Posts Tagged ‘Washington state’

Two more thoughts on the $45,000 cat

There’s an unspoken implication of a decision valuing a housepet at $45,000. If one is driving a vehicle of average value in Washington state, and sees a pet dart out in front of the car, the state would apparently prefer that you total your car to avoid hitting the animal. Just make sure that the tree or wall or parked car you hit instead doesn’t also have non-economic sentimental value.

And why isn’t it contributory negligence to leave a housecat outside? The press coverage doesn’t say if this was raised in the litigation.

Washington state: can parents monitor children?

Carmen Dixon, the mother of 14-year-old Lacey, was concerned about a phone call Lacey received from her 17-year-old boyfriend Oliver Christensen, so she listened in on another line. Oliver discussed a purse-snatching, and Carmen turned him in to police. But, last December, the Washington Supreme Court threw out Christensen’s 2000 second-degree robbery conviction, because the eavesdropping violated the children’s privacy. The legislature is just getting around to changing the law in response. (Robert L. Jamieson, “Courts should let parents do their duty — and pry”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 7; Rachel La Corte, “Parental snooping bill gets a hearing”, AP/Seattle Times, Feb. 3; Christine Clarridge, “Eavesdropping against law even for parent, court says”, Seattle Times, Dec. 13) (via Bashman).

Real vote fraud

I wrote about the frivolous legal challenge to the Ohio presidential vote earlier today. But real vote fraud and voting shenanigans seem to be taking place in Washington state.

John Fund writes about a real threat to voting rights in Washington state — efforts to “find” votes for the gubernatorial candidates in what had been a close election, which became closer every time King County looked at its in-box.

UPDATE: And for more fun with voter intent and attempts to obtain executive office through fraud, check out the coverage of San Diego’s controversial mayoral election here.

Ballot measure results

As I documented through the night at, voters gave doctors and the business community some major victories in yesterday’s ballot measures. Limits on malpractice lawyers’ fees passed resoundingly in Florida, in a stinging rebuke to the trial bar. Among three other states considering med-mal ballot measures, doctors won decisively in Nevada and lost in Wyoming, while Oregon’s measure was slightly trailing but too close to call. (Update Nov. 9: late returns show one of the two Wyoming measures apparently passing after all.)

In California, in a convincing victory for the business community and good sense, voters approved Proposition 64 by a wide margin, requiring lawyers to demonstrate actual injury before invoking the state’s broad unfair-practices statute in private cases. (Thank you, Arnold.) Colorado voters lopsidedly defeated a trial-lawyer-sponsored measure to expand litigation over alleged construction defects. And in the two hot judicial contests, for seats on the Illinois and West Virginia Supreme Courts, trial-lawyer-backed candidates lost in both. Details on all these races can be found on Also, voters ignored this site’s advice and passed all eleven state marriage amendments on the ballot.

Finally, some politicians whose ambitions this website has followed were locked in too-close-to-call races: Washington state AG Christine Gregoire (see Oct. 28) was slightly trailing a GOP opponent in her bid for governor, while former trial lawyer lobbyist and Bush HUD secretary Mel Martinez (see Sept. 3) was leading by 80,000 votes in his Florida Senate race against Democrat Betty Castor. (Update: Martinez wins). John Edwards’s vice-presidential ambitions seem at the moment to depend on an unlikely reversal of Ohio results in late vote counting, while his home state of North Carolina went Republican both in the presidential race and in filling Edwards’s old seat. (Update: Kerry and Edwards concede).

Gregoire the gregarious

Attorney General Christine Gregoire of Washington, a leading figure in brokering the 1998 tobacco settlement that ensured cartel-based profits for big tobacco companies and gigantic fees for the lawyers who sued them, is now in a close race for governor of the state. Very helpfully, she’s getting political contributions (via the Democratic Governors Association) from plaintiff’s-side lawyers such as Richard Scruggs, Joseph Rice and Steve Berman who were made exceedingly rich by the settlement, and who’ve given more than $1 million to the DGA in the space of a month. And another grateful contributor to the DGA is the lawyer who represented … Philip Morris. Isn’t it great when people can get along? (Ralph Thomas and Andrew Garber, “Out-of-state donors feed Gregoire fund”, Seattle Times, Oct. 28). For more, see Oct. 11, 2004, and Jul. 17 and Sept. 13-14, 2000.

