Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-13

Published November 21, 2003

Biting the Hand that Spins the Wheel

In October 2000, a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune TV game show won $48,500 – nearly a year’s salary. Host Pat Sajak enthusiastically jumped on the man to help celebrate his victory. Now the contestant is suing the producer of the Wheel of Fortune, Sony Pictures Entertainment, for $2 million, claiming Sajak’s leap forced him to have back surgery and suffer months of pain and rehabilitation. He says he signed a release if he hurt himself spinning the wheel, but it didn’t cover being attacked by the show’s host. From The Washington Post

Love the French Teacher, Sue the School

A California appeals court recently overturned a $640,000 emotional distress award to the parents of a 17-year-old girl who had been having a year-and-a-half affair with her high school science teacher. The parents claimed the school was responsible because it failed to prevent the sexual relationship. The appeals court found, however, that allowing parents to sue in such a situation would turn schools into “virtual police states” and that “student-teacher camaraderie would not only suffer, but would have to be virtually outlawed.” If you think about it, it would be like a wife suing her husband’s employer for failure to prevent an affair between him and his secretary. Whoops! Probably shouldn’t have given someone that idea. From The San Francisco Chronicle

Next Time Stay Out of the End Zone

A man whose legs were paralyzed when fellow Ball State University students toppled a goal post onto him following a 2001 upset of football rival Toledo is now suing the goal post manufacturer. While the injured student is close to a financial settlement with the college, his lawyers launched the new suit because, they claim, the goal posts were “designed and constructed in a manner which allowed them to suddenly snap and collapse.” The fact that hundreds of celebrating students were hanging on and rocking the goal post had, of course, nothing to do with the fact it fell down. From USA Today

That Comes to About $400 an Oyster

Here’s one for the record books. A Louisiana appeals court upheld a $1.3 billion jury award to 130 oyster farmers who claimed their businesses were destroyed by a reconstruction project designed to rescue the region’s beleaguered oyster industry from an influx of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. The reconstruction did damage some of the beds while saving the vast majority, but here’s the rub: The award is worth more than the total value of all oysters harvested in Louisiana in the past 100 years!

Even worse, the farmers don’t own the property in question but lease it from the state, nor is there any evidence that the leased properties had any oysters on them to begin with. The farmers had offered to settle the suit for $15.5 million shortly before the case went to trial in 2000, but the state turned them down. From The Times-Picayune

The Miracle of Helena … Or Is it?

The New York Times has never seen an anti-tobacco story, however preposterous, that isn’t fit to print. Witness the piece on the paper’s October 15 op-ed page by Prevention magazine’s editorial director. It claims that when Helena, Montana, imposed a smoking ban in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants, heart attacks dropped 58 percent in six months. When they rescinded the ban, the heart attack rate returned to its previous level. Ergo, second-hand smoke causes heart attacks.

Only problem with the study – which has never been published, by the way – is that a similar short-lived drop in heart attacks also occurred in Helena in 1998, when smoking was permitted everywhere. Also, since heart attacks are caused by any number of factors, it is telling that no one bothered to examine any pre- or post-ban patients to check into other possible causes. Finally, if there is such a link, wouldn’t someone have noticed a similar drop in other cities that have recently banned indoor smoking, such as New York? From Fox News and Reason OnLine

A Plague on all Your Houses

Congress appears certain to once again fail to pass legislation to bring the asbestos litigation monster under control. The stumbling block is in the Senate, where Democrats followed the bidding of their trial lawyer and organized labor benefactors by killing Senator Orrin Hatch’s plan to set up a $100+ billion fund to compensate people with asbestos-related disease.

The AFL-CIO says the money being proposed is far less than will be needed; the trial lawyers aren’t satisfied with their cut of the action; and the insurance industry, which would help foot the bill, says the price tag is too high. Most experts agree the vast majority of people who would receive money under the plan do not have a recognized asbestos-related disease and will most likely never get one. From various sources

Lawyers + Loan Sharks = Champerty

Ever heard of “champerty”? It’s a centuries-old legal concept that prohibits outsiders from assisting, for financial gain, people who sue. It was designed to prevent speculation in frivolous lawsuits and to stop lawyers and companies from giving money to clients for living expenses in exchange for higher fees. Since 1998, at least 100 lawsuit-funding companies have sprung up nationwide to pursue this practice. These companies float millions of dollars each year – at interest rates ranging from 2 to 20 percent a month – mostly to low- income people who need cash for medical bills or living expenses while their personal injury lawsuits are being settled or decided.

Champerty laws already on the books have been repealed in a number of states, but Ohio recently enforced its champerty law and forced all lawsuit- funding companies to abandon the state. From Associated Press

Trial Lawyers, Inc.: America’s Most Wanted

The Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based think tank, has published a 32-page booklet titled “Trial Lawyers Inc.: A Report on the Lawsuit Industry in America 2003.” With sections on asbestos, medical malpractice, “toxic” mold, fast food, and other subjects, the booklet chronicles how the plaintiffs’ bar has acquired a stranglehold on many American industries and institutions and, through its political ties and financial contributions at all levels of government, has made itself immune from serious attempts at tort reform. The booklet can be found at

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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Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Diane Carol Bast, Paul Fisher, Dan Hales

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