Posts Tagged ‘elevators and escalators’

Litigious clients file lawsuits

Courtesy of Judicial Reports, a cautionary tale for lawyers: be careful when you accept litigious clients. The law firm of Wallace & Minchenberg wasn’t, and it came back to bite them:

Bennett A. Cohen kept getting hurt in elevators — or so he claimed. The lawyers he hired to exact compensation from the culprits responsible for the injuries he allegedly sustained in four elevator mishaps between 1989 and 1992 must have suspected that their litigious client might eventually turn on them, as he did. When the last of the elevator tort claims collapsed, Cohen sued the law firm for malpractice for allegedly mishandling his slam-dunk tort suits.

A lower court in Brooklyn refused to dismiss Cohen’s suits, but the Appellate Division said that law firms can’t be guilty of malpractice for failing to properly prosecute cases without any merit to begin with.

I’m sure that’s of great comfort to the elevator maintenance companies who were originally sued by the law firm on behalf of Cohen.

(Too bad Cohen was representing himself pro se in his lawsuit against Wallace & Minchenberg. Otherwise he could have sued the lawyers who represented him in this lawsuit for failing to win against his former lawyers.)

Report from London

Ted (who reports that he’s having trouble posting directly while away) writes as follows:

I’m less than twelve hours into my first trip to London, and one can see right up front how badly the compensation culture has stunted the US compared to the UK. My ride from the airport was in a Mini Mayfair, which is even smaller than the small Mini Cooper, but one can also drive around the city in something called a “Smart Car,” an even teenier two-seater akin to the one Sam Lowry drove in Brazil. Any manufacturer trying to sell a car like that in the US would risk getting socked with punitive damages the first time the car ended up a loser in a collision with an SUV; after all, the disingenuous plaintiff’s attorney would say, the manufacturer was clearly more concerned with profits than with safety by daring to sell a small car. (Never mind the environmental differences, or the fact that the availability of a cheap SmartCar could vastly improve the lives of many working poor.)

The escalators in the Underground move about 60% faster than the ones in the DC Metro. I’m looking forward to studying whether London has a worse safety record with its escalators. I would hypothesize that, aside from the King’s Cross fire, they do not: people are just more careful, because (1) the escalators are plainly dangerous, rather than giving the illusion of safety that a slow escalator does; and (2) Brits know that if they hurt themselves, they can’t blame someone else, much less potentially collect millions (Feb. 13). It’s just so nice to be treated like an adult.

I wouldn’t trade the American way for the British way, but we could learn a thing or two.

More updates

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).

Dillard’s pays $15M to settle escalator suit

Dillard’s has agreed to pay $15 million to the family of a young girl who lost three fingers when they became trapped in an escalator in one of its Florida stores. At the time of the settlement, the jury had already awarded the family $9.4 million in compensatory damages and was about to hear evidence in the punitive damage phase. The department store chain admitted some liability for the accident, because the escalator had a history of catching shoppers’ shoes. (“Dillard’s must pay $9 million to girl maimed by escalator, South Florida Sun Sentinel,” Feb. 1)

The jury, however, assigned only fifteen percent of the blame to the little girl’s mother, who left her five year-old unsupervised in the store. At the time of the incident, the girl was playing on the down escalator, running and jumping up it in the wrong direction. She slipped while doing so and her fingers became trapped. (Jamie Thompson, “Dillard’s blames escalator accident on girl’s misuse,” St. Pete Times, Jan. 28)

Apparently, some members of the jury have not seen the movie Mallrats, which clearly warns of this danger. At least two jurors wanted to give the little girl all $35 million asked by her lawyers. (Jamie Thompson, “Settlement Surprises Jurors,” St. Pete Times, Feb. 2)

Tipsy totterer: I didn’t mean to sue airline

Curious update to our item of three days ago: Floyd Shuler, who slipped on an escalator after drinking on a flight, now says he “didn’t intend for the suit to be filed. ‘I learned about the filing of the lawsuit against US Airways … along with everyone else,’ Shuler said. ‘It was never my intent to take on the airline industry. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused US Airways.’ Shuler’s attorney, Paul Kutcher, did not return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.” (“Man Drops Suit Filed Against Airline After He Drank Booze, Fell”, AP/Tampa Bay Online, Apr. 1).

Sues airline in tipsy escalator mishap

Floyd W. Shuler, 61, of West Virginia, is suing an airline “alleging it didn’t notify him that drinking alcohol at night might adversely affect passengers before he fell down an escalator at Southwest Florida International Airport.” “US Airways failed to warn (Shuler) and its other passengers of the increased effect that consumption of alcoholic beverages has on airline passengers who consume alcoholic beverages while in flight and while flying at night,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Fort Myers. The suit also claims the escalator stopped unexpectedly after Shuler stepped onto it and that it was improperly maintained. (Kristen Zambo, “Man sues airline after falling down escalator after drinking on flight”, Naples Daily News, Mar. 31)(see Dec. 17, Oct. 13, Aug. 8, Jul. 30, Jul. 21; many more tipple-your-way-to-court cases). Update Apr. 3: Shuler says he never intended to sue.