EC fax mistake

Five German banks appealed a 100-million Euro fine by the European Commission. The European Court of the First Instance reversed the fine when the EC attorney faxing a brief “accidentally placed it face upwards in the fax machine”; the court received 100 blank pages instead of the brief, and defaulted the appeal. Press accounts are unclear whether the EC’s right to review that decision has effectively been waived. (James Kirkup, “EC loses ?70m after lawyer botches fax”, The Scotsman, Oct. 16). Washington state also had a similar problem when an attorney forgot to appeal an $18 million judgment against the state. (Sep. 13, 2000) (via Fark).

Tobacco class action update

Plaintiffs defending the insane $10.1 billion class action judgment (Feb. 8; Mar. 24, 2003) have retained as co-counsel a law firm associated with a Republican Illinois Supreme Court justice in an effort to have him disqualified from the case. (Paul Hampel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Smaller court may hear tobacco case in Madison County”, Oct. 3; Ameet Sachdev, “Philip Morris seeks removal of law firm”, Chicago Tribune, Sep. 1 (no longer online)). The Edwardsville Intelligencer (in a strange story whose math seems to be wrong in other particulars) reports that Madison County has received a $1.7 million windfall in interest from Philip Morris from the bond (Apr. 4, 2003) it posted to appeal that judgment. (Steve Horrell, “County is cashing in”, Oct. 8).

The Seattle Times has a retrospective look back at the comprehensive tobacco settlement (Feb. 28 and links therein) negotiated in large part by Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire, and notes the irony that it forced the state to ally itself with Philip Morris to protest the amount of the bond (see also Apr. 30, 2003). (Andrew Garber, “Tobacco settlement Gregoire negotiated not popular with all”, Oct. 4). But the bad news for Altria shareholders, states hoping to continue receiving tobacco funds, and the ability of Americans to conduct business is that plaintiffs continue to pile on with similarly meritless class action lawsuits, waiting to find the combination of judges who dislike tobacco companies enough to expand class action law rather than rule in their favor. Plaintiffs’ lawyers will bring dozens of these lawsuits, and need win only one multi-billion dollar judgment to become the new owners of the enterprise. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently signed off on a class action against Philip Morris, and lower courts in Missouri and Ohio have followed suit. (AP, Sep. 17; Theo Emery, AP, Aug. 16).

Malpractice insurance: around the country

In West Virginia, insurer NCRIC was paying out $1.07 in claims for every $1 in premiums collected; it almost left the state until regulators allowed them to raise rates to make up the difference. Of course, some doctors can’t afford the new rates, and have had to stop practicing at hospitals and nursing homes that require insurance. ATLA once again blames the insurance companies for failing to invest premiums in such a way to pay the rising claims. The insurer’s problems were exacerbated when a D.C. jury levied a $18 million countersuit verdict against NCRIC when it tried to collect $3 million in unpaid premiums from the defunct Columbia Hospital for Women Medical Center. (Dina ElBoghdady, “D.C. Malpractice Insurer Feels Squeeze”, Washington Post, Sep. 6).

In Illinois, the political debate continues over the need for tort reform, as doctors continue to flee the state. Ed Murnane, of the Illinois Civil Justice League, notes that 40% of the doctors in St. Clair and Madison Counties have been named as defendants in lawsuits between 2000 and 2003; even though the overwhelming majority of plaintiffs collect nothing from such cases, the costs of defense are high. (Mark Samuels, “Group: Tort Reform Can Stop Malpractice Crisis”, The Southern, Sep. 3; Rob Stroud and Herb Meeker, “Illinois physicians say insurance rates are driving them out of state”, Journal Gazette/Times-Courier, Sep. 3).

