Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

Update: Mich. high court throws out Chrysler harassment award

It won’t come as much surprise to readers of our May 31, 2001 item (“Fieger’s firecrackers frequently fizzle”) that the Michigan Supreme Court has thrown out controversial attorney Geoffrey Fieger’s $20 million jury win on behalf of Linda Gilbert, a female millwright harassed by co-workers at a Chrysler assembly plant in Detroit. “The jury verdict is so excessive and so clearly the product of passion and prejudice that there can be no justification for the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for a new trial,” wrote Justice Robert Young Jr. in the majority opinion. Three dissenting justices on the seven-member court thought that reducing the award would be adequate remedy for the problems with the trial. (David Eggert, “Michigan Supreme Court Overturns $21 Million Verdict Against DaimlerChrysler”, AP/, Jul. 23). More: Dawson Bell, “Harassment verdict is overturned”, Detroit Free Press, Jul. 23; Ernie the Attorney.

Staggered sports schedules again found to violate Title IX

“Separate soccer seasons for girls’ teams in two Westchester, N.Y., school districts violate civil rights laws banning gender discrimination in athletics, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [last month].” The Mamaroneck and Pelham school districts had unsuccessfully argued that logistical concerns — notably a shortage of soccer fields to play on — justified the practice of having boys play soccer in the fall and girls in the spring. (Mark Hamblett, “Separate Soccer Found to Violate Civil Rights”, New York Law Journal, Jun. 8). For a similar ruling in Michigan, see Dec. 24-27, 2001; letter to the editor, Feb. 28, 2002. More: May 7, 2005.

Damage caps for me, but not for thee

Most of organized lawyerdom, as we know, strongly opposes any notion of capping damages recoverable by victims, even as applied to “non-economic” damages claimed for intangible harms such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. It turns out, however, that the bar enthusiastically supports the capping in nearly every state of one particular form of compensation, namely, the compensation of clients who are embezzled from or otherwise defrauded by their lawyers. In Pennsylvania, for example, the official Pennsylvania Lawyer Fund for Client Security (more) caps damages payable to defrauded clients at $75,000, although the loss actually sustained by the victimized client often runs far higher than that. Columnist Don Spatz of the Reading, Pa. Eagle notices the irony: “Even if you can prove your lawyer stole $200,000 from you, you’re out of luck. There’s a cap. … I haven’t heard lawyers worry about caps taking away those victims’ rights.” (“First, lawyer, heal thyself”, Reading Eagle, Mar. 24, at HALT site).

It should be noted that the damages clients attempt to recover after being defrauded by their lawyers are typically direct out-of-pocket economic losses, as opposed to money for humiliation, psychic distress and the like. Yet lawyers in most states have secured payout caps even lower than Pennsylvania’s $75,000, often much lower: Illinois lawyers cap their collective responsibility at a paltry $10,000 per case, for example, and Nevada’s at $15,000. (2002 ABA Center for Professional Responsibility survey of state plans, reprinted at Michigan Bar Association site, PDF, scroll to Chart II, part 2). Perhaps these lawyers are worried that setting caps at a more generous level (or, heaven forfend, removing them entirely) would increase the premiums currently assessed against them to cover the risk pools. In Pennsylvania, according to columnist Spatz, these premiums were recently running at the very extravagant level of $45 per lawyer per year.

In a number of states, it should be noted, lawyers impose an effective cap of zero on this particular kind of claim, by the simple method of not having established any collective client protection scheme at all. And there is a certain very plausible logic to that position: why after all should rank and file attorneys be asked to clean up the messes left by their errant brethren? Is a lawyer his brother’s keeper? It’s just that this argument would sit better were the leaders of the bar not constantly denouncing the medical profession for its alleged failure to police itself.

Read On…

Movie theater pays $3M for relationship gone bad

You’re looking at the headline and thinking that a victim of sexual harassment got a windfall, but the plaintiff was 52-year-old movie theater manager Gary Trepanier. Trepanier was dating a part-time concessions worker; the movie theater chain, National Amusements, found out about the relationship when he filed for a personal protection order against her phone calls after the relationship ended, and fired him for favoring the employee. Trepanier’s lawyer, Glen Lenhoff, claimed this violated the Michigan Whistleblower’s Act, and a jury awarded $1M in past and future wages and $2M for past and future mental anguish. (Ken Palmer, “Jury awards $3 million in cinema manager’s firing”, Flint Journal, Apr. 8).

