“Jury clears companies in lawn mower lawsuit” [Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard]
- Speaking of prostitutes and politicians, Deborah Jeane Palfrey has come to recognize that Montgomery Blair Sibley (Oct. 29; May 4; etc.) may not be the best lawyer for her. [WTOP via BLT]
- Update: Nearly two years later, trial court gets around to upholding $2 million verdict in lawn-mower death we covered Jun. 16 and Aug. 18, 2006. [Roanoke Times (quoting me); opinion at On Point]
- In other lawn mower news, check out Jim Beck’s perceptive comment on a Third Circuit lawn-mower liability decision.
- Update: Willie Gary wins his child-support dispute. [Gary v. Gowins (Ga.); Atl. Journal-Const.; via ABA Journal; earlier: Nov. 2]
- Tobacco-lawyer Mike Ciresi drops out of Minnesota senate race. [WCCO]
- Belfast court quashes libel ruling against restaurant critic. [AFP/Breitbart]
- Trial-lawyer-blogger happy: jury returned $1.25 million med-mal verdict for death of totally disabled person suffering from end-stage renal disease, pulmonary hypertension, oxygen dependent lung disease, and obesity, after rejecting businessperson from jury “for cause” because he was head of local Chamber of Commerce. [Day]
- Car-keying anti-military attorney Jay Grodner faced the law in January; here’s the transcript. [Blackfive]
- Anonymous blog post not reliable evidence of factual allegations. [In re Pfizer, Inc. Sec. Litig., 2008 WL 540120 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2008) via Roberts, who also reports on fee reduction in same post]
- Clinton’s nutty mortgage plan. [B&MI (quoting me)]
- A supposed DC cabbie’s take on DC v. Heller. [DC Cabbie blog]
The Simplicity Manufacturing riding mower, manufactured in 1994, includes the following warning, almost so obvious and over-the-top as to be wacky:
(I) DO NOT MOW WHEN CHILDREN OR OTHERS ARE AROUND; (ii) NEVER CARRY CHILDREN; (iii) LOOK DOWN AND BEHIND BEFORE AND WHILE BACKING.
Moreover, the manual includes the following warnings:
(I) Tragic accidents can occur if the operator is not alert to the presence of children. Children are often attracted to the unit and the mowing activity. Never assume that children will remain where you last saw them.
(ii) Keep children out of the mowing area and under the watchful care of another responsible adult.
(iii) Be alert and turn unit off if children enter the area.
(iv) Before and when backing, look behind and down for small children.
Nevertheless, on May 7, 2003, in Honeybrook, Pennsylvania, Melvin Shoff backed up his riding mower and managed to run over the foot of four-year-old Ashley Berrier, resulting in its amputation. This is, Ashley’s parents complain in a lawsuit, the fault of Simplicity Manufacturing for not doing more to idiot-proof the mower. The federal district court threw out the suit based on a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent (involving a two-year-old and a lighter), but the Third Circuit, twelve months after the case was argued, has certified the question to the Supreme Court whether they’ve changed their mind in the last five years. The Court appears to have been swayed by the American Law Institute’s “Restatement” proposal to expand product-liability law in this area. (Berrier v. Simplicity Manufacturing (3d Cir. Jan. 17, 2008) via Steenson; Legal Intelligencer).
The retailer quickly modified its managemyhome.com web site after it was pointed out that unauthorized users might get it to cough up records of homeowners’ past purchases. The law firm of KamberEdelson LLC quickly hopped on the case with a class action demanding millions, saying bad guys might use the information on past lawn mower purchases and the like to trick homeowners into divulging more serious financial data, though its complaint cited no instances where anything of the sort had actually happened. (“Sears Accused Of Violating Consumer Fraud Law”, Reuters/New York Times, Jan. 7; BenEdelman.org). Chicago lawyer/blogger David Fish isn’t impressed with the turn to legal action, asking, “Are you legally damaged because your nosy neighbor found out how much your washing machine cost?” (Jan. 10).
