Posts Tagged ‘remittitur’

Carelessness for millions in New York City

Dustin Dibble was intoxicated when a Manhattan subway train ran over him in 2006, but a jury found the transit authority 65% responsible in February: $2.3 million for the lost right leg.

James Sanders stumbled onto the tracks and was hit by a train in 2002, but a New York City jury again found him only 30% responsible: $7 million for a lost right leg and eye.

Gloria Aguilar did not look both ways when she crossed the street; there was a dispute whether she was in the crosswalk. A Manhattan jury–after a seven-week trial–found the transit authority 100% responsible, and awarded $27.5 million for her lost left leg; a judge refused to reduce that figure.

Clearly a left leg is more valuable than a right leg. Or, as I’ve noted several times in the past, noneconomic damages are essentially random jackpots.

New York City is appealing all three verdicts. (Liz Robbins, “Woman Run Over by Bus Is Awarded $27.5 Million”, New York Times, Apr. 16).

Update: Alice Griffin v. Starbucks

Updating our August 2006 post on Alice Griffin v. Starbucks: Griffin alleged that a Starbucks barista spilled hot coffee–195 to 205 degrees–on her, causing second-degree burns on her foot and permanent nerve damage when it scalded her through her pantyhose. A jury agreed and awarded $301,000. The court reduced the award to $201,000, and both sides appealed. On appeal, the New York Appellate Division reduced damages further to $76,000. (Griffin v. Starbucks Corp. (N.Y.A.D. Jun. 5, 2008); Matthew Nestel and Dareh Gregorian, “Gal’s Star’Bucks’ Cut”, NY Post, Jun. 7). New York has tort reform giving judges extra discretion to reduce damages through remittitur.

Read On…

February 23 roundup

  • Easterbrook: “One who misuses litigation to obtain money to which he is not entitled is hardly in a position to insist that the court now proceed to address his legitimate claims, if any there are…. Plaintiffs have behaved like a pack of weasels and can’t expect any part of their tale be believed.” [Ridge Chrysler v. Daimler Chrysler via Decision of the Day]
  • Retail stores and their lawyers find sending scare letters with implausible threats of litigation against accused shoplifters mildly profitable. [WSJ]
  • Kentucky exploring ways to reform mass-tort litigation in wake of fen-phen scandal. [Mass Tort Prof; Torts Prof; AP/Herald-Dispatch; earlier: Frank @ American]
  • After Posner opinion, expert should be looking for other lines of work. [Kirkendall; Emerald Investments v. Allmerica Financial Life Insurance & Annuity]
  • Judge reduces jury verdict in Premarin & Prempro case to “only” $58 million. And I still haven’t seen anyone explain why it makes sense for a judge to decide damages awards were “the result of passion and prejudice,” but uphold a liability finding from the same impassioned and prejudiced jury. Wyeth will appeal. [W$J via Burch; AP/Business Week]
  • Judge lets lawyers get to private MySpace and Facebook postings. [OnPoint; also Feb. 19]
  • Nanny staters’ implausible case for regulating salt. [Sara Wexler @ American; earlier: Nov. 2002]
  • Doctor: usually it’s cheaper to pay than to go to court. [GNIF BrainBlogger]
  • Trial lawyers in Colorado move to eviscerate non-economic damages cap in malpractice cases [Rocky Mountain News]
  • Bonin: don’t regulate free speech on the Internet in the name of “campaign finance” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
  • “Executives face greater risks—but investors are no safer.” [City Journal]
  • Professors discuss adverse ripple effects from law school affirmative action without mentioning affirmative action. Paging Richard Sander. Note also the absence of “disparate impact” from the discussion. [PrawfsBlawg; Blackprof]
  • ATL commenters debate my American piece on Edwards. [Above the Law]


Recent developments on past stories:

* Remember Shannon Peterson, the Denver condo owner who got sued by a neighbor who complained that she was taking baths too early? (Feb. 27). The case is still dragging on the better part of a year later, a judge having refused so far to throw it out. David Giacalone has the details (Nov. 30).

* Glamourpuss lawsuit-chaser Erin Brockovich, fresh from the humiliating dismissal (Nov. 18) of suits she fronted against California hospitals alleging Medicare overbilling, has been rebuffed in another high-profile case. This time a judge has dismissed twelve lawsuits brought by her law firm of Masry & Vititoe alleging that exposure to oil rigs at Beverly Hills High School caused cancer among students there (Martha Groves and Jessica Garrison, “School oil-rig lawsuits dismissed”, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23) (via Nordberg who got it from Legal Reader). For more on the case, see Jul. 15 and Nov. 19, 2003, and Mar. 16, 2004. The New Republic has marked the occasion by reprinting its revealing 2003 article on the affair by Eric Umansky. P.S. More from Umansky, who has his own blog, here.

