Ed Murnane of Illinois Justice Blog has a good post on how the efforts of Illinois trial lawyers to return to the bad old days of full joint and several liability would impact cases like that of dead drunk driver Josh Hancock’s family (May 24).
Score another one for personal responsibility: 29-year old St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock killed himself in April when he drove — faster than the speed limit, drunk, on a cell phone, and not wearing a seat belt — into a tow truck stopped on the side of a road. Obviously, we ought to blame… everyone except Josh Hancock for this. Three and a half weeks after the accident, his father has filed suit in St. Louis against: the restaurant where Hancock was drinking, the manager of the restaurant, the tow truck driver, the towing company, and (!) the driver of the stalled vehicle that the tow truck was assisting, for having the temerity to get his car stuck on the side of the road.
So far, he hasn’t sued the Cardinals or Major League Baseball, but, while praising the team, his lawyer pointedly refused to rule out suing them.
Clearly, his father’s attorney isn’t all that creative; think of all the other people responsible for this accident:
- The cell phone manufacturer; Hancock couldn’t have been talking on the phone if they hadn’t been so negligent as to invent it, or if they had placed warnings on the side of the phone about not using it while driving.
- Hancock’s girlfriend — she was on the other end of the phone. Plus, he was driving to meet her.
- The owners of the bar he was driving to in order to meet his girlfriend. If they had been closed, he wouldn’t have been driving there; if they were easier to find, he wouldn’t have had to give his girlfriend directions.
- The car rental company; Hancock was driving a rented SUV… because he had just had an accident in his own car. If they hadn’t rented him the SUV, he couldn’t have been driving it.
- Anheuser-Busch, it goes without saying; no alcohol, no accident.
- The Cardinals, for not trading him to another team; if he hadn’t been in St. Louis, he couldn’t have crashed.
While it’s hardly unusual nowadays to blame bars for injuries caused by serving drunk patrons, those suits typically involve injuries to third parties. It’s not clear to me from a quick perusal of Missouri statutes that the bar can be liable for injuries caused to the drinker himself, but the key may be in this sentence from the Post-Dispatch story, quoting the complaint filed: “The intoxication of Joshua Morgan Hancock on said occasion was involuntary.” Yes, they forced the alcohol down his throat.
I wonder if the tow truck company will countersue for the damages Hancock caused to their truck by crashing into it. That would be poetic justice, at least.
Update: KMOV has a copy of the complaint. (PDF)
Updating a few of the earlier stories covered around here:
- Maybe it’s not so gay after all: Rebekah Rice, the California high school student who sued her school after they disciplined her for saying “That’s so gay,” has lost her lawsuit.
“All of us have probably felt at some time that we were unfairly punished by a callous teacher, or picked on and teased by boorish and uncaring bullies. Unfortunately, this is part of what teenagers endure in becoming adults,” the judge wrote in a 20-page ruling. “The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings.”
Moreover, the judge picked up on the same irony we noted when we first covered the story:
“If the Rice family had not told everyone that Rebekah had been given a referral for saying ‘That’s so gay’ then no one else would have know it either, and she would not have been referred to as the ‘That’s so gay girl,'” the judge wrote.
(Update to the update: Matthew Heller has the opinion.)
- Contrary to what we had speculated, it appears that Pants Judge Roy Pearson still has a job and may continue to do so. According to an unnamed D.C. official, and exemplifying the attitude with which the tort reform movement is fighting, “I don’t think it’s appropriate not to reappoint someone just because they file a lawsuit. You can’t retaliate against someone for exercising their constitutional, First Amendment right to file a lawsuit to vindicate their rights.” (No, but you can retaliate against someone for filing a frivolous lawsuit.) Meanwhile, as a face-saving publicity stunt, the American Trial Lawyers Association filed an ethics complaint against Pearson; really, Pearson isn’t doing anything that ATLA doesn’t endorse in other situations.
- Remember Ted and Mary Roberts, the husband-and-wife team of San Antonio lawyers who hatched a blackmail scheme in which the wife had sex with married men and the husband threatened to sue them unless they paid him to keep quiet? (Ted’s been convicted; Mary is awaiting trial.) The bankruptcy trustee, acting on behalf of their estate, had sued the local San Antonio Express News for violating their privacy by reporting on their scheme; Howard Bashman reports that the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit by a lower court. So the newspaper won a complete legal victory — but truthfully reporting on a criminal scheme by prominent lawyers nevertheless must have cost them six figures’ worth of legal expenses.
- O.J. Simpson will not be suing the Kentucky steakhouse that wouldn’t serve him. His lawyer — the one who rushed to announce that O.J. was a victim and that the steakhouse “screwed with the wrong guy” — now tries to blame the owner for “using the episode for publicity.” (Originally, May 10.)
- The bogus Equal vs. Splenda unfair competition lawsuit (Mar. 8) over Splenda’s “Made From Sugar, So It Tastes Like Sugar” slogan settled on undisclosed terms, moments before a jury announced its verdict. Although we don’t know the terms of the settlement, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the non-monetary part: just check whether Splenda changes its advertising.
Robert Baswell, 44 and homeless, went to sleep in a trash bin, which was a really bad idea: garbage collectors emptied the container into their truck, and Baswell
…was repeatedly crushed each time the truck compacted a new load of trash, breaking his legs and ribs.
