Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

April 29 roundup

  • “Dog owners in Switzerland will have to pass a test to prove they can control and care for their animal, or risk losing it, the Swiss government said yesterday.” [Daily Telegraph]
  • 72-year-old mom visits daughter’s Southport, Ct. home, falls down stairs searching for bathroom at night, sues daughter for lack of night light, law firm boasts of her $2.475 million win on its website [Casper & deToledo, scroll to “Jeremy C. Virgil”]
  • Can’t possibly be right: “Every American enjoys a constitutional right to sue any other American in a West Virginia court” [W.V. Record]
  • Video contest for best spoof personal injury attorney ads [Sick of Lawsuits; YouTube]
  • Good profile of Kathleen Seidel, courageous blogger nemesis of autism/vaccine litigation [Concord Monitor*, Orac]. Plus: all three White House hopefuls now pander to anti-vaxers, Dems having matched McCain [Orac]
  • One dollar for every defamed Chinese person amounts to a mighty big lawsuit demand against CNN anchor Jack Cafferty [NYDN link now dead; Independent (U.K.)]
  • Hapless Ben Stein whipped up one side of the street [Salmon on financial regulation] and down the other [Derbyshire on creationism]
  • If only Weimar Germany had Canada-style hate-speech laws to prevent the rise of — wait, you mean they did? [Steyn/Maclean’s] Plus: unlawful in Alberta to expose a person to contempt based on his “source of income” [Levant quoting sec. 3 (1)(b) of Human Rights Law]
  • Hey, these coupon settlements are giving all of us class action lawyers a bad name [Leviant/The Complex Litigator]
  • Because patent law is bad enough all by itself? D.C. Circuit tosses out FTC’s antitrust ruling against Rambus [GrokLaw; earlier]
  • “The fell attorney prowls for prey” — who wrote that line, and about which city? [four years ago on Overlawyered]

*Okay, one flaw in the profile: If Prof. Irving Gottesman compares Seidel to Erin Brockovich he probably doesn’t know much about Brockovich.

“The Worst Places To Get Sued in America”

Forbes compiles its list and is kind enough to quote me at some length. Scariest of the scary? Los Angeles (ADA filing mills); Miami (med-mal); Atlantic County, N.J. (pharmaceutical); Starr County, Tex. (personal injury); Cook County, Ill. (product liability; I’m quoted on the Cook premium for otherwise routine injury cases); Mississippi (class actions; more properly, group and other mass actions, given the state’s peculiar way of handling such claims); Clark County, Nev. (construction litigation); West Virginia (environmental lawsuits); Philadelphia (I’m quoted on the city’s tradition of libel suits by public officials); (William Pentland, Forbes, Apr. 7; slideshow).

The Hess Kennedy “Legal Debt Center” scheme

According to a lawsuit filed by Chase, two Coral Springs attorneys are scamming their clients by promising to eliminate their debts, and then diverting debt payments for legal fees to file meritless lawsuits challenging credit card debts. The attorneys general of Florida, North Carolina, and West Virginia are also involved, and the Florida bar has moved to suspend the license of Laura Hess. “Defendants’ ulterior goals are to extract fees from card members who should be paying the money to Chase to satisfy their debts and to maliciously harass Chase in an improper (albeit unsuccessful) attempt to coerce the elimination of their clients’ legitimate debts.” (Bud Newman, “Chase Bank Accuses Florida Law Firms of Running Debt-Relief Scam”, Daily Business Review, Mar. 6).

Update: See also Mar. 6 Business Week; on-line at the self-reported Rip-Off Report; and WATE (Tennessee), Apr. 2. “‘The programs typically require financially strapped consumers to pay fees up front, so they make money whether or not any useful services are performed,’ says Philip Lehman, an assistant attorney general in North Carolina.”