* Reader E.B. writes in to say:

Remember the group of parents (Oct. 23) who threatened litigation over their daughters’ playing time on the girl’s basketball team? The ones who demanded a six-person panel to oversee the selection of the players?

None of the parents’ daughters made the team. And they’re not happy about it. See C.W. Nevius, “Castro Valley hoops coach can’t win”, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 30.

* A court has dismissed the action (Aug. 10, 2005; Feb. 9, Feb. 20, Mar. 6, Jun. 28, 2006) by fair housing activists against Craigslist over user ads that expressed improper preferences or mentioned forbidden categories in soliciting tenants, apartment-sharers and so forth. (Anne Broache, “Craigslist wins housing ad dispute”, CNet, Nov. 17). However, blawger David Fish says the court’s reasoning was highly unfavorable to many other Internet companies generally, and may expose them to future liabilities (Nov. 15). Craigslist now has an elaborate page warning users that it is unlawful for them to post preferences, etc. in most situations not involving shared living space. Update: David Fish’s name corrected, apologies for earlier error.

* 3 pm update to the updates from Ted: “An Illinois intermediate appellate court overturned the $27 million verdict in Mikolajczyk v. Ford (which we reported on last year), ordering the lower court to replace the arbitrary jury verdict with a lower arbitrary number. Why the jury’s damage award is considered the product of passion and prejudice, but the same jury’s liability award is kosher, remains unclear. (Steve Patterson, “Court says $27 million crash award too much”, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 23).”

Dr. Lawrence M. Poliner v. Presbyterian Hospital update

The ludicrous $366 million award on a conspiracy theory (Aug. 30, 2004; Sep. 2, 2004) was, as we predicted reduced by remittitur to a still ludicrous $22.5 million. (Plaintiff’s attorney’s press release, Sep. 21). Kevin M.D.’s commenters note that the trial bar simultaneously complains that doctors don’t do enough to police themselves and then hold doctors liable for policing other doctors.

Note that the doctors whom the verdict was issued against weren’t even the ones on the peer review committee that suspended Dr. Poliner’s privileges for a few months; they were just the ones who started the peer-review process.

Jackpot in San Diego

Drivers of the Ford Explorer have a lower fatality rate than drivers of other vehicles — and a lower fatality rate from rollovers than drivers of other SUVs. The NHTSA found that there was nothing wrong with the Explorer’s design after a spate of well-publicized accidents resulted in an investigation. Nevertheless, plaintiffs persist in filing lawsuits accusing the Explorer of being unreasonably dangerous. And one can see why: Ford has successfully defended the vehicle in at least ten consecutive jury cases, but on Wednesday a San Diego jury rewarded the latest roll of the dice with a $122.6 million verdict for a paraplegic plaintiff, Benetta Buell-Wilson. Ms. Buell-Wilson was driving at a high speed on Interstate 8, when the RV in front of her lost a large piece of metal; she lost control of the SUV when she swerved, and the vehicle went off the highway and flipped 4 times before landing on the roof. The jury returns today to deliberate the question of punitive damages. (Ray Huard, “$123 million awarded in SUV rollover”, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jun. 3; Myron Levin, “Jury Orders Ford to Pay $122.6 Million”, LA Times, Jun. 3) (via Bashman). “This was an extremely severe crash, and any SUV would have reacted in the same way under similar circumstances,” Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said. “Our concern goes out to Ms. Buell-Wilson and her family, but this tragic accident was caused by a combination of high speed and a large metal obstruction in the road.” (“Verdict ends Ford streak”, Detroit News, Jun. 3). Ford says it will appeal; the jury awarded four times more than what plaintiffs asked for.

Update: Jury awards $246 million in punitive damages. Ford protests that it wasn’t allowed to introduce evidence to the jury comparing the safety record of the Explorer to other SUVs. (Reuters, Jun. 3; Myron Levin, “Jury Adds Punitive Award in Ford Case”, LA Times, Jun. 4).

Update: Judge reduces damages to $150 million; Ford has appealed. (Michelle Morgante, AP, Aug. 19; Nora Lockwood Tooher, “Explorer Rollover Yields $368.6 Million Verdict”, Lawyers Weekly USA, Dec. 30).

As with all my posts, I speak for myself and not my firm or any of my firm’s clients (which include Ford).