Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #1-5

Published July 15, 2002

Win Big! Lie in Front of a Train

The New York Times reports a New York City woman was awarded $14.1 million by a state supreme court jury after she was hit by a subway train. Tragic accidents involving subway trains are all too common, and this award, while generous, may not seem outrageous. But what astonished the Times was the police concluded the “victim” was attempting to commit suicide and had been patiently lying on the tracks at the time the train hit her. The award was cut 30 percent, to a mere $9.9 million, because of her “comparative negligence.” From The New York Times, June 25, 2002.

What’s the Real Motive for Lead Litigation?

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a Naderite advocacy group, recently issued a report claiming New York City faces a massive childhood lead poisoning problem from decades-old lead paint in city apartments and houses. But Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says true lead poisoning is “vanishingly rare” in the U.S., and if the NYPIRG analysis of the impact of lead on IQ were true, half of all adults in America today would be walking around with severe mental impairments due to their lead exposure decades ago. Malanga concludes the real purpose of the Naderite campaign is to pass a New York City law that would make it easier for their trial lawyer buddies to sue New York landowners, including the city itself. From the New York Post, June 24, 2002.

I Fear, Therefore I Can Sue

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a case in which six retired employees of Norfolk & Western Railway were awarded $1 million each because of their fear they might eventually get cancer from exposure to asbestos when working for the railroad. Last month the Washington Legal Foundation argued in a brief that the Court should bar emotional distress damage awards in asbestos cases where there is no evidence the plaintiffs have suffered any actual physical injury. In this instance, none of the employees missed any days of work due to their alleged asbestos exposure, although they now claim to suffer shortness of breath. From the Web site of the Washington Legal Foundation.

Loony Warning Label of the Month

On a baby stroller: “Remove child before folding.” George Will, The Washington Post, June 2, 2002.

Cough Twice, But Please Don’t Call Your Lawyer

According to a Harris Interactive study on how fear of malpractice litigation influences how doctors deal with their patients, 76 percent of physicians think such concerns hurt their ability to provide quality medical care to patients. In addition, 79 percent order more tests than they would normally based only on their professional judgment of what is medically needed; 74 percent refer patients more often to specialists; 51 percent suggest more invasive procedures such as biopsies; and 41 percent prescribe more medications such as antibiotics – all out of fear of malpractice litigation. From the Web site of Common Good.

“The Hammer” Nailed in Legal-Malpractice Case

A flamboyant New York state personal-injury lawyer whose TV commercials and Web sites promised big cash settlements to plaintiffs who signed up with his firm, was himself “nailed” with a $1.9 million judgment in a legal malpractice case. A state supreme court jury found James “The Hammer” Shapiro’s Rochester, NY firm had mishandled the case of a critically injured motorist by failing to press the case against the other motorist and by accepting a settlement from that motorist’s insurer that was insufficient even to pay his client’s medical bills. The jury found that Shapiro’s ads were false and misleading. In a videotaped deposition, Shapiro admitted he has personally never tried a case in court, leaves the legal work to subordinates. In fact, he lives in Florida, not in New York. From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, June 12, 2002, and Overlawyered.Com

So You Want to be a Millionaire – Just Sue

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami has reinstated a suit by a group of disabled Floridians who claim they were prevented from playing the ABC-TV game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” because its rules discriminate against handicapped persons. People who want to appear on the show answer a series of recorded questions over the phone by pressing keys on a touch-tone phone. The plaintiffs claim the process discriminates against people with disabilities because it does not provide accommodations for deaf, blind, or paralyzed people. The judge who originally dismissed the suit had ruled a telephone is not a place of public accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the Circuit Court felt the ADA should be interpreted more broadly by looking at its “spirit and intent.” From The Miami Daily Business Review.

Alamo Rent A Car and Guaranteed Safe Vacation Planning Company, Inc.

The Third District Court of Appeals in Miami upheld a $5.2 million jury verdict against Alamo Rent A Car for failing to warn a Dutch couple not to drive into high-crime areas of the city. While in such an area in 1996, the wife was shot to death in the rental car when her husband went into a gas station to ask directions. Commenting on the case, Walter Olson of wonders “how many different kinds of legal trouble would Alamo have gotten into if it had warned its customers to stay out of the toughest urban neighborhoods?” From The Miami Daily Business Review and

You’ve Got a Problem with $200,000 an Hour?

A Manhattan Supreme Court Justice has asked the New York State attorney general’s office and six plaintiffs’ law firms to justify the $625 million in attorney fees awarded the firms as part of the state’s $25 billion settlement with the tobacco industry. Citing ethical concerns, Justice Charles E. Ramos ordered lawyers representing the state and the six firms to appear in court on July 10 to explain why the fees should not be set aside. Ramos said the hearing was necessary “in light of this Court’s obligation to take appropriate action when in possession of facts suggesting unethical conduct.” He also said he might require the law firms to produce time sheets detailing their role in the litigation. From The New York Law Journal.

Lawsuits that Set the World on Fire

Forest fires are raging in the West, destroying a record area of forests and property. Why are the fires so severe this year? According to an opinion editorial in the Arizona Republic by Cong. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) it’s because “the uncertainty caused by lawsuits has decimated the logging industry in Arizona, and that has contributed heavily to the situation we find ourselves in today. . . If we want to save what remains of our forests in Arizona, we’ve got to get a handle on the frivolous lawsuits that prevent us from doing so.” (June 25, 2002). According to an investigative report by the East Valley Tribune [Phoenix, AZ], “plans to cut fire danger by thinning trees in an Arizona forest now being destroyed by the nation’s largest active wildfire were blocked for three years by a Tucson environmental group” called the Center for Biological Diversity. From and

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: