Posts Tagged ‘tobacco’

Fla. Supreme Court to review Engle

The “Florida Supreme Court has agreed to review last year’s Miami appellate court decision that vacated a record-setting $145 billion punitive damage verdict against the nation’s largest cigarette companies.” We’ve had a lot to say over the years about the travesty that is the Engle case: see Jul. 12, 1999; Jul. 18, 2000; Mar. 23, Jun. 24 and Aug. 3, 2003; other posts on this site. (Laurie Cunningham, “Fla. High Court to Review $145 Billion Tobacco Case”, Miami Daily Business Review, May 13).

Occasions of authorial pride

The new softcover edition of The Rule of Lawyers, promoted in this space only a few days ago, arrived this afternoon from the printers. Yes, it looks nice. The front inside pages reprint eight excerpts from favorable reviews the book received last year in its hardcover edition, including the following from Gene Epstein at Barron’s: “With a marvelous combination of irony, insight, and outrage, Olson covers the whole range of opportunistic litigation over tobacco, asbestos, breast-implants, autos, and guns. And yes, he knows that tobacco and asbestos can kill people, and that corporations aren’t angels. Olson even proposes sensible ways of reforming the jury system that might actually make a difference.” The hardcover edition continues to be available here.

The Rule of Lawyers: the softcover edition

If you enjoy this website, and especially if you want to learn more about the “big” lawsuit campaigns that generate fortunes for lawyers and tag industries with billions in liability, you would probably enjoy my book The Rule of Lawyers, which got a fair bit of attention when it was published last year. Now St. Martin’s, the publisher, has come out with a new softcover edition, just now posted on Amazon at an attractively priced $10.47. It includes a newly written epilogue in which I discuss major developments of the last year such as the fast-food litigation, the enactment of comprehensive tort reform in Texas, and the surprise move by the ABA to support reform of asbestos and class-action litigation, as well as the latest twists in gun, tobacco, fen-phen and lead paint courtroom battles, among others.

The hardcover edition of The Rule of Lawyers continues to be available here and seems to be a popular gift for Father’s Day and for new graduates, law school or otherwise. The Manhattan Institute maintains a site that compiles publicity about the book, related op-eds, etc. As for the spanking new softcover, the publisher tells me that the first copies will be in hand today, and that it will ship later this month. Its back cover is graced with an excerpt from Robert Lenzner’s rave review of the book for, in which he calls it: “A truly gripping read about tort lawyers … a brilliant expose of the way courts are being overwhelmed by mass tort actions.” (& thanks to David Giacalone for (end of item) his kind words).

Tobacco-ban roundup

“California could be on its way to becoming the first U.S. state to outlaw smoking in cars or trucks that have children inside.” The bill, which would make lawbreakers of parents transporting their own children, has been introduced by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh and is being supported by the bossyboots American Lung Association, a good reason to scratch that organization off one’s charitable donation list (“Calif. Bill Would Ban Smoking in Car with Kids”, Yahoo/Reuters, Apr. 28)(see Sept. 24). (Update May 29: bill narrowly defeated in California Assembly.) Irish Minister for Health and Children Miche?l Martin, who pushed through a recent ban on smoking in pubs and most other public places in the Emerald Isle, has announced that he is “very tentatively” mulling a fat tax, according to a profile by Andrew Stuttaford, who calls Martin a number of rude names including “nosey, hectoring clown” (“Goodbye to All That”, National Review Online, Apr. 27)(via Radley Balko). A bill being discussed in Rhode Island’s legislature and backed by state Attorney General Patrick Lynch, primarily aimed at increasing the penalties for school truancy, would also authorize courts to revoke or suspend the driver’s license of high schoolers determined to be “wayward”, a category that includes students found in possession of cigarettes. (Wendy Fontaine, “Truancy plan gets mixed review”, Newport Daily News, Apr. 30). And Jacob Sullum catches the federal government’s National Institute of Aging dispensing flagrant untruths about the relative hazards of smokeless tobacco (“Lies and the Health Nannies Who Tell Them”, Reason “Hit and Run”, Mar. 24).

