Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-14

Published November 20, 2003

Trial Lawyers Pick Pockets of Panhandlers

In the face of a lawsuit claiming the civil rights of panhandlers had been violated, Chicago stopped ticketing, and in some cases arresting, beggars. The city offered winter clothes — long underwear, socks, hats, gloves and the like — in restitution. The panhandlers and their lawyers scoffed at the offer and demanded cash. And they got it. Some 3,000 panhandlers will get up to $450 apiece out of a pool of $99,000. Their lawyers, from three firms, will split $375,000. Doing the math reveals that the law firms will receive 833 times as much money as any individual panhandler. From The Chicago Sun-Times

Dolly Parton Is No Match for Trial Lawyers

When she built her Dollywood theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, country singer Dolly Parton decided to give free admission to people who are blind, deaf, or in wheelchairs. Unfortunately, she has been forced to rescind that generosity. A nonprofit Florida advocacy group called Access Now, Inc. and a local Tennessee woman sued the park under the American for Disabilities Act for giving free passes only to certain types of disabled people, but not all. Dollywood lawyers say the park staff lacks the training to judge degrees of disability, so they canceled the program. They will estimate how much the program cost the park and donate that amount to charities that help disabled people. From The Nation Law Journal and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times

You Mean It Doesn’t Come from Poland, Either?

Can you believe it? “Poland Spring” bottled water doesn’t actually come from a spring? For this incredible act of deception, Nestle Corporation agreed to a $10 million settlement with a Chicago-area plaintiff who also happens to be a County Sheriff. Of the money, $8 million will be spent in water coupons to consumers and donations to charity. The company also agreed to change the process it uses to obtain the water it sells. The lawyer who brought the suit will get $800,000 in fees and his co-counsel $540,000. The Sheriff gets $12,000. Lawyers from around the country who filed similar suits are planning to appeal the settlement, figuring there’s more money where that $10 million came from. From Suburban Chicago Newspapers

Will Sand Be the Next Asbestos?

What’s the next asbestos? Some say “toxic” mold, some say lead paint. How about silica? The dust from crushed sand is ubiquitous enough to satiate trial lawyer cravings for cash for a decade or two. Inhaled in heavy quantities, silica can cause a debilitating disease known as silicosis. Like asbestos and coal dust, it permanently scars the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. Mississippi has become the mother lode of silica litigation, with some 17,000 cases already on the books. Lawyers in the state have set up mass lung screenings for potential claimants, many of whom were falsely “diagnosed” with asbestosis when that industry had any money left and are now trying to double-dip with silica. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger

German Common Sense

Unlike their American counterparts, most European courts reject out of hand the notion that cigarette companies should be held liable for the health problems of smokers. As far as they’re concerned, you’re an idiot to smoke but if you do, don’t blame the companies. Latest to weigh in on this issue is a civil court in western Germany that tossed out the country’s first lawsuit by a smoker demanding compensation for a smoking-related illness. The court found the man had not provided evidence his severe heart condition was directly linked to his smoking, and that “it was not clear the defendants had acted illegally or in a manner for which they could be held liable.” From Reuters

$6 Million Is Nothing To Sneeze At

A study published this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found no link between the genetically engineered corn Starlink and potentially dangerous allergic reactions. Three years ago, when Starlink was approved only for animal feed, it found its way into products intended for human consumption. A Florida optometrist, one of three named plaintiffs in the inevitable class action lawsuit that followed, asked to be tested. He was fed Starlink corn, other corn, and a placebo on different days. Nothing happened. Unfortunately, the manufacturer had already settled the suit for $6 million worth of food discount coupons. (Did you get yours?) The lawyers got millions in cash. The Florida doctor hasn’t said whether he’ll return his $10,000 cut of the action. From The New York Times

Lawyers Go Bowling with Osama bin Laden

Libel laws in Great Britain are the exact opposite of those in the U.S. British libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant — usually the media — to prove what they printed or broadcast was true. A group of wealthy Saudi Arabian families are taking advantage of British law in an attempt to silence their critics, even those in the United States. The Wall Street Journal printed stories linking certain Saudi families to the funneling of money to Islamic terrorist groups. Because the Journal has a European edition, it has been sued in British courts for holding the Saudi businessmen up to “odium, ridicule [and] contempt.” The Journal trial is scheduled to begin in December. One British plaintiffs’ attorney bragged that Osama bin Laden has “done wonders for the defamation (libel) bar.” From Newsweek

Democrats Block Class Action Reform Again

In late October, Senate Democrats once again derailed Republican-backed legislation to limit lawsuit abuse. S. 274 would have heightened judicial scrutiny of settlements and moved more cases into federal courts. It was, at best, a modest step in the right direction. But even this step was too much for Sen. Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who persuaded his Democratic colleagues to filibuster the bill. Every Republican except Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama voted for the bill, as did eight Democrats. From Associated Press and Illinois Civil Justice League

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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