- In case you were waiting for it: update on “toxic-bra” litigation [OnPoint News, Kashmir Hill, Above the Law (noting that rashes can have many different causes); earlier]
- Parts 5 & 6 of White Coat’s malpractice-suit saga [opposition’s expert witness; emotional support]
- “Global Insurance Fraud by North Korea Outlined” [Washington Post]
- British cops aren’t saying which famous buildings you can be stopped/searched for photographing [BoingBoing]
- FBI said to probe whether construction-defect lawyers have improper ties to Nevada homeowner associations that give them business [Carter Wood at Point of Law]
- With junk science in even criminal prosecutions, is there hope of keeping it out of civil cases? [Coyote]
- “Remember when you could fight with a sibling and not face arrest?” [Obscure Store, 10-year-old Texas girl]
- Australian man obtains patent on “circular transportation facilitation device”, otherwise known as “the wheel”, to make point about ease of obtaining weak patents [eight years ago on Overlawyered]
German cops, however, got a surprise when they unmasked Ms. Moriarty.
Some opponents of wind turbine farms in Maine say they’re concerned not just about audible noise but “low-frequency noise, so soft you can’t hear it,” from the installations, which they claim is linked to a wide array of health problems, not to mention “the strobe effect created by the sun setting behind the spinning blades, which some say can lead to seizures”. On an anti-turbine website, a New York doctor describes “acoustic radiation” as a mix of “audible sound, infrasound and vibration, in a pulsating character, that appear to trigger serious reported health problems in those families living near wind turbine installations.” State officials in Maine, on the other hand, would prefer to keep the focus on sound levels loud enough to actually be noticed:
The state’s chief medical officer has her doubts about turbine-related health effects. When it comes to potential hazards, “If anything, there’s evidence to put a moratorium on fossil fuels not on wind turbines,” Dr. Dora Ann Mills said Friday.
Welcome LA Weekly readers; this website is mentioned and I am quoted in a less-than-entirely-coherent story about mold litigation in this week’s LA Weekly. The story focuses on Sharon Kramer, who has given up a full-time career to pound the drums over her fight with her insurer alleging mold harms after a remediation; and an unfortunate lawsuit brought by scientist Bruce Kelman against Kramer. Kelman only wants an apology from Kramer for her issuing a press release that falsely claimed he lied under oath; Kramer has refused, and Kelman is still stuck in litigation where he will likely come up with a Pyrrhic victory. (Kelman’s work writing a layperson’s guide to the science of mold for the Manhattan Institute is central to the libel allegations.) Kramer, meanwhile, blames her aging on exposure to mold, rather than, say, turning 56. The story suffers for treating Erin Brockovich as the archetype of a justified plaintiff; Overlawyered readers know better.
The story is worthwhile for one new tidbit of information, the poetic justice facing Ed McMahon for his bogus mold lawsuit:
In 2003, another raft of huge mold news stories broke nationwide, and Kramer paid close attention. The most famous, and strangest, was that of Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon, who took a $7.2 million settlement after suing for $20 million in his claim that mold made him and his wife sick — and killed his sheepdog, Muffin. …
In the McMahon case, some see the tragic unraveling of a popular public figure egged on by an attorney, Allan Browne. No hard, scientific evidence was ever made public proving that McMahon or his dog suffered the specific mold allergies and immune-system problems that, in rare cases, can be set off by household mold.
Since then, McMahon has become a sad figure, with a series of new troubles, including his default this year on his palatial 7,000-square-foot home on Mulholland Drive, involving a $4.8 million loan from the infamous lender Countrywide. And he just sued again, bizarrely accusing investment tycoon Robert Day of having in his mansion a poorly lit staircase on which McMahon says he fell during a party last year. McMahon is belatedly alleging he broke his neck but that doctors missed it.
The longtime TV pitchman spent years convincing the courts and the general public that his home contained rampant, poisonous, deadly mold strong enough to fell a large dog. McMahon talked it up for so long that he now faces the daunting task of selling a home he can no longer afford, that people believe is riddled with toxins.
Also interesting to me is the story’s quote of me. I gave an e-mail interview to the author, Daniel Heimpel in February. It’s interesting what gets used and what doesn’t get used, so I am going to attach the entire interview.
Here’s the full February 28 interview:
Mark Lanier and other plaintiffs lawyers are giving a series of interviews where they complain that the Ernst v. Merck decision (discussed yesterday) is “judicial activism that reinterprets the evidence.” (E.g., in Texas Lawyer.) This is nonsense. Ernst follows well-stated precedent. Indeed, I predicted precisely this result and precisely the case the appellate court would use to strike down the decision the week of the jury’s verdict.
AP reports a Texas court has thrown out the infamous Ernst $26 million judgment; a New Jersey court has tossed $9 million of the judgment in McDarby. More details on Point of Law as available.
Ernst was the first Vioxx suit to go to trial. A jury awarded $253 million. Mark Lanier waited months before asking for a final judgment; at the time, I suggested that this was because he knew the case would be reversed on appeal, and did not want the bad publicity. Indeed, the appellate decision perhaps comes too late for Merck: the number of lawsuits increased from 6000 to 60000 in the months following publicity over the jury verdict, costing Merck billions of dollars in the later extortionate settlement.
With these two decisions, only three plaintiffs’ verdicts in favor of Merck remain.