News clips reporting on large verdicts and settlements cross my desk regularly, and most do not seem on their surface to be worth blogging about. Most are terse summaries of a case’s outcome, and others do not present any indication (again, on the surface at least) that a case might have problematic aspects. The other day, however, I ran across a story in the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette describing a case in which a plaintiff had been terribly injured after a retailer sold what the reporter bluntly stated was a “defective mower.” This particular newspaper story was so one-sided that I thought there almost had to be more to it than was being reported — and I had no idea how right I was in that suspicion. This is a long post, but I hope worth readers’ while. It certainly makes me wonder how much I’m missing when I don’t go into the dockets to fact-check other seemingly run-of-the-mill cases.
Lawyers successfully urge a Virginia jury to send a message:
Justin Simmons was killed in April 2004 in Daleville, north of Roanoke, when a mower operated at his daycare center rolled backward while going up a slope and over the child….
The jury held MTD responsible for not designing a mower that automatically stops its blades whenever it rolls backward. No such mower exists or has ever been tested, [company attorney John] Fitzpatrick said.
The company also argued that the operator of the mower, whose wife was the daycare provider, had ignored safety warnings. (“Jurors award $2 million in child’s mower death– company to appeal”, AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jun. 15).
More: Considerable further detail is to be found in Mike Allen’s coverage for the Roanoke Times: “Lawyers for lawn mower maker, operator lay blame in boy’s death”, Jun. 8, and “Lawn mower company liable in boy’s death”, Jun. 15.
More: Aug. 18.
Yesterday, I had the honor and pleasure of debating Professor Jonathan Turley on litigation reform issues at a Knight Center seminar on “Law and the Courts” in front of a few dozen journalists. Some of the topics we and the audience questioners touched upon all too briefly there merit follow-up in a forum where citations are easier.
Overlawyered posted on the drunk driving car window case we discussed.
In “The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case”, 43 Rutgers L. Rev. 1013 (1991), Gary Schwartz demonstrates that the Pinto’s safety record was comparable to other cars of the era, and that the Mother Jones prediction of hundreds of deaths was wildly off. This site’s editor’s articles, “It Didn’t Start With Dateline NBC” and “Exposing the ‘Experts’ Behind the Sexy Exposés: How Networks Get Duped by Dubious Advocates” are both good reading for more on the Pinto legend and on the topic of lawyers’ attempts to manipulate the media.
There appears to be a tradition that no litigation reform debate can be held without reference to the McDonald’s coffee case. The fact that Professor Turley defends this verdict (and presumably teaches the same to his Torts students) shows that this ten-year-old case is still relevant. The much-better reasoned McMahon v. Bunn-O-Matic threw out a lawsuit with an identical theory of liability for third-degree coffee burns in one’s lap. Professor Turley attacked the decision on the ad hominem grounds that Judge Easterbrook is conservative, but if that were so, one could presumably point to the part of the opinion infected by political bias, and I have yet to see anyone do so.
Professor Turley claims the urban legend of the lawsuit involving the guy who used a lawn mower as a hedge-clipper has infected the tort debate, but a Google search shows that the vast majority of references on the web to this story come from reprints of Turley’s article on the subject. I’d like to see a source for Professor Turley’s claim that this anecdote is taught in law schools; when I was in law school in 1992, the tale wasn’t treated as anything other than an urban legend, as one Chicago 1L shared with the pre-blog Internet urban folklore group. One columnist who didn’t fact-check before passing on e-mail glurge doth not a trend make.
There were a lot of questions about asbestos litigation; Jim Copland’s short overview on the topic is a good starting place, with many links to more detailed analyses.
I disagree with Professor Turley’s claim that medical malpractice rates would go down if there was “experience rating”, mostly because it appears that the malpractice liability system in place today is sufficiently random that past claims are not a good predictor of future claims. (Raymond Lehmann, “Medical-Liability Debate Puts Rate-Setting Complexities Under Microscope”, BestWire, Feb. 22 ($)). I’ve elsewhere commented sardonically on the claims that insurance industry incompetence is the reason behind the malpractice crisis.