Shhhh! He’s got a lawyer!

In 1996 Frank Sulloway had a publishing hit with Born To Rebel, a book arguing that birth order is an important influence on individuals’ destinies (supposedly, first-born children grow up conservative, later-borns want to rock the boat). There were doubters, however, and a critique has now appeared claiming that Sulloway’s data does not back up his conclusions. According to a summary of the situation by Alex Tabarrok (Mar. 20), the appearance of this critique in print was drastically delayed by Sulloway’s threats to sue the journal’s publisher and editor over defamation and other alleged wrongs. The journal’s publisher declined to publish even a debate on the book unless assured that it would not be sued, with the result that editor Gary Johnson and his association wound up publishing it independently, after nearly five years of delay. Tabarrok has much more detail about the story, which he finds “shocking” and “disturbing”.

Lawyers for author John Gray (Men are From Mars…) threatened a libel suit after a weblog said rude things about his on-first-glance-impressive educational credentials. That ensured more attention to the embarrassment, as Instapundit (Mar. 22) points out in a post with many links. (Plus: J.B. Howard Jr. has more on the case, Mar. 25). And the Michigan Court of Appeals has “dismissed a lawsuit in which the Michigan Education Association claimed the Mackinac Center, a free market think tank that has been at odds with the union on issues such as charter schools and education vouchers, had violated the privacy of MEA President Luigi Battaglieri by quoting him in a fund-raising letter. The court concluded that the letter ‘falls squarely within the protection of the First Amendment for discourse on matters of public interest.'” (Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Mar. 22)(Mackinac Center, Mar. 19) More: John E. Kramer, “Calling the Bully’s Bluff”, Liberty and Law (Institute for Justice), Jun. (more on media and free speech suits)

Hillsdale College “Imprimis”

I’m happy to announce that my speech last month at Hillsdale College in Michigan has been reprinted as the March issue of the college publication “Imprimis”, which reaches a very large (1 million+) readership. (Walter Olson, “The Threat from Lawyers is No Joke”, current issue, will rotate off top page — when that happens, search archive for March 2004)(or permalink printable version)

Mom sues daughter over driveway mishap

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Carla Allen of Warren is not entitled to collect damages from her daughter for failing to maintain her property in a safe condition. Mrs. Allen tripped and fell “on a raised slab of concrete on her daughter?s driveway”. The “court ruled that when an average person with ordinary intelligence can discover a danger on casual inspection, as the mother could in this case, he or she cannot blame someone else for injuries.” The editorialists at the Detroit News say the case “speaks volumes about the absurd state of the U.S. judicial system” and suggests the need for more frequent sanctions. (“Fine Filers of Frivolous Lawsuits” (editorial), Detroit News, Feb. 24)

Underage father on hook for child support

“A man who claims he was seduced and exploited in his early teens by an older, married woman must pay child support to the state for the illegitimate son he gave her” according to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The relationship between the two was not revealed until after the statute of limitations for statutory rape had passed, but in any event the appeals court held that the lack of legal (or even actual) consent is irrelevant to the issue of child support. (Chad Halcom, “Man, 14 when he fathered boy, must pay support”, Macomb Daily, Feb. 21) (via Bashman).

Posting lull

Postings from me will likely be sparse over the next few days as I’m on the road: the International Association of Defense Counsel has invited me to speak at their midyear meeting in Orlando. Next week there’ll be more travel, including a speech next Wednesday at a conference put on by the Center for Constructive Alternatives at Hillsdale College in Michigan. There’s more ahead, including two New York City events later this month (details to come); I’ve also agreed to be a participant in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s 56th Conference on World Affairs this Apr. 5-9. If you’re an event sponsor interested in booking an appearance, you can email me directly through this site or contact the Manhattan Institute at 212-599-7000.