Update: I still haven’t seen the McDarby decision, but an updated AP story indicates that it upheld the compensatory damages of $4.5 million, overturned the $9 million punitive damages verdict, and overturned the consumer-fraud judgment (which also saves Merck millions of dollars in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees).
- “What you will not see in the findings of this bill, where politicians typically describe the problem they intend to solve, is any evidence that arbitration harms consumers or anyone else.” [WSJ]
- You saw it first on Overlawyered (Jun. 9; Jul. 20; Sep. 14): “Plaintiffs Lawyers in ‘Blood Feud’ Over Fees From $2 Billion Settlement” [American Lawyer]
- Junk science verdict against Dole Pineapple and Dow Chemical over pesticide use. [Cal Biz Lit]
- Alabama Supreme Court points out that good-faith contract dispute does not merit multi-billion-dollar punitive damages. [Birmingham News; Marketwatch; Exxon v. Alabama via Alabama Appellate Watch via Bashman]
- Still more Montgomery Blair Sibley follies. [Legal Times]
- The latest farm follies. [Postrel; Mair; Rauch]
- Why Ron Paul is a crank [Frum]
- Curlin gets 400 new owners, as the Kentucky fen-phen plaintiffs ripped off by their attorneys get the right to seize Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion’s 20% share of the Preakness Stakes winner. [AP/NYT; earlier]
- As Lerach pleads guilty, LA Times editorial defends class action abuses, incorrectly says that the PSLRA fixed everything and that Lerach didn’t act illegally after it was passed. [LA Times]
- That $10.9 million verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church was “not about the money.” [Reuters] Really, now, this case imposing bankrupting damages for a protest on a public sidewalk is appalling. Granted: Phelps is bigoted scum, and rude bigoted scum at that. But Albert Snyder’s claimed physical injury is that the protest exacerbated his diabetes: what sort of junk science is that? NB that Snyder was not even aware of the protest at the funeral until he watched it on television. Why not liability for the news program? Even those happy to see the anti-gay bigotry of the WBC punished should take pause: Snyder testified at length that the protest upset him particularly because his son was not gay.
- Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary (Apr. 29, Oct. 2004), on the hook for $28,000/month in child support for love child. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
- Deep-pocket search in Great White fire case. [Childs]
- Lawsuit over which school 9-year-old can play football for. [Tulsa World (via TMQ G. Easterbrook)] Worse, the judge rewarded the plaintiff by second-guessing the league decision. [Tulsa World]
- It only takes ten months of legal proceedings for Cal-Berkeley to evict trespassers squatting on university property. [SF Gate]
- Don’t hold your breath: who’s watching the trial lawyers? [Examiner]
Courtesy of one of the winning attorneys, Overlawyered is the first to have the July 18 arbitration ruling on-line, which, as we reported earlier, rejected O’Quinn’s affirmative defenses and finds that O’Quinn’s overbilling and breach of fiduciary duties to his clients requires him to pay $35.7 million in damages plus interest and attorneys’ fees. Not a great number of surprises in this if you’ve been following our previous coverage (Apr. 15, Jun. 9, Jul. 19), but there is one interesting disclosure: note how O’Quinn used $3 million of plaintiffs’ money to surreptitiously fund a “Baylor study” on breast implants and make it seem like it was something other than a litigation-generated study.
Once again, let us note the irony that trial lawyers recognize the value of mandatory arbitration agreements, even as they wish to deprive other professions of the ability to use them.
In 1995, 70-year old Marlene Fett pressed the wrong pedal on her Lincoln Town Car, and smashed into a carousel in front of an Arkansas Wal-Mart, killing one boy and severely injuring his brother. The Chapman family settled with Fett, and blamed Wal-Mart and Ford, Wal-Mart on a theory that it should have anticipated the possibility of a car hitting a merry-go-round at 30 mph, and Ford on that old plaintiffs’ lawyer claim of “sudden acceleration,” a “defect” that somehow is six times more likely to strike elderly drivers. The case made the front page of USA Today in 2004 (resulting in an Apr. 19, 2004 Overlawyered story), though the newspaper kindly noted the lack of science behind the claim:
Little Rock attorney Sandy McMath, who is representing the Chapmans, says the Town Car’s cruise control put Fett on a “rocket ship to Mars” after she pulled out of her parking place. He petitioned NHTSA to investigate what he says is a defect in Ford and Lincoln models’ cruise control that causes the accelerator to stick.
In a lengthy 1999 [sic] report denying McMath’s petition, NHTSA investigator Bob Young wrote that even if such an occurrence took place and didn’t leave evidence of a mechanical malfunction, the situation should be reproducible through in-vehicle and laboratory tests. None of NHTSA’s testing could do so.
The Wal-Mart theory was similarly bogus, and refuted when an expert demonstrated that the plaintiffs’ proposed safety measure wouldn’t have stopped the speeding car. (For Illinois’ take on premises liability for auto accidents: Jun. 23.) An Arkansas jury also rejected the claims, and, after years of litigation, now the Arkansas Supreme Court has affirmed that decision in a not-especially-interesting Dec. 14 opinion, Chapman v. Ford Motor Co. Wal-Mart and Ford are still out the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent defending themselves in the lottery litigation, not to mention the cost of bad publicity from sudden acceleration claims and quacks like the Center for Auto Safety trumpeting a non-existent problem. Arkansas acquits itself better than a South Carolina federal court did in a story we covered Aug. 7.