Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #1-7

Published August 19, 2002

Tick, Tick, Tick, Mr. Motley

A few months ago we noted that famed plaintiffs’ attorney Ron Motley had vowed in October 1999 to bring the former lead paint industry “to its knees” within three years or he would give them his 120-foot yacht. Well, with only two months to go on his vow, the industry is still standing tall. It has never lost a lead paint lawsuit and, in fact, none has ever even gone to trial, although one is scheduled to begin in September. Come the ides of October, we’ll tell Mr. Motley where to send the keys to his boat.

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Two workmen who ignored the warning label saying a can of adhesive was not to be used indoors were nonetheless awarded $8 million by an Ohio jury. Despite the warning label, which clearly said the glue was for outdoor use only, the workmen were using the adhesive to install carpeting in a basement when a water heater turned on, starting a fire that injured both men. The jury originally found for the defendants, but upon being ordered by the judge to deliberate further because they were one vote shy of the minimum number needed to decide a case in Ohio, changed their mind and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. They decided the warning label was “not adequate.” From the National Law Journal

We Told You So!

A few issues ago we predicted the arrival of the first lawsuit charging the fast-food industry with being the cause of our national obesity. On July 24 a 270-pound, 5-foot-10-inch maintenance worker from the Bronx filed a class action lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against four fast-food chains. The plaintiff — who has diabetes and has had two heart attacks — claims the chains were negligent in selling food high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol without warning consumers there is a link between eating such foods and obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol levels, cancer, and other health problems. John Banzhaf, an anti-tobacco advocate, will serve as an advisor to the plaintiff. From ABC-TV News

Perhaps He Should Sue Wendy’s, Too?

An Ashland, Kentucky lawyer is suing Delta Airlines for $9,500 because they sold him a seat next to an obese man on a two-hour flight from New Orleans to Cincinnati. The suit claims the attorney “suffered embarrassment, severe discomfort, mental anguish and severe emotional distress.” It alleges Delta breached its contract to provide the lawyer with a full seat and reasonable comfort because the obese man overflowed into his seat. A Cleveland attorney representing Delta said, “We’ve become too litigious. We have problems in society that are much deeper than that.” From the Mansfield, Ohio, News Journal

Lawsuit Seeks to Make Silence Golden

The company that owns the rights to the music of the late American composer John Cage has announced its intention to sue British pop guru Mike Batt for copyright infringement. The company claims a track on Batt’s new album, “Classical Graffiti,” is, except for its length, exactly the same as a 50-year old piece by Cage. That might seem to be damning evidence for the plaintiff, except both “songs” are nothing but total silence! Batt’s piece is called “A One Minute Silence,” and Cage’s is called “4’33,” being the length of the silent song. Commenting on the suit, Batt quipped: “Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds.” From the British tabloid The Sun

Interfering with the Right to Steal

Two Los Angeles residents have filed a class-action suit against five music companies on behalf of all California residents who unwittingly purchased CDs that are copy-protected and therefore cannot be duplicated. Copy-protected discs are the latest effort by the music industry to prevent the unlawful duplication of their products. Claiming the CDs are “defective products” because they interfere with customers’ legal right to transfer music, the suit asks for unspecified damages and an injunction that would block sales of the discs or require better warning labels. From the August issue of Corporate Legal Times

Gee, Why Didn’t I Think of This 23 Years Ago?

Kenneth Bianchi, the so-called “Hillside Strangler” who pleaded guilty to murdering seven women in Washington and California in the late 1970s and was sentenced to 118 years in prison, has filed a claim against the Washington county in which he was convicted seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars for lost wages and emotional distress. Claiming police and prosecutors withheld key evidence, Bianchi wants to withdraw his guilty plea. He is also seeking up to $100 per day for 23 years of lost wages, in addition to punitive damages and damages for emotional distress. From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Mold: The Next Asbestos?

A North Carolina minister has filed suit against General Motors, claiming mold in his Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle has caused him permanent injuries that left him suffering chronic depression and rendered him unable to work. The suit alleges faulty weatherstripping in the car led to rainwater leaks, which allowed the mold to grow, resulting in depression, memory loss, tremors, and breathing problems for its owner. According to the minister’s lawyer, the suit is worth millions of dollars because his client has had to “give up his church and he can’t sing anymore.” GM says it never faced a suit like this before, which can only mean they should expect to see much more of it in the future. From a Bloomberg Business News article in The Houston Chronicle

Reining in State Attorneys General

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a model bill titled the “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act” that: (1) requires legislative oversight of contractual arrangements with outside counsel where the fee is expected to be $1 million or more; (2) provides for competitive bidding of legal services; (3) requires counsel who are hired on a contingency fee basis to account for the hours worked; and (4) place a cap on contingency fee arrangements at an effective rate of $1,000 per hour. The bill has been enacted in four states and introduced in 20 more. Does anyone doubt adoption of such legislation by the 50 states would put an end to inappropriate state AG intervention in matters of national policy? See for more.

Those Were the Days, My Friend

Tony Mauro, a writer for Legal Times and American Lawyer Media, wrote a fascinating essay for the August 8 issue of USA Today titled “Cross-trained lawyers ride to the rescue.” According to Mr. Mauro, “Lawyers bring a certain gravitas, a sense of order and rectitude . . . that often seems desirable, especially in times of crisis. When an institution or project is in disarray, we count on lawyers to come in, survey the scene and prioritize, color-coding the jobs to be done with an instinctive sense of what is right and wrong, what belongs and what does not belong.” For a dissenting view, we suggest Mr. Mauro talk to some folks in the following industries: paint, fast foods, automobiles, tobacco, asbestos, homebuilding, adhesives, airlines, music, and CDs.

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: