Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

Family neglects 3-year-old, wants cash for her death

“Lawyers for the estate of Porchia Bennett blame the city for the 3-year-old child’s death at the hands of abusive caretakers in a squalid South Philadelphia row house. … [I]f the estate’s lawsuit is successful, some taxpayer money could go to the dead child’s allegedly abusive mother, an often-homeless drug abuser who left Porchia with the child’s alleged killers a year before Porchia was slain.” Tiffany Bennett, the mother, is awaiting trial on charges of child endangerment. Also standing to benefit financially will be Lester Trapp, the girl’s father, who hadn’t seen her since she was a year old, according to a lawyer. Both Trapp and Tiffany Bennett “are listed as ‘beneficiaries’ of the estate in documents filed with the Register of Wills office.” The suit was filed by attorney Alan Denenberg, whose partner Thomas Bruno was appointed administrator of the child’s estate last year. (Jim Smith, “Suit faults city, DHS for Porchia’s death”, Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 25; Jill Porter, “Family’s lawsuit over tot’s death is an obscenity”, Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 25)

Neil Pakett v. Phillies

You may recall the Center for Justice & Democracy’s Zany Immunity Law Awards criticized the three states that provided immunity to baseball stadiums for spectator injuries. The immunity is based on the common-law doctrine of assumption of the risk, made explicit on the back of baseball tickets and announcements at baseball games. Nevertheless, dentist Neil Pakett is suing the Phillies for compensation for injuries he received when he unsuccessfully tried to catch a foul ball hit by shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The case has been thrown out by the trial court, but Pakett is arguing that the fact that the Phillies built a backstop creates a duty for them to have built a backstop that would’ve protected him. The Phillies will likely win, but they’ve sure spent a great deal of money defending themselves against the eventuality that they have a judge who wants to make new law, and a statutory immunity law would’ve provided a clearer rule that would have discouraged the suit in the first place. (Mark Levy, AP/LA Times, Feb. 4). Update: Phillies’ win affirmed.

Sorry, kids, no sledding

“Choosing safety over tradition, legal fears over downhill thrills, some local governments, including [New Jersey’s] Camden and Gloucester Counties, have banned sledding in their parks.” Phillipsburg, N.J., in Warren County, has had a ban on its books for more than a decade but only began enforcing it recently following a $150,000 payout over a boy’s broken leg. “As a result, it was thought prudent by the insurance company to put signs up saying sleigh-riding is prohibited,” said town attorney Joel Kobert. “Nobody wants to deny a child the ability to play in the snow, but you sanction it in today’s world at substantial cost.” In Greenwich, Ct., which lost a $6 million lawsuit last year to a high-income resident injured while sledding, they haven’t banned the pastime, but that’s probably because the town is among the nation’s most affluent, and can afford to pay an insurance bill and deductible that nearly doubled after the sledding case and other courtroom losses. (Christine Schiavo, “Sledders are finding it tough to hit the slopes”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 26).

Terrell Owens: And they say defensive medicine has no costs…

Philadelphia Eagles fans might be bigger supporters of tort reform now: a doctor has refused to clear star wide receiver Terrell Owens for play in Super Bowl XXXIX after an ankle sprain because of liability fears. (Mark Maske, “Hope Remains for Owens Comeback”,, Jan. 26).

Owens might have other reasons to seek tort reform. He’s being sued for $35 million by Formulated Sciences Inc. because he didn’t wear a t-shirt he supposedly agreed to wear in 1999. This might be because the non-FDA-regulated “nutritional supplements” he was supposed to endorse were banned by the NFL in 2001. Of course, perhaps Owens’ business representatives failed to account for such an eventuality in the endorsement agreement, in which case Owens may well be liable for a breach of contract, but alleging $35 million in damages for failing to wear a particular hat or t-shirt is ridiculous. The theory is apparently that there were millions of people clamoring to buy an ointment with Owens’ picture on it. If an athlete’s endorsement carried that kind of weight, athletes would be making much more money in endorsements. (Don Russell, “T.O. facing $35M suit from banned supplement company”, Philadelphia Daily News, Dec. 29). Formulated Sciences, which specializes in a weight-loss snake-oil with as much caffeine as a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, has also sued the NFL for supposed antitrust violations. The League has moved to dismiss the complaint. The lawsuit is meritless on its face, and, given the press releases, appears to be an attempt for FS to get free advertising for its products, but the NFL will likely spend at least tens of thousands of dollars defending itself.