Judge Weinstein shepherds gun lawsuit

As if to confirm this website’s worst fears (Mar. 31, 2003 and Mar. 24, 2003), federal Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York is permitting the City of New York to proceed with a “public nuisance” suit against the gun industry. If that theory sounds eerily familiar, it is because a Manhattan appellate state court threw out an essentially identical public nuisance lawsuit by the state of New York against the gun industry in the Sturm, Ruger case, noting that New York state law did not countenance such attenuated theories of liability (Jun. 30 and Jul. 4). The district court opinion is a marvelous example of how an unprecedented theory of liability lifts itself up by the bootstraps: the decision relies heavily on Judge Weinstein’s previous opinions and the Ninth Circuit’s unreasoned Ileto v. Glock decision (Dec. 3 and Nov. 20); while claiming that Sturm, Ruger supports it, the decision ignores language (and related precedent) in that opinion that would preclude the City’s theory of liability. (Tom Perotta, “Federal Judge Keeps New York City’s Gun Suit Alive”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 13; City of New York v. Beretta opinion).

Update: Clayton Cramer comments.

Read On…

Cheeseburger seconds

“Given that a 2003 Gallup Poll found that 89 percent of Americans don’t believe in blaming the fast-food industry for obesity, you’d think the bill is unnecessary. I take this vote as Washington’s way of recognizing that in America, a bad idea, given enough time, will gain support, take root and become law.” (Debra Saunders, “If you are what you eat, then sue”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 12). “Victor Schwartz, a leading expert on tort law who has been advising the National Restaurant Association, says these lawsuits still face formidable obstacles. He thinks a greater danger to the industry is that at some point state attorneys general will start filing lawsuits demanding compensation for Medicaid expenses, as they did with tobacco.” (Jacob Sullum, “Fast Food Damnation”, syndicated/Reason, Mar. 5). Blogger Kevin Drum (Calpundit) is torn and, he says, open to argument: “On the one hand, I don’t think much of using civil damage suits aimed at a specific industry as a way of changing social policy. Down that road lies madness. But at the same time, I also don’t think much of Congress exempting specific industries from the civil justice system. That can lead to some madness of its own.” (Mar. 11). Vice Squad (Mar. 11) has links on various topics including McDonald’s elimination of its Supersize offerings and developments in the U.K. on food regulation. The roll call on Wednesday’s vote is here. (See Mar. 11 and links from there.) More: in a commentary for Knight-Ridder, Fort Worth editorialist Linda P. Campbell defends the suits (“A helping of tort with your fast food”, Nov. 12, 2003). Restaurants are feeling the heat (Kim Severson, “Make it a super size, then call your lawyer”, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 2003).

Cheeseburger bill passes House

By a vote of 276 to 139 with most Democrats opposed, the House gave its approval to a bill that would bar lawsuits against the food industry over obesity. (Christopher Lee, “House bill bans suits blaming eateries for obesity”, Washington Post/San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 11). The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate; similar legislation is pending in many state legislatures and has passed in Louisiana. Jacob Sullum at Reason “Hit & Run” has two good commentaries on the bill. It’s “disconcerting to see Congress instructing state courts to dismiss patently absurd lawsuits. I worry that it’s not really necessary. I worry more that it is,” Sullum writes. (Mar. 9). Sullum also catches GW law prof John Banzhaf talking out of both sides of his mouth about whether obesity lawsuits have been successful (Mar. 10).

One activist quoted in the new coverage is Ben Kelley, who in cooperation with Prof. Richard Daynard has taken a prominent role in organizing conferences advising lawyers on how to sue the food industry (see Elizabeth Lee, Andrew Mollison, “Food fans weigh in”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 10). It turns out that this is none other than the same Ben Kelley we covered ten years ago when we examined how litigation consultants working with trial lawyers have successfully promoted bogus media coverage of alleged auto hazards, including NBC’s famous use of hidden incendiary devices to portray GM trucks as prone to explode (Walter Olson, “It Didn’t Start With Dateline NBC”, National Review, Jun. 21, 1993.) The pro-foodmaker Center for Consumer Freedom has more on Kelley’s recent activities: see Dan Mindus, “McLawsuit Lies”, National Review, Oct. 29; “Trial Lawyers Up Demands On Food Companies”, Oct. 30; “Update: Obesity War Loses Discredited General”, Nov. 4.