The cringe factor on that is pretty high.
But now there’s another reason to cringe.
We got a press release from this man’s new lawyers — Steinger, Iscoe & Greene in West Palm Beach. The press release simply says that they are representing him, presumably for a future lawsuit.
ABC News runs an extensive interview with Philip Howard on American litigiousness. “We took a wrong turn in American justice about 40 years ago. [J]udges have been sitting on their hands …. letting people claim anything, and the effect is not better justice, it is worse justice.”
Attorney (and now administrative judge) Roy L. Pearson, Jr. paid $10.50 to have some pants altered at his dry cleaners’, but was dissatisfied with the results, so sued them on grounds that their “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign was consumer fraud. Among his claimed damages is the need for a car to find a new dry cleaner. Pearson at first demanded $1150 for a new suit, but turned down offers from the dry cleaner to settle for $3000, for $4600, and for $12000, and claims DC consumer protection law entitles him to $65 million. The Chung family has removed their “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign. (Marc Fisher, “Lawyer’s Price For Missing Pants: $65 Million”, Washington Post, Apr. 26; Obscure Store blog; DCist, Apr. 13; ABC-7, Apr. 12).
Update: May 1.
On Nov. 3, 2005, I wrote:
One can understand why Wal-Mart is upset that a former executive, Tom Coughlin, allegedly swiped a half-million dollars, and wants to stop paying him in addition to referring the matter to federal prosecutors. But one doesn’t understand why Wal-Mart, in an effort to recover a fairly small sum, is arguing to the court that it should disregard the mutual waiver and release that Coughlin signed with Wal-Mart when he left the job. Surely the corporation would be better off on the whole with a legal rule that strictly enforces releases than one that judges the validity of a release on a case-by-case basis.
(See also.) Coughlin has since pled guilty to fraud, was sentenced to 27 months of home confinement, and ordered to pay $400,000 restitution. Yesterday, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously held that that Wal-Mart’s suit to recover retirement benefits can go forward on a theory that the release was fraudulently induced, notwithstanding the language in the release that both parties waived all claims, “known and unknown.” (cross-posted at Point of Law)
An eighteen-year old named Jesse Tribble had a history of drug abuse. His mother, who had a prior history of drug dealing, gave him money when he told her that he wanted it to buy drugs. (She claimed she thought he was joking.) He then died of a drug overdose.
Obviously, a tragedy. And where there’s tragedy, there’s a lawsuit. In this case, Tribble’s father sued… Jack Whittaker, the man in whose house Tribble died. The theory? Whittaker didn’t supervise his 17-year old granddaughter adequately, and gave her too much money, so she might have bought the drugs with which Tribble overdosed.
The lawsuit settled last week. And you guessed it:
After the settlement was announced, Jimmy Tribble said his lawsuit was not about money but about getting the subpoenas to learn what led to his son’s death.
Conveniently, though, Tribble died at the home of a former Powerball winner, so even though it was really about information, according to media reports, “Money was involved in the settlement.” I wonder if Tribble’s parents would have been so eager to get answers if he had died in a janitor’s home.
Setting aside the fact that an 18-year old is apparently not responsible for his own choices, another disturbing aspect of the story is that nobody finds it remarkable that a lawsuit was purportedly filed solely to get information — as if a lawsuit were a therapy session rather than a method for assigning responsibility. (Of course, one may — and hopefully will — learn something in the course of a lawsuit, but information-gathering is not a legitimate purpose for a lawsuit.)
In 2002, an 18-year old community college student named Joshua Endres signed up for a Wells Fargo credit card, allegedly based in part on the promise made by a sales representative that it could provide overdraft protection for his Wells Fargo checking account. He “does not recall” seeing any of the disclosures and disclaimers from the bank which explained to him that there’s no such thing as a free lunch — that he would be charged a fee if he overdrew his checking account.
A few months after signing up, he overdrew his account, and was charged this fee. He discovered this a few days later, when he received his credit card statement. He was so outraged by this unconscionable behavior by Wells Fargo that he immediately cancelled the card. No, not really; this isn’t April 1st. In fact, he immediately used the card for four more years, incurring at least fifty more overdraft charges. Then he filed a lawsuit demanding restitution, and compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that nobody told him that he would be charged a fee.
McCune admits Endres could have done a better job of tracking his charges. Endres once exceeded his limit 62 times in a year, causing him to pay $620 in finance charges so he could obtain $1,115 in cash.
“It took a couple of years before he sat up and noticed,” McCune said. “The information was available to him.”
That’s his own lawyer admitting that.
There are other problems with the lawsuit, related to the statute of limitations and federal preemption of California laws, but the larger issue here is that someone would fail to read his credit card agreement, incur fees for four years based on the terms of the agreement, and then try to sue on the grounds that nobody told him what the agreement said about those fees. (Oh, did I mention that Endres’s lawyer seeks to turn this into a class action lawsuit?)
Because a hospital bill for $12,000 for 15 minutes of trauma care after a smallish motorcycle accident just demands to be shifted somewhere (David Lazarus, “Uninsured patient billed more than $12,000 for broken rib”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 30).