Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #1-11

Published October 15, 2002

Take that, Mississippi!

Mississippi may rank last among the 50 states in per-capita income, but it ranks first in lawsuit abuse. Since 1995, Mississippi courts have awarded plaintiffs some $1.8 billion, and a notorious state law allows out-of-state plaintiffs to have their cases consolidated in plaintiff-friendly rural Mississippi counties. Now the rest of the country is striking back. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has advised its members to avoid doing business in Mississippi, and giant lender Washington Mutual recently became the 71st insurance company to stop issuing policies in the state. From The Washington Post and Origination News

Take that, Mississippi Trial Lawyers!

We’ve reported previously that absurdly high malpractice insurance rates in Mississippi have driven many doctors out of the state, leaving many communities without a single obstetrician or pediatrician. Finally the legislature did something about it. Earlier this month it passed a sweeping medical malpractice reform law that would, among other provisions, limit noneconomic damages and prevent venue shopping by requiring cases to be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. Unfortunately the law is not retroactive to lawsuits already filed and will not become effective till next January. From The Jackson Clarion-Ledger and the Web site of the American Tort Reform Association

Having Friends in High Places

Trial lawyers in Mississippi have predictably vowed to fight the state’s newly enacted medical malpractice reform law all the way to the state supreme court, where they apparently have some pretty close friends. According to an article in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, “Federal authorities are investigating whether state court judges took out loans that were repaid by nationally prominent trial lawyers from South Mississippi whose cases the judges handle.” One of the judges being probed sits on the state supreme court. One trail lawyer reportedly being investigated is Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who was one of the chief architects of the $250 billion national tobacco settlement. He is also the brother-in-law of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott.

So What, Georgia Gave Us $700 Million

A Manhattan federal judge has overturned a $1.3 billion fee awarded to a consortium of 56 law firms for their involvement in California’s tobacco litigation. The fee, awarded by a three-member arbitration panel in New York, amounted to 5 percent of the $25 billion the state received from the 1998 nationwide tobacco settlement. The firms argued they had played an “integral” part in the California legal effort, but the New York judge found the state had handled its own litigation and the consortium did not even participate in the discussions that led to the national settlement. From The New York Law Journal

Fen-Phen Doctors Fudged

In a bizarre marriage of convenience, the lead plaintiffs’ law firm in the fen-phen diet drug class action settlement has joined the drug’s manufacturer in a legal effort to keep other plaintiffs’ firms from fleecing the $3.75 billion trust set up to pay claimants. They charge there has been “systematic abuse” of the claims process by a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers and the doctors they use as experts, resulting in thousands of “medically unreasonable,” i.e. bogus, claims. For example, cardiologists hired by the trust to review all of the claims handled by two suspect plaintiffs’ “expert” doctors found that more than 90 percent of their diagnoses lacked a “reasonable medical basis.” From The Legal Intelligencer

The Ultimate “Small Claims” Lawsuit

Last November a female Seattle paralegal accidentally bounced a $15 check. A local collection agency sent her a letter demanding the $15 plus $40 in fees. She paid the total amount by money order and then forgot about it. A few months later the collection agency sued her for 18 cents in interest on the $15, plus an additional $311 in legal fees. This time she fought back and in late September a Seattle district court judge threw out the lawsuit, assessed the collection agency $500 in damages and ordered it to pay the woman’s legal fees, which amounted to around $7,600. From The Seattle Times

Why Buy a Congressman When You Can Be One?

Not content with spending millions upon millions of dollars supporting plaintiffs’ bar-friendly candidates at all levels of federal and state government, trial lawyers across the country have now decided to use their asbestos, tobacco, and medical malpractice wealth to run for office themselves. In Florida, two prominent Democratic trial lawyers are running for Congress, one in Orlando and one in Jacksonville. Both have net worths of $40 million to $50 million and are expected to outspend their Republican opponents, one an incumbent, by at least two to one. If trial lawyer victories help tilt the scale in the U.S. House in favor of the Democrats, the party will be even more beholden to the plaintiffs’ bar than it is today, if that’s possible. From The St. Petersburg Times

Stop the Presses! American Jurors Distrust Big Business

As if American corporations needed more bad news, a new study of juror attitudes in the post-Enron era shows juries nationwide are more inclined to sock it to big business than ever before. The survey, conducted by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and the jury-consulting firm DecisionQuest, found “The scandals that have rocked a relatively small number of companies are having a huge spillover impact on how all corporations are being judged.” Of the jurors surveyed, 76 percent are angry with corporate America, 73 percent believe auditors do what their clients tell them, even if it’s dishonest, 71 percent believe upper-level employees are more prone to lie on the witness stand, 78 percent believe many companies destroy documents to avoid getting into trouble, and an astonishing 85 percent think large corporations hide the truth about the dangers of their products. From The New York Law Journal

Slim-Fast in the Cross-Hairs

The “bounty hunter” provision of California’s Proposition 65 allows any private citizen to sue to enforce the law’s requirement that “clear and reasonable warnings” be given for exposures to chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.” If successful, the “bounty hunter” gets 25 percent of any civil penalties accessed. Since California “knows” about 10 times as many toxic chemicals as the rest of the civilized world, Prop 65 gives wide latitude for litigation mischief-making. A recent op-ed in the Orange County Register listed a number of products that have been the subject of such toxicity suits, including “picture frames, lightbulbs, Christmas lights, electrical tape, braces, game darts, stained-glass lamps, fire logs, exercise weights, hammers, terrariums, tools, cue chalk, cosmetics, even Slim-Fast.”

Published bi-weekly by The Heartland Institute, 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: