- Ford wins an Explorer rollover lawsuit brought by family of unseatbelted accident victim, but press coverage is skimpy. [Detroit News]
- Milberg Weiss’s claims for $12 million in fees viewed skeptically, cut in half. [Lattman; WSJ]
- Dog food prank plaintiff Tennie Pierce is “the O.J. of the Fire Department.” Contrary to what one may think, this is apparently meant as a compliment, suggesting a racial divide that can’t be entirely attributable to whites. [LA Times]
- SDNY Clinton appointee Judge Scheindlin thinks she’s smarter than Judge Easterbrook, throws pension law into mess again. See POL Nov. 12 and Aug. 8 for background. [Business Insurance; Cooper v. IBM]
- Nifong gets around to releasing DNA results that appear to exonerate indicted Duke lacrosse players. Earlier: Oct. 12, etc. [AP/ABC News]
- Judge won’t censor Borat DVD, but frat-boy lawsuit goes forward. [Reuters]
- Criminal speeds away from DC police, hits innocent motorist, DC taxpayers liable for $1M. [WaPo]
- Similarly: negligent driver veers across three lanes of highway traffic into oncoming vehicle, killing 18-year old; taxpayers liable for $2M because SUV was able to smash through the median. [AP/King County Journal]
- Today’s Ninth Circuit Follies edition: lawless reopening of final sentences. [Kerr @ Volokh; Bashman; Carrington v. US; Lat]
- Robert Ramsey files two more lawsuits claiming simultaneous asbestosis and silicosis in Madison County against several dozen defendants. [Madison County Record]
- UK: 100-pound fine for misfiling trash. [Market Center Blog via Overcriminalized]
- Inhofe’s take on global warming. [Senate]
- Trial lawyer puts money where his mouth is. Check back in ten years to see whether it’s lawyers or insurers who are really at fault for medmal insurance crisis. [Point of Law]
- I blame the fact I joined Friendster for this. [PrawfsBlawg]
Until now, we’ve ignored a small left-wing think-tank’s admitted attempt to create a Bizarro-world version of Overlawyered. The writers are a recent college graduate and a recent law-school graduate who don’t appear to have actually read anything reformers write in support of reform. (For example, one post links to Overlawyered when defending the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, but fails to address any of Overlawyered’s arguments for why the McDonald’s coffee case is meritless, and simply repeats ATLA propaganda that Overlawyered refuted.) The blog has consisted mostly of thoughtless regurgitation of trial-lawyer talking points; when original analysis is attempted, it rises to the level of self-parody, such as an analysis of Leonard v. Nationwide (see POL Sep. 7 and links therein) that ignores the language of the insurance policy, the relevant Mississippi precedent, the existing discussion in the blogosphere, and any semblance of public policy rationalization in lieu of a Wikipedia definition to argue that the decision (and the defendant) are racist because some African-American plaintiffs might lose as a result.
Another such post is Justinian Lane’s “The Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit.” The standard trial-lawyer talking point on such issues is to redefine “frivolous lawsuit” to consist of an exceedingly narrow subset of what it is laypeople are talking about when using the term “frivolous lawsuits,” note that the legal system has some mechanisms to address this narrow subset of cases, and then conclude that there’s no problem and thus no need for reform. (Or, as per John Edwards, announce Potemkin legislation to tackle this artificially constrained set of “frivolous lawsuits” that does nothing to actually address the problems of the tort system.) But Lane, perhaps because of his unfamiliarity with the legal system, bites off more than he can chew and inadvertently proves the reformers’ point.
Kevin Hassett asks why the Milberg Weiss indictments and silicosis scandal aren’t resulting in sensible liability reforms when the publicity over the Enron scandal created the rush to pass Sarbanes-Oxley.
Today’s W$J has an editorial about the ill consequences of the trend in recent years for lawyers prosecuting asbestos and silicosis cases to add makers of commonly used industrial masks and respirators as defendants in their suits:
The Coalition for Breathing Safety, an industry group, reports that between 2000 and 2004 plaintiffs attorneys filed more than 326,000 claims against its five members. Some of these are asbestos-related, although the recent deluge has been all silicosis. One manufacturer (which prefers not to be named lest it become a bigger target) says that prior to 2002 it faced about 200 silicosis claims a year. In 2003-4, it got hit with 29,000….The industry coalition estimates its members have spent the equivalent of 90% of their 2004 net income fighting suits in recent years.
The suits have fared poorly — none of the respirator makers have lost a case in court — but the making of industrial respirators and masks is a low-margin line of business, and companies that invest heavily in the business may simply be buying themselves legal risk. And now comes the scare over avian flu:
Respirator manufacturers are still going strong overseas, but the U.S. could find itself unable to purchase these products in a crisis. Worried about a possible flu pandemic, many governments are snapping up masks; France is acquiring 685 million. In previous disease scares (say, China and SARS), countries have blocked mask exports. Local U.S. governments and hospitals are already having a hard time finding supplies.
It might be added that the plight of respirator makers is attributable in large part to the economics of what has been called the shotgun approach to defendant-naming. It is very unlikely that lawyers would have filed 300,000 claims against mask makers, or anything approaching that number, if each suit had to be filed as a freestanding matter. However, it costs very little to add 3M or another respirator defendant when a case is already been judged to be worth filing against other, more vulnerable defendants. For more on the mask litigation, see Sept. 15, 2004 and Jan. 22, 2005. More: Point of Law, May 9.
Are you reading Point of Law regularly? If not, you’re missing
- extensive analysis of the Alito nomination;
- the meaning of the New Jersey Vioxx verdict;
- the plaintiffs’ lawyer who asked for $60 million because he had successfully forum-shopped for a court with judges he helped elect;
- Eliot Spitzer bullying competitors of the Postal Service;
- multiple refutations of the plaintiffs’ bar’s attempt to lie about medical malpractice insurance;
- ongoing coverage of the silicosis litigation scandal;
- an extensive discussion of what it means to be an ethical litigator; and much, much more.
Many Houston doctors are outraged that St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital is preparing to rename its medical tower, a local landmark, after controversial plaintiff’s attorney John O’Quinn (Apr. 28, 2004, etc.) in exchange for a $25 million gift. O’Quinn was the chief driver of the silicone breast implant litigation, which though decisively refuted in its major scientific contentions inflicted billions of dollars in costs on medical device providers and, not incidentally, plastic surgeons. And just this year O’Quinn’s law firm was singled out for condemnation by federal judge Janis Graham Jack in her scathing ruling on the shoddy business of mass silicosis-screening — “diagnosing for dollars”. Doctors “last week began circulating a petition against [the renaming proposal] and Monday night convened an emergency meeting of the medical executive committee….By late Monday, about 80 had signed the petition. ‘It offends us to have money we earned — and which he took by suing us — going to name after him a medical building in which we work each day,’ says the petition.” The University of Houston law school has already renamed its law library after O’Quinn, a full-length oil painting of whom looms over the students. (Todd Ackerman, “Doctors push St. Luke’s to forgo $25 million gift”, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 9). More: Kirkendall and MedPundit comment; so do GruntDoc and Michigan Medical Malpractice.
The gigantic silicosis/asbestos screening scandal recently laid bare in a Texas courtroom (see Ted’s and my extensive coverage at Point of Law, also this site May 19, 2005 and — we were on to this early — Sept. 13 and Nov. 12, 2003) originated with the sworn testimony of a Mobile, Ala. radiologist last October; George Martindale’s deposition set in motion a chain of events that led federal judge Janis Graham Jack to issue a scathing 249-page court order Jun. 30 charging that 10,000 silicosis cases before her courtroom had been “manufactured for money”. Now reporter Eddie Curran of the Mobile Register, whose work we’ve saluted before, is out with an investigative piece that makes compelling reading. (Eddie Curran, “Judge torches silicosis testing”, Mobile Register, Jul. 31).
Roger Parloff also tackles the scandal at length and exceptionally well in Fortune, as usual behind a subscriber-only screen (“Diagnosing for Dollars”, Jun. 13). An opinion piece by Luke Boggs in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (“Frivolous claims spur backlash”, Jun. 14) comments: “While sleazy lawyers have traditionally chased ambulances, attorneys in the silica case didn’t trail anyone to a medical facility. Instead, they set up their own, putting an X-ray machine and a doctor in a trailer in a restaurant parking lot. Seriously. Not only that, but the X-ray machine was owned by a real estate broker, the doctor wasn’t a radiologist, and no one had a license to take X-rays.” On the reverberations that continue to echo from the scandal in the mass-tort business nationwide, see Peter Geier, “Silica Case Seen as Breakthrough”, National Law Journal, Aug. 4, and “Breathing Down on California: Texans charge into state with sometimes shady silicosis suits”, The Recorder, Jun. 3, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site.
A reader characterizes:
I admit I get a perverse pleasure when I see the sharks feeding on each other. But this is just too good. Lawyer Luckey gets caught altering dates on asbestos claims, gets fired by Scruggs for altering the dates but then has the chutzpah to demand his cut of the contingency fee loot… and the judge gives it to him! I guess no one ever thought any disciplinary actions on anyone’s part was needed or indicated.
And it’s even sillier than that: the bulk of the damages appears to be for tobacco claims the partnership financed after Luckey was kicked out in 1993, triggering twelve years of litigation. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis of the federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, awarded $13 million plus attorneys’ fees; the parties appear to have cut a deal so that there will be no appeal. (Leesha Faulkner (!), “Scruggs slapped with $13M settlement over partnership”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Jul. 22). More on Richard “Dickie” Scruggs: Jun. 15, Apr. 30. This appears to be the culmination of the fight that resulted in subpoenas to the Mississippi Supreme Court over Scruggs’s alleged influence there; at the time, Scruggs pooh-poohed the allegations, arguing that the dispute was only worth a few thousand dollars, and therefore not something worth risking improper influence over. (Jerry Mitchell, “Attorney testifies in justice probe”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, May 17, 2003; “Lawyer, Former Colleagues Dispute Fees”, AP/Biloxi Herald, Mar. 27, 1998). Alwyn Luckey represents approximately 1500 Mississippi silicosis plaintiffs, so his troubles may not be over. (Updated from Jul. 23 post.)
If you’re not visiting our sister site Point of Law regularly you’re missing out on an awful lot. F’rinstance: contingency-fee tax collection in Mississippi, courtesy of that state’s AG; Alan Dershowitz’s coincidental whereabouts during the Larry Summers flap; liability reform in Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, and (on asbestos) in Texas and Florida; topical TrackBack spam pings; the “Constitution in Exile” brouhaha; overtime lawsuits; crying wolf on class action reform; pressure for cooperation in white-collar crime cases; how Westchester County, N.Y. residents subsidize wildman enviro-litigator Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and California residents subsidize trial-lawyer front groups as well as propaganda for antitrust enforcement; jury selection in Scotland; several posts on The American Lawyer’s recent special issue, “Plaintiff’s Power”; the supposed hypocrisy of lawsuit reformers; high-tech shareholder suits; much, much more from Ted on silicosis doctors’ testimony; Mike DeBow on Ford Crown Victoria suits; and Jim Copland on the Second Circuit’s dismissal of a tobacco class action. And don’t miss Ted’s priceless story of what happened to ATLA’s own insurance company (did you really think those guys would be good at running one?).