An editorial signed by 25 Washington County, Maryland doctors protests the legislature’s failure to reform the medical malpractice system. (“Lawsuits will drive doctors away”, The Herald-Mail, Sep. 5).

In Nevada, the trial lawyers groups are trying to obstruct reform by putting forward faux reform measures on the initiative ballot that would wipe out the real reform measure, Question 3. For example, Question 5, proposes penalties for filing or defending “frivolous” lawsuits–but redefines “frivolous” to narrow the classification as to be meaningless. At the same time, it bars the legislature from ever implementing caps. An earlier attempt to stop Question 3 with a last-minute lawsuit failed. (Tanya Albert, “Nevada tort reform ballot fight now brewing”, American Medical News, Sep. 13; AP, Aug. 25; No on 4 and 5 website).

Washington state doctors are traditionally politics-free, but the medical malpractice crisis could change that and force them to lobby for the reform Initiative 330. “‘Physicians in the main have an aversion to mixing politics with their professional medical practice,’ said Dr. Kevin Ware, president of the county medical society. ‘But under the current circumstances, the need for malpractice insurance reform is so desperate that physicians are having to look seriously at departing from that custom.'” (Sharon Salyer, “Doctors may lift ban on politics”, The Herald, Sep. 6; Wallace blog, Aug. 31).

Wyoming has lost 10 percent of its doctors in the last eighteen months, and the state’s largest malpractice carrier will stop renewing policies October 1. A constitutional amendment is necessary for reform there. (Lee Lockhart, “Lawmaker predicts heated debate over damage caps”, Casper Star Tribune, Aug. 27).

California grandparents get visitation rights

State legislation is often reactive, suffering from the belief that no problem can possibly be made worse by creating a “remedy” for it in the judicial system. A few years back, a number of grandparents anecdotally and adversely affected by a child’s divorce mounted an effective publicity campaign calling for new laws, destined to pass because of the absence of an organized counter-lobby of citizens wishing to preserve their future parenting decisions from judicial micromanagement (Oct. 21, 2002). Thus, California Family Code ?? 3103-3104 permit grandparents to litigate visitation rights if a child’s parents divorce, even on the objections of both parents. It also permits the litigation of collateral issues arising from the existence of grandparents’ visitation rights, including using such rights as a “factor” to order a change of residence of the child (? 3103(f)) or providing for the resolution of additional child support issues relating to the grandparents’ visits (? 3103(g)). The possibility of such litigation is not an insubstantial bargaining chip, given that other California family law permits the court to order one spouse to pay the litigation expenses of both spouses. The law is in the news because one such litigation made it to the California Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of the law in a 4-3 decision in In re Marriage of Harris, distinguishing it from a broader Washington state law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 in Troxel v. Granville. (Maura Dolan, “Court Backs Rights of Grandparents”, L.A. Times, Aug. 24; Bob Egelko, “Custody ruling backs grandparents’ rights”, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 24; David Watson, “Statutes on Grandparent Visitation Pass Constitutional Muster”, Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Aug. 24) (via Bashman).

Sue the fire-shelter makers

Central Washington state: “Nearly three years after four local firefighters died in a wildfire, some family members are suing the manufacturer of the fire shelters they were using. … They claim the instruction manual for the shelters encouraged the firefighters to set them up on rocky terrain. But hot gas from the fire was able to seep in and kill them. The lawsuit names the manufacturer and the National Association of State Foresters, which helped write the manual.” (Craig Galbraith, “Thirtymile Fire Lawsuit”, KIMA-TV (Yakima, Wash.), Jul. 9). According to a Sept. 2001 press release from the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Forest Service report on the incident found that the deaths were not caused by faulty equipment. “According to this investigation, these deaths occurred due to poor judgment at several critical junctures and a failure to follow established procedures”. (USFS fire investigation reports).