Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #4-1

Published January 15, 2005

Flying Shrimp

BAM! went the shrimp. A chef at the famed Benihana restaurant chain is blamed for launching a piece of grilled shrimp toward a New York man, who either ducked or opened his mouth to catch it. His death later is the subject of a suit against Benihana, filed by the deceased man’s estate, seeking $10 million in damages.

The suit alleges the man’s response to the flying shrimp–whatever that response was–caused him to injure his neck. The man had surgery to correct the injury, but complications necessitated a second surgery. He developed a high fever, memory problems, and breathing difficulty. Other possible causes of death found were a blood-borne infection, respiratory failure, and kidney failure.

At trial, the case will hinge on a legal concept called “proximate cause.” The dead man’s estate will argue the shrimp-flinging incident set in motion a chain of events that ended with the man’s death–in other words, but for the shrimp fling, the man would be alive today. The defense will argue surgical complications and infection intervened as causes, thus cutting the chain of liability for Benihana. The trial court judge ruled the issues would best be resolved at trial and denied the restaurant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. From the New York Law Journal

You’re It–Not

Concerns about lawsuits, bullying, and hurt feelings have caused three California schools to ban from school playgrounds recess games involving chasing and bodily contact. Gone are games such as tag, dodgeball, and cops and robbers. “To some degree, the school has needed to take a larger role in teaching children how to play with each other … taking turns, how to deal with conflict,” one school administrator told the Sacramento Bee. But Tom Reed, professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina Upstate, believes children miss out on learning important life lessons when games such as dodgeball are banned. “Life is not always fair,” he said. “You don’t get what you want. Things like this are learned on the playground.” From the Sacramento Bee


A toilet brush labeled “Do not use for personal hygiene” took first place in the eighth annual World’s Wackiest Warning Label Contest sponsored by the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW). Third place went to the label on a digital thermometer that can be used in either one of two bodily orifices, which warns: “Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally.” Awarded second place was a label on a child’s scooter: “This product moves when used.”

“Warning labels are a sign of our lawsuit-plagued times,” said Robert B. Dorigo Jones, M-LAW president. “From the moment we raise our head in the morning off pillows that bear those famous ‘Do Not Remove’ warnings, to when we drop back in bed at night, we are overwhelmed with warnings. Plaintiff’s lawyers who file the lawsuits that prompt these warnings argue they are making us safer, but the warnings have become so long that few of us read them anymore–even the ones we should read.” From Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch

“How Can You Tell When a Lawyer Is Lying?”

“His lips are moving.” Two men who repeated this famous lawyer joke as they stood in line to enter the New York state district court on Long Island aren’t laughing: They were arrested for disturbing the peace. The two men are founders of Americans for Legal Reform (, which blames the legal profession as a whole for the “predatory practices” of some lawyers.

The telling of the joke caused another man in line to shout “Shut up I’m a lawyer,” according to Long Island Newsday. The joke-tellers told Newsday they were merely protesting the fact that members of the public were being treated like “peasants” because they had to wait in line, while lawyers were admitted more quickly on special security passes.

“They put the handcuffs on us, brought us into a room, frisked us, sat us down and checked our driver’s licenses to see if there were any warrants out for our arrest,” one man said. Court officials said the men were “threatening” and “loud, abusive and profane.” The two are scheduled to appear in court in February Since the first article appeared, the men have been deluged by calls from lawyers offering to defend them, Newsday reports. One call came from the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Its executive director said: “It’s just bewildering and preposterous that they should be arrested for telling lawyer jokes. What’s the violation of law here?” From Newsday

This Lawyer Isn’t Laughing Either

An Illinois appellate court declined to award fees of $53,572.50 to the attorney who prevailed in a case in which his client recovered a mere $100 in damages.

The client had borrowed $225 from a payday loan company but failed to pay it back. The company filed a collection case, and the client counterclaimed he had been damaged in the sum of $45,000 because the company’s interest rate on the loan was 365 percent annually. The trial court awarded $100 in damages and just $2,000 in attorney fees.

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling, finding the attorney had billed for unnecessary work. The lawyer billed 238.1 hours at an hourly rate of $225.The lawyer defended his fees on the basis of the principles involved. From the Chicago Sun-Times

Tort Costs Grow, but at a Slower Rate

Tort costs in the United States increased by 5.4 percent in 2003, to a total of $246 billion, compared to increases of 13.4 percent in 2002 and 14.7 percent in 2001, according to a study by the Tillinghast unit of Towers Perrin. Tillinghast provides actuarial and consulting services to insurance companies and financial services firms. The study includes costs for automobile liability, product liability, property damage, and medical malpractice.

But tort costs grew in 2003 at a rate slightly higher than the overall economic growth rate in the U.S. of 4.9 percent. The “tort tax” paid by every U.S. resident in 2003 was $845, up from $810 in the prior year.

The study attributes the slower rate of growth to decreases in asbestos-related liabilities, but notes business class-action litigation continues to mushroom. It predicts that, absent structural changes to the tort system, tort costs will continue to increase by 5 to 8 percent annually. It notes uncertainties for the future include whether asbestos liabilities have decreased only temporarily, whether medical malpractice reforms enacted in some states will reduce costs, and whether obesity and prescription drug litigation will result in increased costs.

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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Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

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