Catfight in Philly

“Two of the most prominent personal-injury law firms in Philadelphia have gone to war with each other over a star litigator, a portfolio of clients, and tens of millions of dollars in potential fees. The law firm of the late James E. Beasley has accused a rival firm, Kline & Specter, of luring away one of its top litigators, Andrew J. Stern, and improperly soliciting clients from the Beasley Firm.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “A battle of firms for fees, clients”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 12). Both firms make repeated appearances in the archives of this site.

Annals of zero tolerance: 8-inch scissors

In North Philadelphia, ten-year-old Porsche Brown was pulled out of class, handcuffed and taken to the police station after scissors were found in her book bag. “School district officials acknowledged that the girl was not using the item as a weapon or threatening anyone with it.” (Susan Snyder, “Scissors get girl in legal trouble”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 11) (via Balko). The police and schools chief have now apologized. (Maryclaire Dale, “Police? school chief apologize for schoolgirl?s arrest over scissors”, AP/Lansdale Reporter, Dec. 15).

$3.5M to unsuccessful suicide

Such suits are sufficiently common (e.g., Oct. 8, May 20, Jan. 31, 2003) that we can almost retire the category. Lawyers for Christopher Foster, a male prostitute who, while imprisoned, attempted to hang himself but only managed to self-inflict severe brain damage, argue that the mix-up in paperwork that resulted in his being put in a conventional cell instead of on suicide watch was a constitutional violation. While it’s perhaps too much to ask that suicides only blame themselves, most federal courts recognize that the standard for a constitutional violation is “deliberate indifference” rather than negligence. This case somehow got to trial and the City of Philadelphia is on the hook for $3.5 million (7% of the $50M Foster asked for) after a settlement. Foster won’t be conscious of the marginal difference in life-long nursing care (which one suspects is being shifted from one government expense account to another), but his lawyers, from the firm Kline & Specter (Jan. 24, 2003), will sure appreciate their seven-digit cut from taxpayers. (Joseph A. Slobodzian, “City abruptly settles suicide-prevention suit for $3.5 million”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 23; Jim Smith, “City to pay $3.5M in jail hanging case”, Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 23).

In-car sobriety test

Jason Reali of Pennsylvania has been convicted of drunk driving twice, and he was ordered by a court to install on his dashboard an ignition interlock, “a small machine that measures alcohol on the breath and won’t allow a car to start if the driver has been drinking.” Forty-five states use ignition interlocks; last year, such interlocks have stopped would-be drunken drivers from starting their cars over 33,000 times. Reali, however, is also a heavy smoker, and he claims that blowing into the interlock while driving caused him to pass out and crash. This is, according to his lawsuit, the fault of Pennsylvania and the interlock manufacturer, LifeSafer Interlock Inc. (Oliver Prichard, “Sobriety devices drawing criticism”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep. 12; AP, Sep. 12).

Update: Philly juries not kind to fen-phen plaintiffs

Contrary to some expectations, Philadelphia juries have not been proving a soft touch for “opt-out” plaintiffs who’ve journeyed there from around the country to sue drugmakers over alleged side effects from the diet-drug compound. One recent jury awarded a mere $4,000 to five women from Utah after a three-week trial, and another returned an outright defense verdict in a case brought by four Philadelphia women. Most of the plaintiffs exhibit heart murmurs and other subtle heart irregularities which they contend were brought on by the use of Pondimin and Redux, but a plaintiff’s lawyer says their case is weakened because most display no symptoms and are not under a doctor’s care for the claimed irregularities. “They don’t have treating doctors who will back up their stories,” agrees a lawyer for Wyeth. “The juries aren’t buying it.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Diet-drug lawsuits netting slim payoffs”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 16). For more on fen-phen, see Jan. 25, Jan. 6 and links from there; Apr. 28 ($1 billion verdict in Texas for fatality claimed to be linked to drug).

Icky road to wealth

A Philadelphia jury has awarded $4 million to 17-year-old Anastasia Roberts in her lawsuit against Grand King Buffet, a Chinese restaurant, over an incident in which Roberts chewed on and then spat out a foreign object in a sweet potato ball which proved to be a used bandage. According to her suit “Grand King threw the bandage away, destroying evidence”, and the offending object had blood and pus on it. Roberts, who per the allegations in the suit suffered mightily from post-traumatic stress over the affair, plans to become a nurse. (Dan Gross, “A ‘bloody’ $4M award for teen”, Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 3; “A fuss over pus”, City Paper, Jan. 22-28).