$25 million for yanking hospital privileges

On Feb. 7 a jury found the Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia had wrongly revoked the privileges of vascular surgeon R. E. Hamrick, Jr. over a financial dispute. It awarded Hamrick $25 million, including $20 million in punitive damages; the dispute arose over Hamrick’s desire to set up a self-insurance fund against professional liability as opposed to purchasing outside insurance. CAMC has retreated from initial talk of pay freezes for staff, but it is unclear where it will come up with the money — about 4 percent of its annual budget — in ways that have no impact on patients: “‘Any time you have to spend $15 million, how can it not affect the way we care for people?’ asked Dr. Tom Bowden, who also serves on CAMC’s Board of Trustees.” However, expert witness Jonathan Cunitz of Westport, Ct., who testified for the plaintiffs on punitive damages, told the Daily Mail that patients and employees “shouldn’t be concerned for a second” about cutbacks because the nonprofit community hospital could just pull the money from the magic rainbow wishing well could cover the punitive damage award “just out of the money generated by Hamrick’s surgeries,” in the newspaper’s phrasing. It sounds almost as if hospital revenues from surgery constitute pure gravy and do not involve any correlative expenditures. The hospital’s CEO notes that the damage award “was higher than the $15 million CAMC spent to purchase the former Putnam General Hospital in 2006.” (Justin D. Anderson, “Doctor responds to colleague’s lawsuit win against CAMC”, Charleston Daily Mail, Feb. 12; Eric Eyre, Charleston Gazette, Feb. 13, Feb. 20, Feb. 21; Chris Dickerson, West Virginia Record, Feb. 7).

January 18 roundup

  • Protection of ugly garage views? Garrison Keillor vs. neighbors in St. Paul, Minn. [NYTimes]
  • If you’re a lawyer who practices before the south Florida bench, it’s not a recommended career move to use a blog to call one of its judges an “evil, unfair witch” [WSJ Law Blog]
  • Nonprofit sleep-off center that takes in drunks sued after rescuing man who then succeeds in laying his hands on more liquor and drinking himself to death [Anchorage Daily News]
  • New Starbucks offering of “skinny” drinks “could easily be considered a form of size discrimination” and lead to litigation, complains ticked-off barista [StarbucksGossip]
  • Appearance of impartiality? West Virginia high court judge cavorted on Riviera with coal exec whose big case was pending before his court [Liptak/NYT] Update: Now recused, per WV Record.
  • Retired drug enforcement officers sue Universal Studios, saying they were defamed as a group by “American Gangster” [MSNBC]
  • Not much likelihood of confusion: shirtmaker Lacoste can’t keep two dentists in Cheltenham, England from using toothy crocodile as logo for their practice [Reuters]
  • People seized randomly off street for compulsory jury duty in St. Johnsbury, Vt. and Greeley, Colo. [AP/Findlaw via KipEsquire, Greeley Tribune]
  • Federal judge orders attorney Robert Arledge of Vicksburg, Miss. to pay $5.8 million in restitution after conviction for organizing bogus fen-phen claims [Clarion-Ledger; earlier]
  • Canada: abuser of crystal meth successfully sues her drug dealer [BBC]
  • Animal rights group tries to shut down “happy cows” ad campaign [three years ago on Overlawyered]

Richard Neely and arbitration (and the godless bloodsuckers?)

In 2006, former West Virginia judge and justice Richard Neely wrote an article called “Arbitration and the Godless Bloodsuckers” (reprinted at the anti-consumer Consumerist) making a sensational claim: he had served as an arbitrator for the National Arbitration Forum, but because of his rulings denying attorneys’ fees, had been blacklisted from further arbitration proceedings because the “godless bloodsucker” banks (no, really, those are his words) had decided he was an “unacceptable” arbitrator. As part of the litigation lobby’s war on consumer choice in seeking legislation to force consumers to litigate even if they wish the opportunity for lower prices through agreeing to mandatory binding arbitration (see the Overlawyered section on arbitration), the claims have been repeated on multiple occasions, in Congressional testimony, in newspaper and magazine articles, in blogs, and even in the Overlawyered comments. Turns out, according to a response made by the National Arbitration Forum, that Judge Neely has made some claims that weren’t true:

  • Contrary to Neely’s claims, he was never “struck” from any case by any party.
  • At least under NAF rules, a party cannot unilaterally select an arbitrator: the two sides must agree, or, in the alternative, each select an arbitrator who will in turn mutually agree upon a third arbitrator. (Code of Procedure Rule 21.) Parties can strike an arbitrator for bias—for example, perhaps one of the arbitrators has announced that a class of parties are “godless bloodsuckers.” But this right applies equally to consumers and merchants.
  • Neely claimed incorrectly that a party defaulting could be liable for more than they would under the civil justice system. But arbitration participants have more procedural protections in the case of default than those operating in the civil justice system–there is no “default” in arbitration. Rather, the arbitrator has to decide the case on the merits, even without the participation of the customer. Given the fact that the vast majority of debt collections in court are resolved by default, the typical consumer comes out far ahead in arbitration.
  • Neely proposed a reform that arbitrators be required to disclose conflicts of interest. But arbitrators are already required to disclose such conflicts.