MedPundit Sydney Smith thinks (Mar. 10) that the much-headlined new study purporting to find that obesity claims more lives than smoking “is, all things considered, a very weak study. Certainly too weak to be the foundation of sweeping public policy.” For more of our coverage of obesity litigation, see Aug. 11, Jun. 20, Sept. 4, Aug. 6, Jul. 21, Jul. 3, Jul. 3 again, Jul. 1, Jun. 24, and a great deal more here. More: Radley Balko dissents from the bill on federalist grounds (Mar. 11)(& letter to the editor, Mar. 18).

Probe of Connecticut tobacco deal

Picking up where our Feb. 24 posting left off: “The House committee that will decide whether to recommend the impeachment of Gov. John G. Rowland is examining a Waterbury law firm, one of four firms that brought Connecticut’s 1996 class-action suit against the tobacco industry and shared $65 million in fees.” The state’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, said: “I can tell you unequivocally that politics had nothing to do with this decision [to hire the Carmody firm]”. Such a card, that AG Blumenthal! (Stacey Stowe, “Impeachment Panel Examining Law Firm”, New York Times, Mar. 3)

Connecticut scandal: the tobacco-fee angle

Four years ago (Feb. 16, 2000) we noted that the state of Connecticut had chosen three politically connected law firms to handle the state’s role in the multistate tobacco litigation, a bit of business that yielded a very handsome $65 million in fees. (Other firms that wanted to be considered for the work were cut out.) The three firms included two linked to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and one, Carmody & Torrance of Waterbury, whose managing partner, James Robertson, was personal counsel to Republican Gov. John Rowland.

Now the firm of Carmody & Torrance has turned up amid the ethical storm swirling around Gov. Rowland, who may face impeachment over various personal financial irregularities. After Rowland nominated Robertson for a Superior Court judgeship, it developed that the Carmody firm had not only performed extensive free services for Rowland but had also agreed to defer payment of some $100,000 worth of paid services. In recent weeks the Connecticut press has had a lot to say about the (relatively small) amounts of conventional legal work that the state government has awarded to Carmody & Torrance in recent years, but (unless we’ve missed something) has expressed little curiosity about the selection of the firm for tobacco work, perhaps having swallowed the fiction by which the $65 million fee supposedly did not come at the state’s expense. (“Rowland lawyer says governor owes firm $100,000”, AP/Stamford Advocate, Feb. 13; Tobin A. Coleman, “Judges asked about gifts for Rowland”, Stamford Advocate, Feb. 14; Gregory B. Hladky, “Rowland?s ethics scandal snowballing”, New Haven Register, Feb. 16; “State ethics law loophole doesn?t exist, Plofsky says”, AP/New Haven Register, Feb. 22).

Update: another alcohol suit

Piling on in search of a Next Tobacco: “A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles [earlier this month] against the world’s two biggest brewers accuses the beer makers of advertising to minors and seeks $4 billion in disgorgement of profit.” The suit, filed by Seattle’s Hagens Berman, whose doings are oft chronicled in this space (see Sept. 9-10, 2002 and links from there, Nov. 24) targets Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller. It invokes California’s distinctively abuse-prone s. 17200 law (see Dec. 8), as well as a California law which bans alcohol advertising intended to encourage underage drinking. (Ira Teinowitz, “$4 Billion Lawsuit Filed Against Beer Giants”, Advertising Age, Feb. 4) (lawsuit website/complaint in PDF format). Two months ago, lawyers led by David Boies filed a would-be class action against a number of alcohol companies over alleged youth marketing (see Dec. 1)