Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #3-4

Published May 30, 2004

Another Billion-Dollar Mistake

A Beaumont, Texas jury awarded more than $1 billion to the family of a woman who died from a lung disease it claimed she contracted after taking the diet drug Pondimium, part of the fen-phen combination removed from the market by the FDA in 1997. Only problem is, fen-phen has been linked to heart valve damage, not lung disease. Even worse, the judge in the case would not allow the defendant drug company to introduce evidence that the woman had stopped taking Pondimium four years before developing her lung condition, and that four other diet drugs she took in the intervening years did warn against that particular lung disease. From The Houston Chronicle and the Web site of the American Tort Reform Association

Caps for Thee, But Not for Me

Pennsylvania has been a major battleground in the fight over medical malpractice caps. In fact, President George W. Bush launched his initiative for a $250,000 nationwide cap during a speech in Scranton last year. While Pennsylvania trial lawyers vow to fight to the death a proposed state constitutional amendment imposing a cap, they conveniently forget to mention one already exists in the state. It’s a cap of $75,000 on the amount a client can get back from a lawyer who stole his money, even if the actual amount was in the millions! From The Reading Eagle

One Yacht Per Lawyer Is Not Enough?

On May 19, the U.S. Senate voted 67 to 32 (with John Kerry not voting) to reject a proposal that would have imposed an excise tax on tobacco lawyer’s fees in excess of $20,000 per hour. You read that right: $20,000 per hour! Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) proposed the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2005; any monies raised would have increased funding for the U.S. Armed Forces. Some tobacco lawyers in fact received more than $20,000 an hour for their work on the state attorneys general lawsuit. They already have received billions of dollars, which would not be touched by the amendment. The proposal simply imposes a one-yacht-per-lawyer-rule.

Automaker Spurns Mississippi over “Unfavorable Litigation Climate”

A senior vice president of Toyota motors told the governor of Mississippi in a recent letter that the state’s legal climate was a major factor in the company’s decision not to build an $800 million assembly plant in the state. The letter said, in part, that “the litigation climate in Mississippi is unfavorable, and negatively impacts the state’s business climate.” The Democratic head of the state assembly’s judiciary committee said that by releasing the letter to the media, the governor “has given ammunition … to those who would like to continue to bash Mississippi.” The governor is in the midst of a campaign to push through major tort reform in the state. From The Clarion-Ledger and AP

Family Wins Big for Delayed Insurance Payment

After a Colorado woman and her two young children were rear-ended at a stop light in 1995, their insurance company balked at paying their $8,000 chiropractor bill. Finally, in 1998, after the company insisted the family submit to three separate medical examinations, the bill was paid. Not satisfied, the woman sued the insurer claiming “anxiety, stress, inconvenience, and fiscal risk” due to the delayed payment. Earlier this month the Colorado Supreme Court agreed and ordered the company to pay the family $300,000. From The Rocky Mountain News

Stop the Presses! Texas Judge Fines Lawyer

A Texas plaintiff’s attorney was fined nearly $18,000 by a federal judge for filing a lawsuit the judge called an “abusive manipulation of the legal system (that) attempts to legally extort money” from the Galveston school district.

At issue was the claim by the African-American director of bilingual education that she was underpaid and then fired because of her race. In his ruling, the judge pointed out she made substantially more money than her male Hispanic predecessor and that she lost her job along with 100 other school district employees because of belt-tightening necessitated by the severe economic conditions in that part of the state. The fine was for the amount of money the school district spent defending the suit. From The Houston Chronicle and The Galveston Daily News

Tobacco Money Not Going Up in Smoke

We’ve pointed out in the past that the vast majority of the money being received by the states from the $250 billion national tobacco settlement is not funding stop-smoking campaigns, as the architects of the deal said it would. Now we have some real numbers.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, it is expected that in 2004, 54 percent will go toward budget shortfalls, 7 percent for debt service, 5 percent for infrastructure–road repairs and the like–and 17 percent for health programs unrelated to smoking. Only 2 percent will be spent on tobacco control. Only seven states–Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Ohio, and Vermont–are spending 20-plus percent of their tobacco windfall on actual smoking prevention programs, a figure recommended as a minimum by the federal Centers for Disease Control. From The Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News

Raft Maker Sued in Drowning Death

The death of a child in an accident is always tragic, but too often these days the family drowns its grief in lawsuits. After a New Jersey boy drowned on a class rafting trip on the Delaware River, the family sued the boy’s school district on the basis that it never verified whether the teenager had permission to go on the trip. Looking for even deeper pockets, they also sued the company that made the raft from which the boy was tossed by a wave in fast water. From AP and The New York Times

This Little Piggy Sued in Missouri

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. recently filed suit in Kansas City against a major pig producer on behalf of every Missouri resident who lives within 10 miles of a pig farm. He claims the smell from the farms entitles the residents to “unspecified” punitive damages. While not assigning a dollar value to this particular suit, Kennedy has estimated the potential payoff from suing pork farmers nationwide could top $13 billion. In 2002, Kennedy told reporters pork farmers were a greater threat to the United States and democracy than Osama bin Laden. From Web site

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

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

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