Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-2

Published February 15, 2003

Lawbreakers Can Sue Too . . . And Win

Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock describes the case of a deranged New Yorker who shot and wounded his parents and himself in a June 1995 incident. While recuperating in a local hospital from his wounds, he yanked the tubes and monitoring devices from his body, then leapt off the second story of an adjacent parking garage in a suicide attempt. He then sued the hospital for failing to treat his depression and keep him indoors. Last October, he won $9 million. (Murdock’s report was inspired, at least in part, by our item on the New York City woman who won a $9.9 million jury verdict for attempting suicide by lying on railroad tracks in front of an oncoming subway train. We know because he called us for additional details.) From The Sacramento Bee

If You Win, Buy Them a Quarterback

Cincinnati county commissioner Todd Portune has sued the Cincinnati Bengals football team and the National Football League, claiming the team violated its stadium lease by failing to be competitive. The Bengals were 2-14 last season and haven’t made the playoffs since 1990. The suit contends the Bengals coerced construction of a new 65,000-seat, $458 million stadium by threatening to move to another city, and negotiated a sweetheart deal that gives the Bengals essentially all stadium-related revenues for only nominal rent. From The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Gun Is Not Defective if It Shoots

We reported in a recent issue that a West Palm Beach jury had found a local gun dealer negligent for failing to supply a safety lock for a handgun used by a teenager to kill his middle-school teacher. The jury awarded $1.2 million to the widow of the teacher. The decision was widely hailed by anti-gun advocates, but now a Florida Circuit Court judge has thrown out the verdict. The judge ruled the negligence claim depended on the gun being found defective; since the gun worked perfectly, there was no basis for the award. From The New York Times.

Fast Food Is Safe . . . For Now

A federal judge in New York City threw out a multimillion-dollar lawsuit by parents who claim their children became obese from eating at McDonald’s. In a 64-page opinion, the judge found, among other things: parents ought to know eating fast food tends to increase weight in children; the parents should have exercised more responsibility for their kids’ eating habits; allegations that McDonald’s “targeted”children were “mere puffery”; and there was no evidence the children ate primarily at the McDonald’s outlets cited in the suit. The judge also agreed with McDonald’s that allowing the suit to continue “could spawn thousands of similar suits against restaurants,” thus potentially creating courtroom gridlock. From The National Law Journal Insurance Executive Shocks Striking Docs

The president of Florida’s largest malpractice insurer shocked a gathering of 600 Palm Beach County doctors by saying if a cap on “pain and suffering” damages were enacted in Florida, it would reduce insurance rates by a mere 16 percent over three to five years. He blamed the malpractice insurance industry itself for the crisis by cutting rates in the mid-’90s to build market share and raise cash for investing in the booming stock market. Other insurers, however, say a crisis in malpractice insurance predated the stock market crash. From The Palm Beach Post

Dog Bites Dog

When the noted plaintiffs’ law firm of Millberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach threatens to sue someone, it isn’t news. But when that someone is a group of other law firms, it is. Millberg Weiss noticed certain firms were copying, either in whole or in part, complaints Millberg Weiss had filed in a number of stockholder suits. They started putting copyright notices on some of their complaints and registered them with the U.S. Copyright Office. When the copying continued, cease-and-desist letters were sent to about 10 firms around the country. As of late November, none of the firms had responded. Stay tuned for more on this one. From The National Law Journal

Fruits, Nuts, and Burritos

Three counties in California and four in Texas appear on the list of the 11 counties, cities, or judicial districts in the country that are most biased in favor of plaintiffs, according to a survey of its members conducted by the American Tort Reform Association. These jurisdictions may be great if you’re a “victim” looking to reap a windfall, but they are “judicial hellholes” for businesses, insurers, and the rest of us who pay for outrageous awards through higher prices, less choice, and higher insurance premiums. Maybe it’s something in the food . . . or maybe jurors spend too much time out in the sun?

Exporting Our Plague

Forum-shopping in the United States is a common practice whereby trial lawyers file class action or jumbo consolidation lawsuits in plaintiff-friendly states or counties, even though only one or a handful of the claimants live in that jurisdiction. Now that practice has spread to Europe as well. According to Forbes, recent train disasters in Austria and Germany that killed more than 250 people have resulted in the filing of massive personal-injury lawsuits in New York City, even though very few Americans were among the casualties and most of the defendants are European companies. The concept is to avoid European legal rules that ban contingency fees, cap damages, require the losing side to pay the other side’s legal fees, and restrict discovery and the use of class actions. As reported on

That Picture Is Worth $21 Million

In October of last year, attorneys for DaimlerChrysler appealed a jury award of $21 million to Linda M. Gilbert, a millwright who worked at the DaimlerChrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, for alleged sexual harassment. Ms. Gilbert did not claim her fellow workers ever touched her, propositioned her for sex, or threatened retaliation, only that she was harassed verbally and taunted with pornographic pictures. The award, according to DaimlerChysler, is 70 times the maximum award allowed under federal harassment law, but has survived court challenges because the jurors said it was for pain and suffering damages, not punitive damages. From The New York Times

Published 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

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