environmental law for a while after leaving Kugle’s firm (or maybe Kugle’s firm left him?) — the San Antonio bar featured him in its newsletter last December. I also found a now-defunct profile/bio page within the website of the attorney Louis Rosenberg, who does environmental law in San Antonio, but I do not notice any current mention of Wilson’s name on Rosenberg’s home page — he is not in Attorney Profiles, for example. If “Trey” worked there, I suspect he no longer does.

My temporary bout of insomnia seems over now. Best wishes,

Eric Bainter

[details of Texas bar discipline follow after the jump]

Read On…

Emily Bazelon on personal responsibility

Slate’s Emily Bazelon doesn’t read the owners’ manual for her car, does something the owners’ manual explicitly says not to do—recline a seat in a moving car—and hurts herself. Bazelon blames… the automaker and NHTSA for not doing more to warn her, and serves as a mouthpiece for plaintiffs’ lawyers who specialize in such arguments, lionizing one who won a $59 million verdict against Toyota for his client’s own foolhardiness.

The NHTSA official Bazelon talks to points out that she’s taking one safety issue out of context; Bazelon pooh-poohs it because, after all, it happened to her and some other people, too! But Bazelon ignores that there are several dozen other dangerous problems addressed in the owners’ manual, many of which would kill or injure far more passengers than reclined drivers’ seats. One cannot just look at the idea of putting a single additional sticker on the dashboard: the car would have to be literally wallpapered with additional warnings to cover every warning of a matter at least as hazardous as car-seat reclining, at which point we’re back to the problem of owners ignoring warnings. Bazelon simply fails to address this reality.

But, hey, I’ll join Bazelon in telling you: don’t recline your car seat in a moving vehicle. (Long-time Overlawyered readers already know this from two separate posts.) Also, don’t drive with your windows open, your doors unlocked, or your seatbelt unfastened. Reattach your gas cap after filling the tank. Look behind you and ensure the path is clear before going in reverse. Keep your eyes on the road. Don’t pass a car in a no-pass zone or drive twice the speed-limit. Sit up straight, especially in a front seat with airbags. Don’t have loose heavy objects (including unbelted passengers) in the passenger compartment of the car. Don’t permit children to play with power windows; don’t leave children unattended in a car that is on; don’t leave the car on when you’re not in it; don’t try to jump into a moving vehicle. Don’t leave your shoes loose while driving. Be careful when shifting gears. Do not violently swerve an SUV, especially if there are unbelted passengers. Always be aware of the danger of pedal misapplication. Don’t fall asleep while driving. Don’t drive recklessly, and if you do, don’t leave the road. Use your parking brake when you park. Replace a tire after repeatedly patching it; don’t drive on bald tires in the rain; and replace your ten-year old tires before you have to drive on a spare. Make sure your floor mat isn’t interfering with the pedals. Don’t drive into the back of a truck at 60 mph without braking. Et cetera.

(And welcome, Instapundit readers. Check out our vast selection of automobile and personal responsibility articles.)

Coming up this week

Next up in this summer’s series of weekly guest bloggers is something new for us: a prominent voice from the business community. Steven Hantler, Assistant General Counsel for Government and Regulation at DaimlerChrysler, directs the automaker’s class-action, consumer-litigation and litigation-communications functions; outside the company he’s known as a tireless advocate for lawsuit reform, on which he’s become a veteran of state legislative initiatives and electoral battles. While new to blogging (so far as I’m aware), he’s the author of numerous articles in law reviews and more popular outlets, most recently in the magazine Directorship where he rated and assessed the fairness of each of the fifty states’ court systems from a litigation defense point of view (PDF). He’s also closely associated with the American Justice Partnership, which has links to many of his writings and speeches.

Also, and entirely unrelated to the above, check back tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday, for an announcement which may be of interest to some readers, especially those of a political bent.


  • Reversing course, Rhode Island attorney general drops rape charge based on 32-year-old “repressed memory”, thus disappointing some advocates [Volokh; Jul. 10]

  • Massachusetts disciplinary panel files misconduct charges against Judge Ernest Murphy over the “bring me a check and keep quiet” surrender-Dorothy letter he sent to Boston Herald publisher during his (successful) libel suit [Ambrogi; Dec. 23, 2005, May 11, 2007, etc.]

