Posts Tagged ‘Washington state’

Federici v. U-Haul

Here is an interesting but tragic case currently in trial in King County, Washington. Maria Federici, a then 24-year-old woman was gravely injured when an entertainment center flew from a U-Haul trailer attached to a vehicle operated by another motorist. It smashed through the windshield of Federici’s following vehicle, striking her in the face crushing every bone in it. She suffered blindness and permanent disfigurement. Media accounts are here, here and here.

I’m not posting to criticize Federici’s suit per se. It has noteworthy flaws to be sure–for instance there is evidence suggesting her blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit while she was driving, but the BAC was obtained under circumstances suggesting the results were unreliable (the injury trauma and resultant blood loss may have affected the BAC.) And her boss testified that she had only one glass of wine prior to the accident. Notably, the court disallowed the BAC evidence at trial.

So, Federici sues the motorist who failed to tie down the entertainment center, U-Haul and the rental company for alleged design flaws in the trailer and alleged negligent rental practices. Okay, so the motorist can own up for his negligence and U-Haul and the agency can own up for theirs, right? Not so fast. Washington State allows for a fault-free plaintiff to recover all damages from any defendant even 1% at fault.

With or without evidence of intoxication I wonder if Federici could have avoided anything flying toward her while traveling at freeway speeds. So, let’s assume the jury assigns her zero fault. That leaves 100% of potential fault for the defendants. Now, if you read the media accounts it seems to me that the motorist carries the majority of any fault for failing to secure his load, causing the accident. But, who has the deepest pockets? Let me help you: it’s not the motorist.

The plaintiff attorney in this instance will pull out the stops–do anything–to implicate U-Haul, and to a lesser extent the rental agency for any little amount of liability they can so that his client can collect the entire judgment from them (I suspect U-Haul has sufficient assets; the rental agency, if the Mom-and-Pop type, maybe not.) I don’t blame the plaintiff’s attorney, really–he has to advocate his client’s interests. But, it shows how twisted and wrongheaded the joint & several statute is in Washington. Nothing against Federici here, she’s suffered enough. But I struggle with holding some people accountable for damages caused by others. Does this make any sense to you?

Let’s look at the Mission Statement for the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America):

The Mission of the American Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system – and to support the work of attorneys in their efforts to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in America’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.

I’m all for that! Especially that part that says “fair”. Is it fair to hold a 1% wrongdoer accountable for 100% of the damages? If so, why? Because I don’t agree and I’d like to know if I’m wrong. And, I just know the AAJ would scream bloody murder if anyone tried to amend that statute.

October 13 roundup

More on Insurance Fair Conduct

My last post commented on Washington’s Insurance Fair Conduct Act. The Act is up for public vote as Referendum 67. Check out the web sites advocating approval or rejection of the measure.

The “Approve 67” web site struck me as a bit demagogic–the main page shows a young girl clutching a teddy bear being comforted by (apparently) her father. The next shot is a man in a wheelchair, face cast sullenly downward. (Ostensibly suffering from insurance company malfeasance.) The final shot is a generic image of an emergency clinic. Then, under the “Take Action” column on your left there’s a link to “Share Your Insurance Horror Story.” (As of this writing there is a grand total of three “horror” stories.)

Under the endorsements tab, trial lawyers are notably absent–at least from the list. There are, however, multiple labor organizations as well as the Washington State Democratic Party. Under the “About Referendum 67” tab [with my comment]:

If an insurance company unfairly denies a legitimate claim, your only recourse is to sue. But if you win, the only thing they have to pay is the amount of the original claim [not true, just ask millionaire prankster dentist Robert Woo.] Referendum 67 creates an incentive [there already are incentives: coverage by waiver or estoppel, Olympic Steamship attorney fees and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA)] to treat legitimate claims fairly by allowing the court to assess penalties if an insurance company illegally denies or delays payment of a legitimate claim.

Referendum 67 would help to ensure that the insurance industry honor their commitments to treat all policyholders honestly by making it against the law [it’s already against the law, silly–see the existing RCW and WAC] to unreasonably delay or deny legitimate claims.

The News Tribune in its story Let’s not try to fix an insurance industry that’s not broken says:

That the system is working well is illustrated by a storm of a different sort: the windstorm that smashed into Western Washington earlier this year. Within less than four months of the event, according to a recent study, 90 percent of the 42,000 claims were settled, for $170 million in compensation. Most of the remaining claims remained unsettled due to lack of qualified contractors or the time needed to rebuild homes. Only three complaints were filed with the insurance commissioner’s office.

I don’t know if I would characterize this legislation as a jackpot for trial lawyers, but it’s probably unnecessary and will increase the frequency of litigated first party claims at the greater expense of the insurance paying public. It’s up to Washington voters to get it right.

“Violent and profane” workplace outburst protected

Applying Washington state disability-rights law, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that an employee’s “violent and profane” outburst to supervisors may be a protected manifestation of her bipolar disorder and thus not grounds for termination. Although the court cautioned that not all disability-induced misconduct should be seen as protected, it ruled that the law protects “manifestations” of a mental or physical disability just as it protects the disability itself (Gambini v. Total Renal Care, opinion in PDF format;, Jun. 11; Workplace Law Prof, Jun. 15). For more on the Ninth Circuit and disabled-rights law, including some misconduct cases, see Oct. 7 and Oct. 14, 2003; Oct. 12 and Dec. 6, 2006, Mar. 23, 2007. For a contrasting Massachusetts case, see Jun. 28, 2006.

