Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-5

Published April 22, 2003

Even Dogs Aren’t Safe From Lawsuit Abuse …

A bill has been introduced in the Colorado legislature that would allow cat and dog owners to sue animal abusers and veterinarians and seek damage awards for “loss of companionship” up to $100,000. In a seething editorial, The Rocky Mountain News predicted the legislation would become “yet another trough for tort-feeding lawyers” and would “spur the statewide growth of the ‘pet lawyer’ industry, and we would soon see its ads in newspapers everywhere: ‘Have you lost a pet lately?'” The editorial also said the law would clog the courts with frivolous lawsuits and drive up the cost of vets’ malpractice insurance. Sound familiar?

… But That Would Be Unfair to Pit Bulls

The two-man Florida law firm of Pape & Chandler has infuriated the president of the Florida Bar Association, among others, by its ads and other promotional materials that feature the face of a pit bull and urge those with a possible personal injury suit to call 1-800-PITBULL. Chandler told The National Law Journal a pit bull breeder called to say the firm was “besmirching the breed by associating it with lawyers.”

Shame Follows Tragedy

It didn’t take Rhode Island trial lawyers very long to bring shame to the memory of the victims of the nightclub fire in West Warwick that claimed nearly 100 lives. According to Fortune, personal injury lawyers seeking deep pockets to sue have filed suit against Clear Channel, whose Providence radio affiliate “promoted” the event. Even more incriminating, one of its DJs–who died in the fire–actually introduced the band! Also on the hook is Anheuser-Busch because a local beer distributor had arranged for the late DJ to toss Budweiser T-shirts into the crowd as a promotion. It doesn’t get much more cynical than this, does it? Actually … it does. Read on.

Smoking in Bed

The attorneys general of 49 U.S. states, many of whom once denounced and sued big tobacco companies for adding to their states’ health care expenses, have rushed to the aid of Philip Morris, the country’s biggest tobacco company. The reason: Self-interest. Philip Morris announced in early April it could not afford to post a $12 billion bond in order to appeal a $10 billion non-jury verdict against it in Illinois. The company also said it might default on its April 15 payment of $2.6 billion due to the states under the 1998 master tobacco settlement, and might even have to declare bankruptcy. Most states are now hopelessly addicted to revenue from the tobacco settlement, and many are using the funds to offset huge budget deficits. The state AGs are petitioning Illinois to reduce the bond requirement in order to keep the Golden Goose alive. From The New York Times, Financial Times, etc.

Show Me the Money
Disbursements under the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, through 2003
California $3.0 billion
New York 3.0 billion
Pennsylvania 1.4 billion
Ohio 1.2 billion
Illinois 1.1 billion
Michigan 1.0 billion
Massachusetts .96 billion
New Jersey .93 billion
Tennessee .59 billion
Georgia .59 billion
Source: Wall Street Journal

You Thought the AG Was Concerned About Your Health?

Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales and a onetime law associate have been indicted on federal charges they tried to fraudulently obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees from the state’s settlement with the tobacco industry. Morales hired five private lawyers to handle the state’s case, for which they will receive a stunning windfall of $3.3 billion in fees. So who got the juicy assignment? One lawyer who interviewed for the tobacco work but turned it down said Morales solicited $1 million in political contributions from the firms being considered. Morales is also charged with trying to funnel $260 million in legal fees from the settlement to his former law associate. From AP and The New York Times

What Some Try to Rebuild, Others Tear Down

New York City’s efforts to rebuild after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are being hampered by lawsuit abuse. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently complained that specious “slip and fall” cases cost the city more than half-a-billion dollars a year at a time when critical infrastructure and service demands were going unmet. In late March, he told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks that personal injury lawsuits by people who claim their long-term health was damaged by inhaling smoke and dust from the clean-up of the World Trade Center site could bankrupt the city within the next 20 years. He asked Congress to grant the city “retrospective indemnification” from such suits. From Reuters

When Even Ambulance Chasing Becomes Too Much Like Work

A New York City district attorney recently indicted six local lawyers who allegedly bribed hospital workers for medical records that revealed prime candidates for personal injury lawsuits. The lawyers allegedly paid hospital workers up to $300 to identify injured patients, mostly car accident victims, and to sign them up with the various firms involved in the scheme. From The New York Law Journal

Yeah, But I Can’t Sue God

A Missouri jury has awarded $80 million, including $50 million in punitive damages, to a woman whose General Motors car sped out of control while she was backing down her driveway. The car hit a tree, leaving her in a vegetative state. Her lawyer argued the “sudden acceleration” was the result of a design flaw in the car’s cruise control system GM knew about and could have fixed, but didn’t. An EMS report that the woman had suffered a “cardiac incident” while backing down the driveway, causing her to fully depress the accelerator, was not allowed to be admitted as evidence in the trial. From The National Law Journal

Sue Me, Sue You: That’s What Lawyers Do

While four of the six owners of South Carolina’s Ness Motley Loadholdt Richardson & Poole defected more than a year ago to set up their own firm, details are only now emerging about the breakup of the plaintiffs’ super firm. Guess what? It was about money. Ron Motley and buddy Joe Rice allocated 40 percent of the firm’s estimated $2-3 billion haul from the tobacco settlement to themselves, leaving the remaining 75 lawyers to fight over the rest. Now they are suing the defectors, claiming they stole clients. The defectors have counter-sued, demanding, among other things, compensation for the $18 million trophy jet plane Motley insisted the firm purchase, primarily for his own use. From American Lawyer and Business Week

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

Information on lawsuit abuse can be found on these Web sites:

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