  • California jury rejects tippling speeder’s lawsuit against landowner, automaker, town, etc. in the case we headlined “Shouldn’t Have Put Its Berm Where He Wanted To Skid” [Dec. 24, 2005; Douglas Domel v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., City of Santa Clarita, and Does 1 to 50, inclusive (PC030045Y), L.A. Superior Court, L.A. Daily Journal, no free link]

  • Nominal damages only against German teens accused of scaring ostrich into impotence [UPI/ScienceDaily; Mar. 6]

  • Dubious bill authorizing lawsuits against OPEC may be headed to President’s desk [W$J/CattleNetwork; Jun. 8]

  • Jury convicts press baron Conrad Black on four counts, acquits on nine [Telegraph; Kirkendall, Bainbridge, Ribstein; Mar. 19, Jun. 5]

  • Michigan Supreme Court reinstates reprimand against Geoffrey Fieger over abusive language [NLJ; Jul. 3, Aug. 2, 2006, etc.]

Mraz v. Chrysler: an exchange with the plaintiffs’ attorneys

You might recall the $55 million verdict in Los Angeles, where Chrysler was held 75% liable for an accident where a defective automatic transmission in a 1992 Dodge Dakota, a failure of the truck owner to respond to multiple product recalls, and a truck driver’s failure to (1) turn off the ignition before exiting a vehicle; (2) engage a parking brake; and (3) not attempt to jump into a moving vehicle resulted in the tragic death of a young longshoreman with a wife and children. Plaintiffs’ attorneys Stephen Cassidy and Scott Nealey took issue with our post. The lengthy exchange begins in the comments section and update to our post and continues over email. Let’s just say I wasn’t persuaded, but judge for yourself.

Read On…

The Richard Mraz case: $55M in Los Angeles Dodge Dakota trial

In April 2004, 38 year-old Richard Mraz got out of his employer’s 1992 Dodge Dakota while it was still running. He didn’t set the parking brake, and the vehicle started moving when it shifted itself from park into reverse. Mraz tried to jump into the moving vehicle, and suffered fatal head injuries for his trouble.

Chrysler admitted the vehicle had a defect that caused the automatic transmission to shift from park to reverse in rare circumstances. Thing is, they admitted it when they sent twelve separate recall notices to the Dakota owner, Mraz’s employer, who ignored them all. But, Mraz’s lawyers said, Chrysler spent time in internal discussions deciding whether to recall the vehicle before actually doing so, so they should be punished, pointing to an internal memo debating the question as a “smoking gun.”

A Los Angeles County jury agreed, finding $5.2 million in compensatory damages for the longshoreman’s death, and attributed 75% to DaimlerChrysler (10% for Mraz’s multiple safety errors, and 15% for his employers’ ignoring the recall notices), and issuing $50 million in punitive damages, all to Chrysler. Most press accounts failed to mention the recall notices or Mraz’s negligence, just regurgitating the plaintiff’s lawyer’s account. (David Shepardson, “DCX loses suit in Dodge owner’s death”, Detroit News, Mar. 8). More on California auto product liability cases.

Interestingly, at least one law firm has already purchased the Google search term “Richard Mraz.”

Read On…

Deep Pocket Files: Jason Lapp and Andrew Brzyski

Mary Brzyski worked for Skidmore Inc., in East Aurora, NY, where she drove a company car that was leased from Chrysler. In 2003, Brzyski loaned the car to her 19-year-old son, Andrew, who rear-ended Jason Lapp’s car, severely injuring him. Longtime readers know what happened next. Irrational New York law (Jul. 14, 2003, Apr. 2, 2004, Feb. 2, 2005) holds the lessor liable, even when, as here, they are three transactions away and never anticipated that a 19-year-old would be driving the car. Skidmore and Chrysler have settled for $8.2 million. (“$8.2 million settlement accepted in crash suit”, Buffalo News, Dec. 15). Congress has stepped in to the breach (Aug. 4, 2005), at least until the litigation lobby undoes that reform.