July 6 roundup

  • How to handle illegal alien’s slip-fall suit against supermarket? With some delicacy: jury told only that plaintiff “couldn’t legally work in this country” [Oroville, Calif., Mercury-Register]

  • Sorry, docs: “I hate doctors” beats out “I hate lawyers” as a Google search result [Bioethics Discussion Blog via KevinMD]

  • Virginia adopts harrowingly punitive schedule of traffic fines. Its sponsor: lawmaker whose day job is defending motorists [Washington Post; NRO “The Corner”; Ribstein; our earlier report]

  • A businessman in London is suing Google for “publishing” (by indexing) allegedly defamatory material, and, boy, will the Internet ever be a different place if he wins [Independent (U.K.), Volokh]

  • Federal indictment charges Houston injury lawyer secretly paid $3 million to two Hartford Insurance claims adjusters in connection with $34 million in silicosis settlements [PoL]

  • Mississippi high court rules invalid former AG Mike Moore’s slush-fund diversion of $20 million/year in tobacco settlement money to evade legislative oversight [Sun-Herald, Bader; also this PoL roundup]

  • More RIAA-suit horrors, this time from Washington state [Seattle P-I] Prospects for a counterattack? [Pasquale, Concurring Opinions]

  • California Assembly votes to require pet owners to sterilize mixed-breed dogs and cats, while UK animal rights authority mulls rights for invertebrates [Mangu-Ward and Bailey, Reason]

  • Here come the tainted-Chinese-export suits, with many American defendants on the hook [Parloff, Fortune] Plus: car with the “E COLI” license plate may be driving lawyer to work [WSJ Law Blog]

  • Gimme those antiquities: Peru vs. Yale on Machu Picchu relics [Zincavage]

  • Dick Schaap med-mal case evokes shifting theories from celebrated lawyer Tom Moore [two years ago at Overlawyered]

Update: Speechless in Seattle

Free speech survives intact: the Washington Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that radio talk show hosts’ urging of listeners to support a ballot measure does not constitute a “contribution” to the yes side for purposes of mandatory reporting under campaign finance law. (Ryan Sager, New York Sun blog, Apr. 26). We covered the charges against KVI hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson Jul. 11 and Jul. 19, 2005. Eugene Volokh has extensive coverage of the new decision. A concurring opinion by Justice James M. Johnson, joined by Justice Richard B. Sanders, terms the enforcement a case of “abusive prosecution”. More: Michelle Malkin; John Fund,, Apr. 30.

October 30 roundup

  • My Oct. 28 WSJ op-ed is now on-line for free. [AEI]
  • Your tax dollars at work: $24.2 million for two 17-year-old trespassers burned by high-voltage electrical wires six feet above the top of an Amtrak train that they had climbed. The one who received “only” $6.8 million had injuries minor enough that he’s serving in the Army now. [Lancaster Online via Northridge Buzz Blog]
  • Refuting trial lawyers’ claims of repealing McCarran-Ferguson as a panacea for insurance rates. [Point of Law]
  • “At what point are these accommodations exacerbating learning disabilities, and creating life disabiltities?” [Ivey; Wall Street Journal]
  • $1.5 million verdict: plaintiff blamed her bipolar disorder on a nurse’s error that caused a lung to collapse. [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer; see also Kevin MD commenters]
  • Trial lawyers insult West Virginia businessmen for daring to challenge their hegemony. [Institute for Legal Reform]
  • Bank of America overcredits account, takes money back, gets hit with California state class action verdict that could cost billions. [Point of Law]
  • Latest Duke lacrosse case outrage: prosecutor’s office says it hasn’t even interviewed alleged victim. [Volokh; Outside the Beltway; Corner]
  • In anticipation of Philip Morris v. Williams, hear the great Sheila Birnbaum argue State Farm v. Campbell. [Oyez MP3 via Mass Torts Prof]
  • Kristol: the U.S. Senate still matters because of judicial nominations. [Weekly Standard]
  • Election challenge to Washington state incumbent Supreme Court justice who is supported by trial lawyers. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer via Bashman]
  • Don’t tell AG Lockyer, or he’ll want to sue the fat for global warming. [NY Times via Kevin MD]

Coffee shop owner sues Starbucks

On antitrust grounds:

In her lawsuit, [Penny Stafford of Belvi Coffee & Tea Exchange] says that Starbucks employees would make frequent runs past the deli with free samples. She said that Starbucks also had non-competitive leases that blocked her from the most desirable locations in Bellevue and Seattle.

The suit claims that Starbucks, fueled by “insatiable and unchecked ambition,” wanted to squash all competition.

John Stott, who owns Johnika’s Deli, said that he advised Stafford not to open a business so near a Starbucks.

Representing Stafford in the suit is Overlawyered favorite Hagens Berman Sobol & Shapiro. (“Coffee shop owner sues Starbucks”, UPI/MonstersAndCritics, Sept. 27; Melissa Allison, “Starbucks sued over ‘unchecked ambition'”, Seattle Times, Sept. 26; Keith Sharfman, Truth on the Market, Sept. 25; Lattman, Sept. 27).

From “De Novo” to “Do Nothing”

No sooner had I put the finishing touches on my subway search post, in which I analogized the Second Circuit’s abdication of responsibility in that case to the recent gay marriage defeats in New York and Washington States, than I came across this excellent CQWeekly editorial:

[T]he New York and Washington courts both said that legislators could have believed that children fare better in families with both a mother and a father as role models. Neither court had research to prove the point: There is none. Instead, as the New York court said in the main opinion, the supposed advantage was a “common sense premise” supported by “intuition and experience.”

Whatever quibbles one might raise about each of the points, both courts were guilty of an overriding lapse of logic. The issue in both cases was not whether marriage for opposite-sex couples is a good thing, but whether legislators had some reason — other than ignorance or prejudice — to deny those benefits to same-sex couples.


Read On…