If you were ever so worried about the report by plaintiffs’ for-hire expert Robert Proctor’s NYT criticism of cigarettes for containing that trendy isotope, Polonium-210, Australian blogger C. Magee notes that a single banana is 9000 times more radioactive than a cigarette (via Hutchinson), concluding “There are plenty of sound reasons to discourage smoking; we don’t need to discard them for sensationalized scare tactics.”
“An article in the journal Tobacco Control suggests suing doctors for failing to nag patients who smoke about quitting.” (Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Dec. 6; MedPundit, Dec. 6; Randy M Torrijos and Stanton A Glantz, “The US Public Health Service ‘treating tobacco use and dependence clinical practice guidelines’ as a legal standard of care”, Tobacco Control (British Medical Journal), Dec. 2006).
That prospective lawsuit by the very needy and deserving plaintiff, the government of Saudi Arabia, against international tobacco companies, discussed in this space Nov. 16, 2000 and Dec. 10, 2001, is apparently on again. (“Saudis threaten to sue tobacco companies”, Reuters/GulfNews, Nov. 30). Hans Bader at CEI’s Open Market (Dec. 1) deplores the action, but seems to imagine that 1) it might make more sense for American victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudis and that 2) this isn’t happening already (see Jul. 11, 2003, Sept. 26 and Nov. 6, 2004, and Oct. 12, 2005).
Per Jacob Sullum (Nov. 14),
Yesterday a federal judge in Louisiana rejected a motion to dismiss [the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s] lawsuit challenging the Master Settlement Agreement that established a government-backed cigarette cartel for the benefit of state treasuries, trial lawyers, and the leading tobacco companies. The judge’s order is here [PDF]. CEI’s complaint and various other documents related to the case are here.
(see Aug. 4, 2005).
Also, Stanford economist Jeremy Bulow has published another in his series of always-excellent papers on the great tobacco robbery. As the Milken Institute’s Oct. 20 press release puts it, Bulow argues that
the public was conned: the tobacco companies passed on more than 100 percent of the cost to smokers, many states were locked into terrible financial settlements and billions in fees were set aside for trial lawyers.
“Few people trust tobacco companies, trial lawyers or politicians,” he writes. “But somehow when the three groups got together and spoke with one voice they were able to convince most people – particularly nonsmokers who benefit from higher cigarette tax revenue – that the settlement had achieved a noble public health goal. In reality, the settlement preserved tobacco companies’ profits, while it gave the trial lawyers an incredibly large ongoing source of income gouged from the hides of smokers, and handed state politicians bragging rights as Davids to Big Tobacco’s Goliath.”
The 1998 multistate tobacco settlements were a central theme of my 2003 book The Rule of Lawyers and have been covered in depth on this site, including Aug. 4, 2005 and links from there, Sept. 11, 2005, and Jan. 3, 2006, as well as at Point of Law: May 17, Jul. 20 and Jul. 26, 2004, Oct. 6 and Oct. 14, 2005 and Mar. 20, Mar. 29 and Apr. 12, 2006.
“Belmont is set to make history by becoming the first city in the nation to ban smoking on its streets and almost everywhere else. The Belmont City Council voted unanimously last night to pursue a strict law that will prohibit smoking anywhere in the city except for single-family detached residences. Smoking on the street, in a park and even in one’s car will become illegal and police would have the option of handing out tickets if they catch someone.” (Dana Yates, “Belmont to be first U.S. city to ban all smoking”, San Mateo County Daily Journal, Nov. 15). More: Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Nov. 16.
Forty-five percent of Americans would support it, according to a new Zogby poll. Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance warns against repeating our great-grandparents’ mistakes: “a new Prohibition is not the answer — not if we want to stay safe, sane and free.” (Huffington Post, Oct. 26; more).
I have written a piece on the Philip Morris v. Williams case for the Business and Media Institute. For other views, see Anthony Sebok (Brooklyn Law), Alan Morrison (Public Citizen), and Adam Cohen (New York Times). Morrison argues that the federal courts have no role in reviewing state-court decisions, which makes one wonder what his position is on habeas corpus. Cohen’s op-ed misstates what happened in Andrade, which was a case of collateral (and thus limited) review, rather than a direct appeal, like Williams, where a civil defendant does not even have the option of collateral review.