More on the $500/car figure

Jim Copland writes that the $500 per car figure comes from Murray Mackay’s article, “Liability, Safety, and Innovation in the Automotive Industry” in The Liability Maze (p.199):

“In researching this paper, I persistently asked manufacturers what the cost and consequences of the rise in liability have been. In simple financial terms the answers have varied by a factor of ten, ranging from $50 to $500 per car sold.” The variance may suggest that the $500 figure is on the high side; but Mackay indicates that the costs seem to be much higher for domestic manufacturers than for importers, which may be why Chrysler sticks to the higher number. Steve Hantler, DaimlerChrysler’s assistant general counsel, tells me that the $500 estimate, being 15 years out of date, is itself probably low; he suggests that today’s liability cost is closer to $1000 per car.

Justinian Lane was kind enough to email me a link to the full Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda speech at the Chicago Economic Club. Read the whole thing.

SUV suits follow-up

Some follow-up observations about the Ford Bronco $31 million verdict post.

1. South Carolina is one of the few states that has the pure form of the doctrine of “joint and several liability”, under which any deep-pocket defendant is 100% liable even if they’re only found 1% at fault. Thirty-seven states have enacted some limits on this, but South Carolina has not. Such a legal system creates incentives to find the deepest pocket and attach a shred of fault to them so that they are held entirely responsible for the consequences of others.

2. I’ve read several plaintiffs’ briefs arguing for upholding similar verdicts, as well as submissions made to NHTSA arguing that certain vehicles are “too prone” to roll over. They essentially come down to requests to ban SUVs: every SUV faces accusations of being “too prone to roll over.”

SUVs are designed to have high clearance to traverse rugged terrain. This raises the center of gravity and affects the handling: it’s a known tradeoff of the laws of physics. There are a wide variety of tests of varying degrees of scientific merit one can use to suggest a vehicle is “too prone” to roll over, and plaintiffs have the benefit of cherry-picking which tests to apply to which vehicles. You’ll find lots of lawyers complaining that the Bronco II allegedly responded poorly in “J-turn tests”, where the steering wheel is turned 330 degrees in one third of a second and held there for another 4.67 seconds. Ford designed the Explorer to pass the J-turn test to take away this claim, and the trial lawyers started using different methodologies to claim that the Explorer was too prone to roll over.

Empirically, however, the Bronco doesn’t roll over more than several other SUVs on the market, which is why NHTSA, in both the Bush I and Clinton administrations, refused to recall the Bronco when the plaintiffs’ bar asked it to. When I say Ford was held liable for producing an SUV, I’m not spinning: it was because it was held liable for producing an SUV.

Moreover, a vehicle should be viewed in totality: an auto that is more likely to roll over may be safer in other particulars that more than compensate for that increased propensity. So I question the premise. One can’t change the rollover propensity without creating a different vehicle entirely. The vehicle should be viewed holistically, and holistically, the Bronco is a safe car when used as designed.

Perhaps we as a society would be better off taking the nanny-state step of banning SUVs, forbidding people from wildnerness driving because too many drivers don’t know how to drive SUVs in highway conditions, but that’s a decision that not only would end the American auto industry, but should be made other than by a 12-person jury of laypeople. This vehicle rolled over because the driver drove off the road.

3. The ultimate cost is borne not by Ford, but by the rest of us: lawsuits like this add $500 to the price of every American car. You and I can’t go to the car manufacturer and get a cheaper car by promising not to be as stupid a driver as this one was. So careful drivers are subsidizing careless ones.

4. It’s unlikely that the $500 applies equally to expensive and cheap cars, but not in the manner you think: (1) the less expensive car is more likely to be driven longer and more often and with more carpooling passengers; (2) less likely to have expensive top-of-the-line safety features that haven’t yet become standard and thus more likely to be sued over the lack of those features; and (3) more likely to be sold in such a volume that trial lawyers have put together a cheap package targeting the vehicle for lawsuit in the hopes of achieving economies of scale by targeting a lot of potential plaintiffs. (There will never be a mass tort for a Rolls Royce, for example—not enough of them are sold.) Note that the plaintiffs’ bar puts profits before people: they look at the costs and benefits of bringing suit, and target the most profitable vehicles to sue over, rather than the most dangerous ones, which is why the Ford Pinto is notorious and the VW Beetle (whose designers were so inconsiderate to write their memos in German instead of cheap-to-analyze English), which killed people at a much higher rate, is remembered with fond nostalgia.

So average liability is, if anything, higher for cheap cars than expensive cars; the $500 figure (which comes directly from the president of Chrysler) is probably higher for cheap cars and lower for expensive cars, and perhaps close to zero for the Rolls.