“[U]nlimited damages … could have a significant impact on state and local budgets, since government entities are not infrequently named as defendants in wrongful death suits, and there are similar concerns as the State undertakes efforts to attract and grow businesses here.”
“Unfortunately, I do not believe that this bill in its current form strikes a fair balance that would avoid using a strict monetary valuation of a person’s life while also addressing the adverse effect of allowing unlimited and unpredictable damages.”
He urged the Legislature to consider alternatives “granting more flexibility for courts to reduce excessive non-pecuniary damage awards and defining non-pecuniary damages less expansively.”
New Jersey’s wrongful death law had capped non-economic damages at zero, by not permitting any non-pecuniary recovery. This has been rectified by The New Jersey legislature has passed a new law (per Scheuerman) that ends this problem, but non-pecuniary damages in wrongful death cases would have absolutely no statutory limits. Governor Corzine has until January 15 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.
(Updated to reflect fact bill has not been signed yet.)
Let us imagine a writer for a left-wing magazine, we’ll call her Mephanie Stencimer, who wants to buy a car. But she has particular tastes: she doesn’t just want any old car. She wants a three-wheeled vehicle, perhaps because the feng shui is better, perhaps because she wants to spend less money on tires forced upon her by Big Rubber. She goes from car-dealer to car-dealer around town, but every single one of the dastardly businessmen insist that her only choice is a four-wheeled vehicle. She patiently explains the aesthetics of the triangular approach, but they shrug their shoulders and tell her it’s out of their hands and she has to have a four-wheeled car or nothing. Finally, she surrenders her preference for the three-wheeled vehicle, and takes a model with the extra wheel.
If you were to take seriously the arguments of Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones and the commenters there, and perhaps the occasional judge, this is an outrageous “contract of adhesion” that should be outlawed: Stencimer didn’t have a choice, didn’t have the bargaining power to make the auto-dealer sell her a three-wheeled car, and was forced to buy an extra wheel. But is this really a problematic failure of the market that requires government intervention?
A major early theme of the Dickie Scruggs defense has been that fortyish attorney Timothy Balducci, who was “flipped” by the feds and is cooperating with prosecutors, and who has spoken of sharing with Scruggs knowledge of where there are various “bodies buried”, is a clueless newbie, a mere Timmy Tiptoes who sought to impress his elders in hopes of someday being admitted to their inner circle. Scruggs attorney John Keker used the “wannabe” epithet the other day, saying he didn’t think Scruggs and Balducci “were close at all”, and it had earlier come to mind as I sought to convey the tone of the WSJ’s Oxford Christmas party quotes. Let’s review, then, some of the revelations of recent days:
- As a former principal in the Langston law firm, one of the state’s best known, Balducci had been appointed individually to represent the state of Mississippi as a Special Assistant Attorney General in two high-stakes and politically sensitive matters, the MCI tax dispute and the litigation against drugmaker Lilly seeking reimbursement for outlays on the psychiatric drug Zyprexa.
- According to Alan Lange at Y’All Politics, the agreement from AG Hood’s office in the MCI case retaining the Langston Law Firm refers to “its principal members, Joseph C. Langston and Timothy R. Balducci”, and Langston’s own advertising at the time referred to the firm as being “anchored by longterm partners Langston and Tim Balducci”.
- Scruggs retained Balducci to represent him in the highly sensitive Jones lawsuit, which aside from demanding millions of dollars carried the prospect of laying open the financial arrangements of the Scruggs Katrina Group to a curious world.
- Earlier, Scruggs retained Balducci to represent him in the long-running and highly sensitive Alwyn Luckey fee lawsuit, which per the Times culminated in an eventual $17 million payout to Luckey. The opposing attorney who handled that case for Luckey, Charles M. Merkel, Jr., told the New York Times: “Balducci made part of the closing arguments in one of my cases, and they sat at the same table. When I was negotiating with them, it was generally with Balducci.”
- In the Luckey case, when Scruggs sat for the fantastically sensitive 2004 deposition in which he was obliged to unveil explosive details of how he spread around money to advance the tobacco-Medicaid litigation — the episode that made his national reputation and brought him plus-or-minus a billion in fees — the lawyer on hand representing him, and peppering the proceedings with continual objections, was Balducci.
- After Balducci struck out with former state auditor Steve Patterson to form an independent practice, his firm listed of counsel political and legal notables that included a former governor of the state of Mississippi and the former DA of the county that includes most of Jackson.
P.S. For those unacquainted with the Beatrix Potter reference, the eponymous gray squirrel in her story gets into trouble with his fellows: “Timmy rolled over and over, and then turned tail and fled towards his nest, followed by a crowd of squirrels shouting — ‘Who’s-been digging-up my-nuts?'”