Update: The American Constitution Society press briefing on Philip Morris v. Williams (in which I participated with Peter Rubin, Neil Vidmar, and Bill Schultz) is now online.
In Omaha, which recently enacted a restaurant smoking ban, authorities are urging vigilant citizens who notice illicit smoking to call 911 to summon a police response. The local emergency coordinator has objected, saying 911 calls over smoking could overwhelm the system and distract dispatchers from more dire emergencies, but the police department says it is sticking by its advisory. (“Dial 911 To Report Smokers”, KETV, Sept. 28; “911 Director: Smoking Reports Could Overwhelm System”, Sept. 28).
Houston trial lawyer John O’Quinn saved Democrat Chris Bell’s struggling gubernatorial campaign from financial oblivion this week by making a record $1 million donation. …
“There’s something about a million-dollar check that really warms the heart,” said Bell.
O’Quinn has promised to raise another $4 million for Bell’s campaign, and that could make the Democrat more competitive with all his opponents [incumbent Republican Rick Perry, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn (herself heavily backed by trial lawyers), and independent Kinky Friedman]. …
Bell said O’Quinn is not looking for special favors from state government.
“There’s nothing that state government can do for John, nor is he asking for anything but good government,” Bell said. …
O’Quinn, Williams and Umphrey were part of a legal team that shared in a $3.3 billion legal fee for settling the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
(R. G. Ratcliffe and Janet Elliott, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 11).
[Bumping October 5 9AM post to reflect new details.]
$100.1 million in punitive damages, and the “compensatory” award is almost certainly mostly non-economic damages, though the press coverage does not distinguish. (Thomas W. Krause, “Jury Puts Punitive Award At $100 Million”, Tampa Tribune, Oct. 3). TortsProf blog, Peter Lattman, Kevin MD, and Greedy Trial Lawyer comment. So no one accuses us of unfairness, we’ll repeat the GTL summary of the case:
ProAssurance’s subsidiary, ProNational Insurance Co., was the malpractice insurer for a doctor’s group running a Tampa area hospital emergency room where patient Allan Navarro’s stroke was misdiagnosed by an unlicensed physician’s assistant as a headache and sinus infection.
[Plaintiffs’ attorney Steve] Yerrid told the Tampa newspaper he tried to get the insurance company to settle for the maximum allowed under the policy – $1 million for the doctor and $1 million for the physicians’ group. Instead, he said, the insurance company wanted to settle for $300, offering $100 for Navarro, $100 for his wife and $100 for his 10-year-old son.
Update: Daily Business Review has a more detailed summary than the mainstream press:
On Aug. 9, 2000, Navarro, who was a professional basketball player in his native Philippines, entered University Community Hospital-Carrollwood with a headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion and double vision. He described a personal medical history of hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol plus a family history of strokes to the triage nurse. A different nurse than the triage nurse also noted he was unsteady on his feet.
When Navarro spoke with Herranz in the examination room, he mentioned the sudden onset of a headache earlier that day and that he had felt a “pop” in his head.
According to the 2005 second amended complaint, Herranz did not complete an adequate medical history of Narvarro, nor did he do a complete or adequate neurological exam.
Navarro spent about 5 1/2 hours at UCH-Carrollwood, during which time he had two CT scans of his brain and was diagnosed with “sinusitis/headache” by Austin, prescribed Vicodin for the pain and an antibiotic by the doctor and sent home. He was not told to watch for any stroke symptoms.
The suit alleged that Navarro presented classic stroke symptoms that Austin should have noticed. It further said that CT scans are not adequate diagnostic tools for ruling out the type of stroke Navarro had.
Early the next morning, Navarro woke with a severe headache, slurred speech, nausea, confusion and trouble walking. He was readmitted to the UCH-Carrollwood Emergency Room at 6:05 a.m. Upon his return, he was labeled “urgent,” but doctors still had not diagnosed a stroke. It wasn’t until he was transferred to Carrollwood’s sister hospital, UCH-Fletcher, that afternoon that surgery was finally performed. By then, the stroke had already left him paralyzed with mental disabilities. During surgery, he slipped into a four-month coma. He is now confined to a wheelchair.
(Rebecca Riddick, “Judge Halts Defendants’ Bid to Avoid $116M Med-Mal Verdict”, Oct. 6).
Multiple issues here: