Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #3-7

Published July 28, 2004

Jury Ignores Science Panel In Maine Trial

A Maine jury awarded a South Portland man $3 million after finding an anesthesiologist had damaged the man’s back during a diagnostic exam six years ago. The man’s lawyer claimed the doctor punctured his client’s bowel with a needle during the exam, resulting in an E. coli infection of the spine, which has now deteriorated, preventing him from ever working again.

Seems straight-forward enough, right? Wrong! In Maine, in order to discourage frivolous lawsuits, any medical malpractice case must be submitted to a panel of neutral medical and legal experts for their review. In this case, the panel found unanimously that the doctor was not at fault for the man’s injury. The jury nonetheless ignored the panel’s finding, prompting the man’s lawyer to exclaim that he would, in essence, trust juries over science every time. From The Portland Press Herald

Disability Laws Fleece Mom & Pop Shops

The latest trial lawyers’ parlor game is suing small mom-and-pop establishments–particularly restaurants–over minor violations of federal and state laws protecting the disabled. Bathroom mirrors that are inches too high, paper towel dispensers that are difficult to reach by people in wheelchairs, doors that are allegedly too heavy for the disabled to open by themselves, and other such violations are prompting lawsuits rather than requests that the problems be corrected. According to the Fresno Bee, one enterprising Los Angeles lawyer has filed more than 130 lawsuits against establishments in the Fresno area in the past two years, including 60 between March and May of this year. Many owners are settling the cases for $5,000-12,000 to avoid the much higher costs of defending themselves in court.

California Cap Law Lowers Malpractice Awards

According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, a California-based research organization, the state’s medical malpractice law, which includes a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages like pain and suffering, has reduced awards in malpractice trials by an average of 30 percent. The law also limits payments to plaintiffs’ lawyers, which have dropped 60 percent. The study looked only at cases that went to trial and did not consider whether the lower awards reduced medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors or medical bills for consumers, as proponents of such curbs predict would happen. From Associated Press

Lawyer Forced to Apologize for Frivolous Suit

A plaintiffs’ attorney who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in 1999 against a Pennsylvania gynecological oncologist has admitted the claim had no basis in fact. The lawsuit had been filed two years after the doctor conducted an outpatient biopsy that found the patient in question did not have cervical cancer. The judge in the case ruled in favor of the doctor, who subsequently sued the woman’s lawyer. The lawyer settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, but was forced to admit in a public statement that “I did not at any time, either before I filed suit or afterwards, obtain an opinion from a qualified medical expert regarding” the doctor’s care. “I also understand now … that it hurts to be the target of a lawsuit and its critical allegations even if you know they are without merit,” the statement concluded. From a press release by the Pennsylvania Medical Society

Trial Lawyers Triumphant–For Now

The announcement by the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, that he had selected ex-trial lawyer Senator John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate sent shivers of glee throughout the trial lawyer community and shivers of terror throughout the American business world. Expect the plaintiffs’ bar to pump every dime possible into placing one of its own a heartbeat away from the presidency. Expect also a concerted effort to make “frivolous lawsuits” and “runaway jury awards” a major theme of the Republican campaign. Warning to Republicans! Don’t let the Democrats paint you into a corner so that you are perceived as being in favor of preventing an attractive, sympathetic woman with a botched cancer operation from having her day in malpractice court. From numerous sources

Senate Sends Tort Reform Down the Tubes

The U.S. Senate once again earned its reputation as the “round file” of tort reform. By a vote of 44-43, it failed to end debate on the so-called Class Action Fairness Act of 2004. Sixty votes were needed to enable the Senate to act on the bill. Republicans blamed Democratic Senators who had previously agreed to support the legislation but turned against it in the end. Among other provisions, the bill would have limited forum-shopping and moved from state to federal court certain class action lawsuits with a value exceeding $5 million. It also would have curtailed so-called coupon settlements, in which class members get coupons of little value while their lawyers make millions. From The New York Times and The National Law Journal

Now Here’s a Law that Needs Changing!

A Los Angeles jury awarded $43.6 million to the families of three people killed in the 1997 crash of a SilkAir plane in Indonesia. The jury found the cause of the crash to be defects in the rudder control system and concluded the hydraulic equipment manufacturer was to blame and therefore had to pay. But the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigated the crash, had determined there were no mechanical defects on the plane and the pilot intentionally crashed the plane into the ground. Under federal law, however, NTSB reports cannot be introduced as evidence in a trial. The manufacturer plans to challenge that statute in its appeal. From The Singapore Business Times

Your Cheating Heart Turns Into Gold

A Houston private detective agency has tentatively settled a lawsuit by the children of an orthodontist who was run over and killed in the parking lot of a local motel by his second wife. Seems hubby was cheating on her, and–acting against its own policy–the detective agency helpfully told her where to find him and his girlfriend. The wife immediately drove to the motel in her Mercedes with her 18-year-old stepdaughter along for the ride. When the husband tried to make a run for it, the wife ran him down. The wife is serving 20 years in prison for the murder. Also settling with the man’s children was the motel, which the children’s lawyer claimed had no procedures in place for dealing with domestic disputes. 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
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