- As governor, Huckabee signed a good tort reform package capping punitive and non-economic damages, and reforming joint and several liability and venue law, but the rest of his economic record is big-government. And David Harsanyi is critical of Huckabee’s claimed opposition to nanny-statism. [Insurance Journal; Human Events; Harsanyi; RCP; Michael Tanner @ FoxNews]
- Update to the popular Bridezilla flowers lawsuit; florist files opposition. Lots of comments ensue. [Lattman]
- South Dakota Supreme Court: no, you can’t sue a pharmacy for being a “drug dealer” when plaintiff steals prescription medicine for a disabled friend and injures himself OD’ing on it. [On Point]
- Former litigator hired to invest $100m in court cases for UK hedge fund. [Times Online]
- Atkins fallout in Texas and California, as professional anti-death-penalty experts there happily minimize subject IQs to call their intelligent clients retarded. Earlier: Feb. 2005; Sep. 2003. [Science Evidence blog; and again]
- Heartbalm tort of alienation of affection withstand constitutional challenge in Mississippi. Earlier: Jul. 5; Nov. 2006, etc. [Torts Prof]
- Bob Woodruff biography: I would have died if my injury happened in the United States because of fear of liability. [Murnane]
- I’ve updated my paper on Thomas Geoghegan’s new book. [SSRN]
- Overlawyered holds slim lead at ABA Blawg 100 popularity contest. But why aren’t any of you voting for Point of Law? [ABA Journal]
Gotta protect those state revenues?
Even as Governor Deval Patrick seeks to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts, he hopes to clamp down on the explosion in Internet gambling by making it illegal for state residents to place a bet on line. He has proposed jail terms of up to two years and $25,000 fines for violators.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), however, reacted strongly against the proposal:
“I believe in personal liberty,” Frank said. “Adults should be able to do what they want. I wish my fellow liberals would not be so inconsistent on this issue.”
Does the Democratic Party realize the extent to which party leaders are selling out its principles to the trial lawyers? It’s gotten to the point that they’re running John Arthur Eaves, Jr., for governor in Mississippi. Eaves is pro-school-prayer, anti-abortion, and more sanctimonious in his Christianity and gay-bashing than any Republican regularly criticized by the Kossacks of the Left. But at least he supports (and is a member of) the trial bar! Democrats’ other constituencies should take a long hard look at the extent to which their issues are going to take a back seat to the litigation lobby’s takeover of the party. (Adam Nossiter, “In Mississippi, Democrat Runs in G.O.P. Lane”, New York Times, Oct. 10).
The Washington Legislature recently passed and governor signed the “Insurance Fair Conduct Act” allowing first party claimants to recover treble (triple) damages and attorney fees for claims unreasonably denied. The Seattle Post Intelligencer’s story here lays out the pending battle between insurers and the trial bar. You see, the legislation is up for public vote in November and each side is scurrying to curry favor with the electorate.
Now, as an insurance consumer myself I expect high marks from my insurance company in the event of a loss. And, I have from time to time witnessed the recalcitrance of other insurers when tendering defense and indemnity to them (particularly in additional insured scenarios.) Few would disagree that insurers should promptly and cheerfully pay those claims they owe, period.
Via Rossmiller, more on Judge Murphy’s libel suit:
Though [Judge] Murphy won his case against the Herald, he has not emerged unscathed. The Commission on Judicial Conduct filed charges last month with the Supreme Judicial Court alleging that Murphy sent letters to the Herald that constitute “willful misconduct which brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
Murphy sent the letters to Purcell after the verdict, requesting a private meeting to discuss getting more money from the tabloid, according to the commission.
“You will bring to that meeting a cashiers check, payable to me, in the sum of $3,260,000,” wrote Murphy in a handwritten letter on Superior Court stationery. “No check no meeting. You will give me that check and I shall put it in my pocket.”
In another letter, Murphy wrote, “It would be a mistake, Pat, to show this letter to anyone other than the gentleman whose authorized signature will be affixed to the check in question. In fact, a BIG mistake.” A date has not yet been set for Murphy’s hearing on the misconduct charges.
Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick rejected an appeal by Murphy to retire early with a lucrative disability pension based on his contention that he has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the defamation case.
Murphy, not satisfied with his $3.41 million collection from the Boston Herald, has sued the Herald’s insurance carrier for $6.8 million for alleged bad faith. (Shelley Murphy, “Judge seeks $6.8m from Herald’s insurer”, Boston Globe, Aug. 18). Earlier: Jul. 15, May 11, Dec. 23, 2005, etc.