Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #3-1

Published February 20, 2004

Goody, Now I Can Go Buy a Stick of Gum

Citibank recently settled a class-action lawsuit dealing with the manner in which the company assessed late fees on its credit cards. Seems the bank charged consumers a late fee if their payments arrived after 10 a.m. on the date the bill was due. The bank agreed to move the time back to 1:00 p.m. and to pay $18 million to more than 20 million card-holders, based on usage. Most people got a few pennies. The lawyers who brought the suit, however, collected more than $7 million. From The St. Petersburg Times

Can You Spell Personal Responsibility?

The family of an obese 54-year-old Cleveland man who died of a heart attack won $3.5 million from the man’s doctor, who the family claimed didn’t do enough to help save his life. The man also smoked, had a stressful job, and was a latent diabetic. The doctor had made dietary recommendations, urged the man to stop smoking, prescribed drugs to treat his diabetes, and referred him to a cardiologist for follow-up evaluation and a stress test. The man followed essentially none of those recommendations, but the jury nonetheless found the doctor hadn’t done enough to help his patient. From American Medical News

You Knew It Was Only a Matter of Minutes

A Tennessee woman has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, claiming she and millions of other Americans were “injured” when singer Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s blouse during the recent Super Bowl, exposing her breast. The suit names Timberlake, Jackson, broadcasters MTV and CBS and their parent company, Viacom. It charges viewers “were caused to suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment, and serious injury.” It neglects to specify, however, the precise type of “serious injury” allegedly suffered by the lead plaintiff. From Associated Press

Indians Want Wampum for Crayons

The Delaware Nation, an American Indian tribe that once occupied most of what is now eastern Pennsylvania, is suing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to reclaim a small patch of its ancestral homeland. The tribe claims the land was stolen from them by descendants of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Specifically, the tribe wants approximately 315 acres on the south bank of the Lehigh River, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia. The land is currently occupied by the Binney & Smith Company, makers of Crayola brand crayons. Rather than deprive millions of American kids of their crayons, the tribe has magnanimously offered to give up its lawsuit in exchange for the right to build and operate a gambling casino elsewhere in the state. From The Legal Intelligencer

Talk About a Return on Investment

A woman who paid out $50 a month for nearly three years for a phony $25,000 life insurance policy was awarded more than $1.6 billion by a Tuskegee, Alabama jury. The salesman who sold her the policy and then pocketed the money was ordered to pay the woman $10 million in compensatory damages and $800 million in punitive damages. Deciding she should actually see some money, the jury whacked the insurance company for which the salesman worked for the same amount, even though there was no evidence the company was aware of the fraud. Apparently the jury believed the company should have been more careful in its hiring practices, since the salesman had earlier pulled off the same scam while working for another insurance firm. From Associated Press

Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know

In a scathing 137-page article in The Pepperdine Law Review, Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman contends the mass medical screenings that led to the asbestos litigation monster engulfing hundreds of American companies is nothing less than fraud on a massive scale. Between 50,000 and 100,000 asbestos-related injury claims are being filed each year. Brickman says 90 percent of the claimants “have no discernible illness or impairment,” yet as many as 60 percent are being diagnosed as having asbestos-related diseases by a relatively small cadre of doctors in thrall to their trial lawyer benefactors. According to Brickman, over the years more than 475,000 “meritless asbestos claims” have won an average of at least $60,000 from defendants, for a total of $28.5 billion in unwarranted recoveries. More than $10 billion has gone to plaintiffs’ lawyers. From The National Journal and The St. Louis Post Dispatch

Stop Plowing the Driveways of Trial Lawyers

If you live in the northern half of the United States, where snowfall has been exceedingly heavy this winter, the arrival of a snowplow at the end of your driveway is a very welcome sight. In Canada, however, where winter conditions are generally far more severe than in the lower 48, people to snowplow your driveway are hard to come by. Why? Litigation, of course. Because of a proliferation of “slip and fall” lawsuits, insurance rates for snowplowers in the Toronto area, for example, have gone up about 500 percent over the past two years. According to the Canadian press, many small operators can’t afford the insurance and thus have simply quit plowing snow.

A Marriage Made in Hell Redux

In the aftermath of the huge 1998 $250 billion-plus national tobacco settlement, a few ingenious tobacco entrepreneurs took advantage of a loophole in the deal between “Big Tobacco” and state attorneys general–by starting up hundreds of renegade tobacco companies. Operating outside of the settlement, these companies–peddling cigarettes with names like Grim Reapers, Black Death, and Gravediggers–can sell their product at about half the price of the major tobacco companies. The result has been a dramatic drop in “Big Tobacco’s” market share and a subsequent drop in state revenues from the settlement. For not the first time–and probably not the last–the states are coming to the rescue of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg (formerly known as the Merchants of Death), rapidly passing laws in state legislatures across the nation to protect their investment in the continued prosperity of the tobacco industry. From Associated Press

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.
Phone 312/377-4000, fax 312/377-5000
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Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Diane Carol Bast, Paul Fisher, Dan Hales

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