Read the whole thing. Neely (who ruled on the merits 100% of the time for banks against their customers in the two debt collection cases he decided) was apparently so upset by his experience that he signed a new agreement with NAF after the events he claims to describe transpired. One wonders: has the plaintiffs’ bar retained Neely as a consultant on the issue, and he decided he could make more money bad-mouthing arbitration than as an arbitrator? One will never know—unless Neely discloses his conflicts of interest.

Richard Neely’s previous claim to fame was stating, while Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, “As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth from out-of-state companies to in-state plaintiffs, I shall continue to do so.” He’s had somewhat less success doing so as a plaintiffs’ attorney (June 2002).

Arbitration and the free market

Let us imagine a writer for a left-wing magazine, we’ll call her Mephanie Stencimer, who wants to buy a car. But she has particular tastes: she doesn’t just want any old car. She wants a three-wheeled vehicle, perhaps because the feng shui is better, perhaps because she wants to spend less money on tires forced upon her by Big Rubber. She goes from car-dealer to car-dealer around town, but every single one of the dastardly businessmen insist that her only choice is a four-wheeled vehicle. She patiently explains the aesthetics of the triangular approach, but they shrug their shoulders and tell her it’s out of their hands and she has to have a four-wheeled car or nothing. Finally, she surrenders her preference for the three-wheeled vehicle, and takes a model with the extra wheel.

If you were to take seriously the arguments of Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones and the commenters there, and perhaps the occasional judge, this is an outrageous “contract of adhesion” that should be outlawed: Stencimer didn’t have a choice, didn’t have the bargaining power to make the auto-dealer sell her a three-wheeled car, and was forced to buy an extra wheel. But is this really a problematic failure of the market that requires government intervention?

Read On…

October 30 roundup

  • Law firm of King & King in D.C. lost its chance at a contingency fee when its client elected not to pursue the case, so naturally it sued the client [Robert Loblaw @ eNotes; D.C. Circuit ruling for client, PDF]
  • How hot is the sausage gravy at Bob Evans? $5,000 worth of hot, says wrist-burned West Virginian [W.V. Record]
  • Kid on bicycle suffers catastrophic head injury, lawsuit blames road’s steepness and “dangerous wooden posts” alongside [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
  • Genarlow sprung [Volokh and everyone else; earlier]
  • Better hope you make it to Chapel Hill: Fayetteville, N.C. loses 24-hour neurosurgery cover [F’ville Observer via KevinMD; trial lawyers’ response]
  • Fans sue Aerosmith over canceled Maui concert [AP/IHT]
  • Class action over poor-quality Kia brakes yields $5.6 million jury verdict, but do lawyers really deserve $4.1 million? [Legal Intelligencer] More: whoops, covered already just below;
  • We don’t care what your wishes might be, we’re putting you on the ventilator to protect ourselves [RangelMD]
  • Tawdry sex angles aside, this really sounds like a cautionary tale of the dangers of liberal amendment of pleadings [Lat]
  • Observation on traffic-cams: “I’m sick of living in a world in which legal trouble can be generated by robots.” [Scheie via Reynolds]
  • Read all about it: we side with Paul Krugman and Atrios [four years ago on Overlawyered]

Welcome to West Virginia: Joe Meadows v. Go-Mart

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn’t drive in that state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who didn’t check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to save Meadows’s life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which means he “only” gets two thirds of the three million dollars they awarded. (Since Meadows had only asked for $2.3 million, one detects nullification to get around the fact that he was found partially responsible.) Plaintiffs’ attorneys Jesse Forbes, Bill Forbes and Roger Decanio state they are “pleased” with the verdict. (Vic Sprouse, “West Virginia isn’t a judicial hellhole? Tell that to Go-Mart”, West Virginia Record, Oct. 10; Andrew Clevenger, “Hernshaw man awarded $2 million in loss-of-leg case”, Charleston Gazette, Oct. 4; Cheryl Caswell, “Jury awards $3 million to man who had leg torn off by tractor-trailer”, Charleston Daily Mail, Oct. 4).