“Large universities now employ the equivalents of small law firms on staff, and it’s worth pondering what this Perry Masonification of our schools says about how they operate. …As Ed Stoner, a retired Pittsburgh lawyer who, over a 30-year career, represented numerous schools in Western Pennsylvania, told me: ‘People [today] are much less inclined to think, “I wouldn’t sue the university, it’d be like suing my mother.” People tend to look at the university as one more institution that might have a lot of money.'” (Mark Oppenheimer, “College Goes to Court”, OpinionJournal, Jul. 14).
I write a twice-monthly column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here’s my latest; it’s the first in a series in which I make the case for a free market in transplantable human body organs. In other words, I argue in favor of allowing adults to receive whatever prices they negotiate for whatever of their organs they choose to donate.
Charles Burck writes about the reaction to the Netflix class-action settlement. (Charles Burck, “Bloggers Challenge a Class-Action Settlement”, Corporate Board Member Magazine, March/April 2006). The opponents of the settlement cite two problems with the settlement: 1) Only the lawyers got cash, and 2) the coupons Netflix is sending to customers are really a low-cost marketing program for them, like locking you into a magazine subscription with a free first month, and doesn’t really punish Netflix or compensate customers at all. So, either there was no harm, and the suit was a big frivolous mess, or there was harm to customers, in which case the settlement utterly failed to redress it.
More on deep-pocket liability for crime, this time from Pennsylvania:
Reversing a lower court, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-2 Wednesday that the parents of a 10-year-old girl assaulted while selling candy for the Punxsutawney Area School District can sue the companies involved in the fund-raiser.
Lawyers on both sides of the case said the decision was likely to have a chilling effect on the wide range of for-profit businesses that help schools and other organizations raise money by sending children door to door.
A lawsuit against the school district was previously dismissed in federal court.
Attorney David Long, who represents the plaintiffs, said school districts “are begging for a lawsuit” if they continue to use such methods to raise funds….
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Ralph Cappy wrote that he believes the girl’s side ultimately won’t prevail. He said that the fund-raising entities did not need to warn that there “exist in the world evil people who could possibly cause intentional harm to minor students.”
(Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 30).
Amazingly, our Nov. 17 report wasn’t even the first time this year a Florida jury held Ford liable for millions because a driver fell asleep.
28-year-old Tami Martin was a passenger in her mother’s Ford Aerostar, but her mother fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into the back of an ambulance. The mother walked away from the accident, but Martin was reclining in her seat with her feet against the dashboard. So, though the airbag deployed, it did not provide protection. Martin jackknifed over the seatbelt, damaging her vertebrae and spinal cord, leaving her a paraplegic. Martin sued Ford for not putting the “Do not recline your seat in a moving vehicle” warning more prominently on the windshield visor next to the airbag warnings; Ford had made the warning in the owner’s manual, but Martin felt that insufficient because she didn’t read the manual. (Of course, if every potentially fatal injury in the owner’s manual is placed on the windshield visor, then the visor looks like the owner’s manual and doesn’t provide any warning at all.)
A Jacksonville jury has held Ford liable for $16.95 million. You’ll be pleased to know it’s “not about the money,” as supposedly demonstrated by Martin’s willingness to surrender half her award if Ford follows Martin’s preferences about warnings (which, of course, will lead to other lawsuits). The offer is considerably less generous than it sounds if Martin’s attorney, Robert Langdon, thinks she has a substantial chance of losing on the appeal Ford plans to take (plaintiffs frequently settle for a fraction of a verdict for precisely this reason), but at least one press account breathlessly and gullibly reports it as generous. (News4Jax, “Jacksonville Jury Awards $17 Million in Reclining Seat Case”, Nov. 18; Kyle Meenan, “Lawsuit Winner May Reject Millions”, First Coast News, Oct. 24; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial, “Driving & sleeping”, Oct. 29). Special quote for H.M.D.: “‘I knew God would use me to reach other people,’ Martin said.” Overlawyered is proud to assist in God’s mission: read your owner’s manual, don’t recline your seat while in a moving vehicle, and don’t fall asleep while driving.
Instead of making investments that would create 75 jobs, Max & Erma’s Restaurants is spending half of its profits on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. The company will go private to avoid the regulatory hassle, but that limits the company’s access to the capital markets—and everyday investors’ access to opportunity. (John Berlau and Anastasia Uglova, “Sarbanes-Oxley ‘reform’ harming economy”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 13). And Larry Ribstein sees SOx behind Georgia-Pacific’s decision to go private.
After the stock market’s tech-driven bubble popped a few years back, lawyers advertised heavily for burned-investor clients, hoping to reap billions at the expense of Wall Street firms whose research had been exposed as shoddy or worse. But expectations have deflated, and now Pensacola, Fla.’s Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner & Proctor, whose doings are often chronicled in this space, has settled about 300 or so investor claims against Merrill Lynch “for approximately three cents on the dollar”. Although it is far from unusual for plaintiffs to recover sums in arbitration, lawyers have had trouble proving that most of their clients relied on the tainted research in making investment decisions. A Merrill Lynch spokesman claims the firm has “overwhelmingly prevailed in these cases”, while a plaintiff’s lawyer counters that “we are not doing too badly”. (Susanne Craig, “Heard on the Street: Payouts low in research suits”, Wall Street Journal/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 13). More: Jul. 10, 2003.
More wince-making fact patterns in (for all we know perfectly meritorious) litigation: the exploding porta-potty that badly injured a hapless worker at a West Virginia coal mine, allegedly ignited by leaking methane gas (Natalie Neysa Alund, “Porta-John blast victim sues for $10 million”, Morgantown Dominion Post, Jun. 2); the instance of alleged police brutality inflicted on a Western Pennsylvania woman nabbed on suspicion of prostitution and thrown into a cop car with such force that one of her breast implants burst (according to her lawyer, Harry J. Smail Jr., who has figured in these columns before)(Matthew Junker, “Arnold police slapped with federal civil rights lawsuit”, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 26). More in the genre: see, for example, Jan. 7-8, 2002.
“I fully realize that there are dangers and risks to which I may be exposed by participating in Cookie Decorating” begins the waiver and release required by the University of Pittsburgh for a particular extracurricular activity. (Tip of the Overlawyered hat to J.M.)
Perhaps this explains the real motivation behind the evisceration of the raison d’être of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster; Jonah Goldberg explores the new political correctness.