Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-11

Published September 22, 2003

Texans Gun Down Plaintiffs Bar

In one of the most highly anticipated referendum votes in recent years, on September 12 Texas voters narrowly approved Proposition 12, a constitutional amendment limiting medical malpractice awards. The amendment places a cap of $750,000 on “pain and suffering” awards–$250,000 for the doctor involved and $500,000 for the hospital or other health care institution. Awards for loss of income and medical expenses are not capped. Prop 12 also allows the legislature to place caps on other types of lawsuits if it approves them by a three-fifths majority. Fifty-one percent of voters approved the amendment. From the New York Times

Don’t Be Silly, We Never Said Asbestos Was Bad

The asbestos victims compensation bill that would set up a $125 billion-plus fund to pay off claimants with alleged asbestos-related diseases faces a rocky future in the U.S. Senate this Fall. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs’ bar is not taking any chances. Since the legislation would prohibit all asbestos-related lawsuits, trial lawyers are already gearing up to switch their current and future claims from “asbestos” to “mixed dust” disease. The notion here is that, in addition to asbestos, workers were also probably exposed to other dusts, such as rock, coal, silica, and what-have-you, and it is the combination, not asbestos alone, that led to their illness. From the National Law Journal

Bet We’ve Not Seen the Last of this Nonsense

For the second time a New York federal judge has thrown out an obesity suit against McDonald’s. This time for good. When Judge Robert Sweet threw out the first suit in January, he said the plaintiffs could refile the suit if they submitted detailed information supporting their claim that deceptive advertising by McDonald’s led to their obesity. However, the judge found “the one advertisement which plaintiffs implicitly allege to have caused their injuries is objectively nondeceptive.” He also barred the plaintiffs from filing another suit. From Reuters

Turning Wheelchairs into Wheelbarrows–of Money

In what amounts to little more than a shake-down racket, a small Philadelphia-area law firm has filed more than 100 lawsuits against local restaurants and pubs claiming they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because their restrooms are not fully accessible to people in wheelchairs. All of the suits have been filed on behalf of only two men and a recently formed front group called the American Disability Institute. The suits claim the wheelchair-bound men have suffered “severe emotional distress” and demand legal fees, generally in the $2,000-$3,000 range. Many restaurants are paying simply to make the litigation go away. The president of the Institute says the plan is to file 400 to 500 suits a month until 5,000 businesses have been cited for ADA violations. From the Philadelphia Inquirer

It Takes Money to Make Money

Does it seem there are many more lawyer ads on television these days telling us of yet another horrible industry misdeed that could make us all millionaires? In fact, there are. According to the Television Bureau of Advertising, lawyers spent $311.3 million on television commercials in 2002, a 75 percent increase from the $177.2 million spent in 1999. New companies have sprung up to produce ready-made commercials to which law firms can append their name and phone number. One such company, headquartered in California, has about 40 plaintiffs’ firms as clients and a constantly updated catalogue of nearly 500 pre-made lawyer commercials about products ranging from hip implants to anti-diabetes drugs to Firestone tires. From The Recorder

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A woman who was given the wrong newborn to breast-feed has sued the hospital. Contending the mistake might have exposed her to infectious diseases (it did not), the woman is alleging that as a result of the incident she has distanced herself from her husband and lost her relationship with her daughter (now two years old). In an interesting twist, it turns out that the nurse, responsibly, promptly informed the woman about the mistake. The nurse will probably think twice about that next time. From the Charlotte Observer

What’s 42 Straight Wins for Paint, and Counting

Earlier this summer the city of Milwaukee’s lawsuit to recover $85 million from two companies it blamed for poisoning children with decades’-old lead paint was dismissed by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Timothy Dugan. The judge found the city had failed to produce any evidence the two companies’ products caused the problem. The city said it would probably appeal, which prompted a scathing letter to the editor from a group representing the city’s Hispanic population, saying the city should quit chasing frivolous lawsuits and concentrate on cleaning up the mostly poor neighborhoods where the old lead paint problem still persists. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Legal Fears Bring Halt to Normal Births after Cesareans

If you live in Klamath Falls, Oregon and you’ve already delivered a baby by Cesarean section and now want to have one vaginally, forget about it. The board of directors of the Mearle West Medical Center set the new policy based on legal implications related to the potentially high-risk procedure. A woman who insists on a vaginal birth after a Cesarean must sign a waver that would limit her ability to sue if the outcome is not favorable. Dr. Leigh Hilsinger, one of four obstetricians in Klamath Falls, said, “As a community with limited resources, we can decrease our lawsuit risks or we can quit obstetrics.” Hilsinger’s own medical malpractice insurance rose from $22,000 in 1999 to more than $100,000 for next year. From the Klamath Falls Herald and News

Florida Passes Malpractice Reform

After months of squabbling, the Florida House and Senate have reached agreement on legislation capping medical malpractice damages. Governor Jeb Bush has signed the measure, which took effect on September 15. The new law does not cap economic damages, such as medical bills and lost pay, but it does cap non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. Trial lawyers vowed to challenge the law. “If I sign this bill at 3:45, my guess is that at 3:46 they’ll be in front of a judge somewhere, beginning that process,” Bush told reporters. But he expressed confidence the legislation would survive a challenge. From Health Care News

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 newsletter is also available in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format; click here.
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