Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #4-5

Published June 21, 2005

I’m Sorry, Don’t Sue Me

The Illinois legislature passed in May a measure aimed at easing the medical malpractice crisis in the state. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to sign the bill.

Under one provision, two Illinois hospitals will try the so-called “Sorry Works” plan risk-free for two years. Doctors and hospital staff will evaluate every bad medical outcome, and if they determine a medical error caused that outcome, the doctors and hospital staff will apologize and offer solutions and upfront compensation to the patient, family, and their attorney(s). The national Sorry Works! Coalition says, “This approach removes anger and actually reduces the chances of litigation and costly defense litigation bills.” From

No Broomsticks Permitted

The 4th U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that a Virginia County’s Board of Supervisors was within its rights in refusing to allow a self-proclaimed witch to give an invocation at its meetings. The witch, a member of the Wiccan sect, claimed the board acted unconstitutionally in refusing her request.

In its ruling, the Appeals Court relied on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted wide latitude regarding prayer at legislative gatherings. To be on the safe side, however, when the suit was filed the County Board added rabbis and a Muslim imam to its list of acceptable clergy. The witch called it “tokenism” and is planning to appeal the court’s ruling. From the ABA Journal eReport

Waiter, There’s a Finger in My Custard. Yippee!

A North Carolina man who found a severed fingertip in a pint of frozen custard in a dessert shop refused to give it back to the employee who lost it in a mixing machine accident 30 minutes before.

Apparently seeing potential big bucks in the incident, the customer refused to return the “evidence” so it could be reattached. He is keeping it in his freezer at home, showing it only in front of TV cameras and reporters.

Disgusted by the whole incident, the Wilmington Star-News editorialized, “It’s a mystery how that customer can live with himself. … People will assume [he] cared less about another person’s loss of a body part than about his chance to squeeze some bucks out of the custard stand.” Our thoughts exactly. From CNN and AP

Killed Cat Earns Owner Big Payday

A Seattle woman was awarded more than $45,000 after a neighbor’s dog attacked and killed her 13-year-old cat in her back yard.

The award included $30,000 for the replacement value of the cat a rather generous amount considering the woman had found the cat with matted fur and covered with flies abandoned on a roadside in Israel plus $15,000 for emotional distress (we assume the woman’s), $90 to have it cremated, $80 in medical expenses (we assume the cat’s), and $24.12 in interest. Her lawyer claims the total settlement was among the largest ever for the loss of a pet.

It is not, however, the largest award for emotional damage. That honor belongs to a West Coast couple who were awarded $25,000 when someone who was supposed to care for their horse and goats instead sold them for slaughter. From The Seattle Times

First Your Neurosurgeon, Then Fluffy’s Vet?

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times with the provocative title “See Spot Sue,” a local lawyer warned that increasing economic damages in pet lawsuits would have unintended consequences.

Veterinary malpractice claims have risen dramatically in recent years, as has the cost of malpractice insurance. If there were no limits on “emotional” and “pain and suffering” damages in pet lawsuits, the lawyer argues, veterinarians would be forced to pay astronomical malpractice insurance premiums, raise their fees so high that people would stop bringing their pets in for treatment, or elect to leave states where such laws are in place. Finally, fewer vets would be “willing to assist in risky cases involving critically ill or injured pets.” Sound familiar?

The Operative Word Is Extortion

We’ve reported before on plaintiffs’ lawyers, particularly in California, who file literally hundreds of disability access lawsuits, mostly against small local stores and restaurants, based on minor violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and then settle them out of court for a few thousand dollars each.

Now, someone is fighting back. A federal court found one such lawyer to be a “vexatious litigant” who had participated in a “pattern of abusive litigation, bordering on extortionate shysterism” and ordered him not to file additional suits without court permission. Defense attorneys are trying to do the same thing to another plaintiffs’ lawyer who has filed cookie-cutter disability access suits against at least 13 liquor and food stores, 10 Asian restaurants, nine Mexican restaurants, eight doughnut shops, and seven delis, all in the Sacramento area. Sometimes two or three establishments were targeted on the same day. From The Sacramento Business Journal

More Fen-Phen Funny Stuff

When the Fen-Phen diet drug settlement was first announced in the late ’90s, it was estimated there would be fewer than 10,000 legitimate claims for compensation. Of course, as everyone knows and to no one’s surprise, hundreds of thousands of litigants lined up with their hands out demanding a piece of the multi-billion-dollar settlement pie. The whole thing turned into a scandal of the highest proportions, with company lawyers, judges and claims administrators all screaming “fraud.”

Seems they were right. Most recently, an FBI and IRS probe into false Fen-Phen claims in Mississippi netted a dozen guilty pleas, and a Jackson plaintiffs’ law firm employee who “recruited” clients for the firm even if they had never taken Fen-Phen was indicted on federal charges of wire fraud and tax evasion. From The Clarion-Register

Asbestos Docs in the Dock

Even if Congress never gets around to fashioning a national asbestos settlement, there are promising signs that at least something is being done to investigate the rampant fraud that has been a hallmark of this protracted litigation.

A federal grand jury in New York is considering possible criminal charges against doctors and mass screening firms that diagnosed asbestosis and/or silicosis a lung disorder causes by long-term exposure to fine sand particles in thousands of patients without ever having met or interviewed any of them. One Texas doctor, when questioned about this by a federal judge in Corpus Christi, said he needed to retain a lawyer first. Presumably it wouldn’t be the same firm that hired him to make the diagnoses. From The New York 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
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Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

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