Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-6
Guess $2,500/Hour Just Isn’t Enough
The U.S. Senate recently defeated a tax bill amendment that would have limited the amount of money plaintiffs’ attorneys could receive out of the $200+ billion 1998 national tobacco settlement. Under the proposal, lawyers who worked for the states on the settlement could collect no more than $2,500 an hour for their efforts. That would have required the lawyers to return some $9 billion to their state clients. The amendment was defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon, by a 61-37 vote. From Overlawyered.com and the National Law Journal
Pick a Pumpkin, File a Lawsuit
In order to promote rural tourism, the Kansas legislature last month overwhelmingly passed a bill that would shield from lawsuits farmers and ranchers who, for a fee, let people watch and take part in such harmless farm activities as picking pumpkins and going on wagon rides. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius promptly vetoed the bill, saying it would provide protection for irresponsible landowners. The governor was executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association before entering politics. From the Wichita Eagle
Thumbs Down on This Jury!
A New York City claims examiner was awarded $3 million in a jury trial for injuries to his thumb suffered when he tried to use it to open a bathroom door with a missing doorknob. The man stuck his thumb through the hole where the knob should have been and pulled the door toward him ... just as someone entering the bathroom pushed the door in from the other side. He suffered severe tendon damage to the thumb requiring surgery. In addition to $2 million for “pain and suffering” and $200,000 for future medical needs, the jury also awarded his wife $750,000, presumably for lack of consortium. From the New York Daily News
The Pothole Made Me Do It
Despite a finding by the National Transportation Safety Board that pilot error caused a 1996 air crash that killed the pilot and three other people, a Chicago jury this May awarded $10.45 million to the pilot’s family. In 2001, another jury had awarded nearly $19 million to the family of the co-pilot, agreeing with NTSB that the pilot had caused the crash, but this year’s jury concluded the airport was responsible for the crash by locating a drainage ditch too close to the runway. From Overlawyered.com
It’s Spring ... and Tort Reform Is in the Air
Somewhere between 17 and 23 states--not counting the pathetic efforts of the federal government--are working to enact some type of tort reform. Much of this effort was generated by publicity for the medical malpractice insurance crisis which, critics of the plaintiffs’ bar claim, is due to outrageous malpractice awards and a proliferation of so-called “frivolous” medical lawsuits. The national asbestos litigation nightmare, which is threatening to bankrupt many of our largest American companies, and the President’s hammering on the issue in his State of the Union message, are also feeding the tort reform fire. Only time will tell if some real good comes of this effort--or if the fire will be doused once again by trial lawyers’ money. From the National Law Journal and the New York Times
“Body of Evidence,” Get It?
A 30-year-old New York City model who attempted to march topless in the city’s annual Mermaid Parade settled her false arrest lawsuit against the city for $10,000. Seems the police thought her costume, essentially a thong and body paint, fell under the city’s anti-public exposure statute. She claimed her costume was “public entertainment,” and the body of evidence she presented obviously worked in her favor. From the National Law Journal
Down This Road Before
John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University, helped concoct some of the curious medical and legal theories that eventually brought the tobacco industry to its knees. Among those was the concept that people ignore the warning labels on cigarette packs and continue to smoke because nicotine is more addictive than heroin. Now, having failed in his first attempt to help justify a suit against the fast food industry for causing obesity, he is back with a cigarette look-alike argument. As reported in the London Telegraph, Banzhaf claims a recent Princeton University study found that rats fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet similar to eating fast food suffered withdrawal symptoms, similar to those experienced by nicotine and heroin addicts, when the food was removed. He said a failure by the industry to put cigarette-like addiction warning labels on fast food could be the basis for another suit.
Whose Side Are They On?
Barron’s, a Dow Jones publication, recently ran a full-page article, “The Next Asbestos?” addressing the ongoing lead paint litigation. Thus far, the article admitted, the plaintiffs’ bar has failed miserably in its avowed promise to bring the industry down. However, in a display of tortured logic, the article concluded that somehow, because of its past courtroom successes, the industry was destined to go the way of tobacco and asbestos. The article cited a recent book, which allegedly “proved” the companies knew there was a danger to children when they sold lead paint many decades ago. When it was pointed out in a letter to the editor that the book’s authors were both highly paid plaintiffs’ witnesses and therefore hardly objective, Barron’s response was a profound “Oops!”
Ravenous, Aren’t They?
For work done through June 30, 2001, a federal judge in Philadelphia has awarded fees of more than $150 million to 83 plaintiffs’ law firms for their work on the fen-phen diet drug litigation. The fen-phen litigation ultimately resulted in a $3.75 billion class action settlement.; the lawyers had petitioned the court for $567 million. They will surely be paid many millions more when the judge considers work done after June 30, 2001. Their appetites hardly satisfied, Houston plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in the fen-phen litigation plan to launch new volleys against ephedra, a diet supplement alleged to promote weight loss and enhance energy and stamina. From the Legal Intelligencer and Texas Lawyer
Even Time Has Noticed
The June 9 issue of Time magazine warned “The Doctor is Out,” referring to the country’s malpractice insurance crisis. Doctors, patients, insurers, and lawmakers recount how the crisis has affected them. “The system is clearly broken,” the magazine reports. “To doctors like [pulmonologist Dr. Alexander] Sosenko, the main problems are frivolous lawsuits and multimillion-dollar judgments awarded for tragic but sometimes unavoidable outcomes.” Phillip K. Howard, chairman of Common Good, offers a proposed solution: a special medical court. “Staffed with expert judges--and probably without juries--these tribunals could effectively screen claims, make rulings and award reasonable compensation for actual economic losses, plus pain-and-suffering damages ...” From Time magazine
Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly
Published by The Heartland Institute (312/377-4000), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984. The full text of this two-page newsletter is also available in Adobe Acrobat's PDF format; click here.
Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Diane Carol Bast, Paul Fisher, Dan Hales
Information on lawsuit abuse can be found on these Web sites:
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