Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #5-6

Published May 15, 2006

San Diego County Held Liable Because Employee Killed Spouse

The family of a San Diego man who was murdered by his wife in 2000 was awarded $6 million in actual and $100 million in punitive damages by a local jury. The large punitive award was leveled in order to prevent the wife, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, from making a profit by selling her life story in a book or movie deal.

In a rare twist, the county of San Diego was judged 25 percent responsible for the man’s murder and will therefore have to pay a quarter of the actual damages but none of the punitive award. The wife worked as a toxicologist for the county and that’s where she obtained the rare and hard-to-detect poison she used to off her hubby. The county, which argued unsuccessfully that it’s not its responsibility to keep an employee from murdering her spouse, believes it will win on appeal. From The North Country Times

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Out in the Sun Again

A large California plaintiffs’ law firm has filed a lawsuit against seven major manufacturers of sunscreens, accusing them of deceptive advertising by exaggerating how successful their products are at protecting people against harmful ultraviolet rays. A lawyer for the firm called sunscreens “the snake oil of the 21st century.” The companies vigorously denied the allegations and pointed out that the sunscreens all comply with federal Food and Drug Administration rules. From AP and

Big Apple Medical Malpractice Costs Up Again

New York City recently reported that medical malpractice claims against the city last year rose for the first time in five years, costing taxpayers about $145 million in settlements and judgments. Slips and falls on “defective sidewalks” generated another $68 million in costs.

For those of you unfamiliar with how the “slips and falls” scam works, each year plaintiffs’ law firms present the city with a thousand-plus page report detailing each and every crack in any sidewalk throughout the five boroughs of New York. That way city officials cannot claim they were unaware of the sidewalk “defect” when a person’s fall results in a lawsuit against the city. Financial data from The New York Times

DVD-by-Mail Settlement a Rip-Off of Victims

A major complaint against many class-action settlements is that the plaintiffs’ lawyers make out like bandits while the alleged “victims” get next to nothing or practically worthless coupons.

The latest in this long line of lawyer-friendly settlements involved Netflix, a popular California-based DVD-by-mail service. Netflix allegedly deceived customers by failing to disclose its practice of giving the most frequent users of its service a lower priority in obtaining new films. It settled but admitted no wrongdoing.

The lawyers who brought the suit were to receive $2.5 million. Customers were to receive either a free service upgrade for one month or a coupon for free service for one month. However, if customers didn’t cancel the “freebies” at the end of the month’s time, Netflix could begin charging them for the extra services.

The Federal Trade Commission objected to the settlement, saying it “appears dangerously close to being a promotional gimmick,” but the judge in charge says he’s happy with it as it stands. Appeals will likely delay customers getting any free services at least until next year. One hopes the delay applies to the lawyers’ money as well. From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The New York Sun

Woman Falls Asleep at the Wheel: Ford Whacked for $17 Million

Everyone feels bad when someone is permanently injured in an automobile accident, but when are we going to stop blaming the car manufacturer when the blame clearly lies elsewhere?

Last year a 28-year-old Florida woman reclining in the passenger’s seat of her mother’s Ford Aerostar was rendered a paraplegic when her mother fell asleep at the wheel and rammed the vehicle into the back of an ambulance. The girl’s lawyer argued Ford should have put the “Do not recline your seat in a moving vehicle” warning on the sun visor, rather than in the owner’s manual, which the mother admitted she had not read. The jury agreed with the girl’s lawyer to the tune of $16.95 million. When is this kind of nonsense going to stop? From various sources compiled by

Staged Auto Accident Lawyer Nabbed in California

A California lawyer is accused of bilking insurance companies out of millions of dollars by staging fake automobile accidents on Los Angeles freeways and then suing on behalf of the alleged “victims.” The lawyer recruited 29 people, many of them illegal immigrants from a local Bible class, to participate in the scam, which went on for at least 18 months before authorities caught on.

In a typical accident, suspects in two cars would box in a victim’s car or truck, forcing him to rear-end the front car, which would normally be completely filled with people in an attempt to generate the highest insurance payout. More than 60 such “accidents” were staged. From The Los Angeles Times

Legal Ethics Failure Nails West Coast Law Firm

A Maine jury has ordered a Seattle law firm to pay $10.8 million to three small Northeast natural water bottling companies for violations of legal ethics.

Seems the Seattle firm, which was representing the three companies in a labeling misrepresentation suit against the owner of Poland Spring Water, dumped the three just as a settlement was about to be inked in favor of launching a class-action suit of its own. Apparently the Seattle firm thought it could generate greater revenues by switching clients at the last minute.

In an interesting sidebar, the original lawyer representing the three small bottling companies was the same one portrayed by John Travolta in the movie “A Civil Action.” He was brought in for the Seattle firm because of the complexity of the case but was subsequently eased out by the West Coasters. From The Boston Globe

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly

Published by The Heartland Institute (312/377-4000), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984.
Phone 312/377-4000, fax 312/377-5000
Back issues are available online at
Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

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

The Heartland Institute
19 South La Salle Street #903
Chicago, Illinois 60603