Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #3-5

Published June 11, 2004

One Small Step for Common Sense

The Ohio legislature became the first legislative body in the United States to pass a law requiring a person to be actually sick before he or she can file a claim based on past exposure to asbestos or silica. The law establishes strict objective medical criteria developed by the American Medical Association to determine whether an individual has an asbestos- or silica-related illness. The Buckeye State’s legislators were persuaded by recent studies showing that as many as 90 percent of all asbestos claims are filed by persons who are not sick. From the Web site of the American Tort Reform Association

Jury: Big Tobacco Must Pay for Louisiana Smokers to Kick the Habit

A New Orleans jury decided on May 21 that four major tobacco companies must pay $591 million to fund a comprehensive 10-year stop-smoking program for Louisiana citizens. Prior to this no U.S. jury in a tobacco liability trail had ever ordered Big Tobacco to pay for a program to help people quit smoking. The jury-ordered program, which would be run by a third-party administrator, would give smokers statewide free access to counseling services, medications, and such aids as nicotine gum and the patch. The jury rejected plaintiffs’ demands for lifetime medical monitoring for all state smokers. The companies said they would appeal the verdict with respect to the stop-smoking program, which cannot be launched until all appeals are settled. From The Times-Picayune

California Gun Suit to Go Forward

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to rehear the decision of a three-judge panel of the court permitting a California lawsuit against two gun manufacturers to go forward. The suit arose out of a Southern California shooting spree in which four children and two adults were killed or injured. The shooter had obtained his guns illegally. The victims claim the gun makers created a “public nuisance” by promoting the creation of a secondary market for illegal gun distribution. Eight judges dissented from the full court’s decision, predicting it would lead to similar litigation against all types of manufacturers, not just gun makers. From The Recorder

Good News from Down Under

Plaintiffs’ attorneys from the Australian state of New South Wales have been taking quite a beating since NSW instituted strict rules limiting pain and suffering lawsuits. In addition, advertising for personal injury cases has been banned. According to the Melbourne Age, personal injury claims related to public liability, assault, dog bites, slip and fall cases, and school accidents have all plummeted. The chief judge of the state court said the number of such suits had fallen from a record high of 20,784 in 2001 to just under 8,000 last year. The local plaintiffs’ bar association says two in five legal practices will close over the next year as a result. As one would expect, trial lawyers claim the reforms hurt only the poor and elderly and create record profits for insurance companies. From The Sydney Morning Herald

Plaintiffs Take Two Hits in Fen-Phen Litigation

While fen-phen diet drug manufacturer Wyeth was getting whacked with a billion-dollar verdict in Texas, the industry fared much better in Pennsylvania. There, the state Superior Court ruled plaintiffs who took advantage of the multi-billion-dollar fen-phen class-action settlement could not, in essence, double-dip by suing two French companies that made powder ingredients that went into the diet drug cocktail. Equally as encouraging, a federal judge ruled plaintiffs who opted-out of the class-action settlement could not sue as a group, but only as individuals, and each would have to pay a $150 filing fee. From The Legal Intelligencer

A Century of Delivering Babies Comes to an End

Over four generations totaling more than a century, the Schwieterman family of physicians has been delivering babies in rural Ohio. Not any more. Skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance rates are forcing brothers Drs. Jim and Tom Schwierterman to abandon that part of their practice, although they will continue to give cradle-to-grave care to their patients. Throughout its history, the family has never had a lawsuit payout, yet the insurance company was asking the brothers for $80,000 for delivering 60 or so babies a year. That’s a premium hike of about 150 percent over the past six years. Fittingly, if sadly, the brothers’ last delivery this September will be the baby of a woman their father delivered. Their grandfather delivered the woman’s mother, and the doctors’ great-grandfather delivered the woman’s grandmother. From AMA News

Outrageous Tobacco Fee Award Reinstated

Reversing a New York state judge, a Manhattan appeals court has reinstated a $1.3 billion award to a consortium of 56 law firms that represented the state of California in the 1998 national tobacco settlement. The state judge had ruled the award was not based solely on legal work done in California, as the settlement requires, but involved work done in other states and on other cases as well, and was therefore highly excessive. The appeals court disagreed, saying, in essence, that the arbitration panel that decided the award could do just about anything it darn well wanted. Since the arbitration panel was based in New York, the case had to argued in New York courts. From New York Law Journal

FDA Says Drugs it Approves Can’t Be Sued

Since the Bush administration can’t get Congress to take a serious look at tort reform, in at least one arena it is trying an end run. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has been going to court on behalf of the drug industry, arguing that as the federal agency responsible for regulating drugs and medical devices, its determination that a product is safe preempts state lawsuits seeking damages for product defects and personal injury claims. The new legal strategy has prompted predictable squeals of anguish from Democratic Congressmen, public interest groups, and trial lawyers. From The Seattle Times

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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