Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #6-1

Published March 15, 2007

We Report, You Sue

An Irish newspaper whose food critic criticized a restaurant’s food was found guilty of defamation by a jury and must pay damages of £25,000 (about $49,000), the BBC reports. The food critic not only found fault with the quality of the restaurant’s fare but also with the wait staff and “the smoky atmosphere” of the restaurant.

The restaurant owner told BBC “justice has been done” by the verdict. But a spokesman for the newspaper said an appeal is planned. “We firmly believe that newspapers must have the right to publish fair and honestly written reviews, contributed by experts in their particular field and engaging in either praise or criticism when it is justified,” he told BBC. From the British Broadcasting Corporation

Sounds Better When You Call It a Disability …

A New York man fired by IBM for violating company policy by visiting porn chat sites while on the job is suing the company for wrongful termination and for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He’s claiming $5 million in damages.

According to his complaint, the reason the man used alcohol and Internet sex chat sites while on the job was to self-medicate his post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his service in Vietnam and retriggered by the war in Iraq. He claims he is the victim of sex addiction and was discriminated against by IBM because it has treatment programs for drug and alcohol addicts but not for sex addicts, the complaint states.

He also alleges that others who have participated in more egregious acts in the office–such as openly engaging in sex acts–were merely transferred to another location, not fired like he was.

“[E]ngaging in sexual intercourse on an IBM desk is potentially more disruptive of the workplace than is a brief visit to a computer chat room,” his complaint says. From Business Week and complaint in Pacenza v. IBM Corporation, No. 04 CIV 5381, United States District Court, Southern District of New York

A Jury of Chers?

Reader’s Digest columnist Michael Crowley is taking on what he calls jury-rigging by plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and their jury consultants.

“A recent guide published by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America warned lawyers about jurors who may show ‘personal responsibility bias,'” Crowley writes. “These jurors, the guide said, feel that ‘people must be accountable for their conduct.’ Now there’s a chilling outlook! The guide advises: ‘The only solution is to exclude them from the jury.’ That is, get rid of anyone who might actually care about seeing justice done.”

Crowley also quotes Howard Varinsky, the jury consultant for prosecutors in the Martha Stewart case, who advises potential jurors be asked who their favorite famous person is. Varinsky told Crowley that a person who chooses Ronald Reagan rather than Cher, for example, might be too smart for defense lawyers to accept in a complex case. “In a case where you have a lot of complex information to process, I think you would want somebody who likes Cher.”

“With massive judgments spiraling out of control and legal costs soaring just as fast, we need to put an end to the manipulative practices that take justice out of the law,” Crowley concludes. From Reader’s Digest, April 2006,—-jury-riggers/

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished I

The judge in a Boston medical malpractice trial declared a mistrial after the two defendant doctors in the case gave first aid to a juror who collapsed during testimony, according to the Associated Press. This means the trial will have to start all over again.

The judge’s ruling came in a case brought by Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis against two surgeons over complications from gastric bypass surgery, AP reported. Weis’s attorney told AP he asked for the mistrial because “The fact that the doctors helped this juror and that the other jurors saw them do that is something that would have to be in their minds.”

The doctors’ lawyer said the mistrial was “terribly unfair to these doctors. They responded the way they were trained to do,” he said. “They simply stood up and tried to help.” It may take months to reschedule the trial. From the Associated Press

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished II

A jury in Rockland County, New York found the county was negligent in installing a curb cut–a ramp allowing wheelchair access between the sidewalk and the street–in front of a local pharmacy because the curb cut served as an “invitation” to cross the street at a “dangerous spot,” according to the White Plains Journal News.

The jury awarded $1 million in damages against the county to the family of a woman killed when she began crossing the street on a red light, the paper said.

The woman “was invited to cross at a location that really was not safe,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer told the paper. The family hopes “the county will take another look at this and try to make it safer so something like this doesn’t happen again.” From the White Plains Journal News

Beware of Wacky Warning Labels

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson, editor of the lawsuit abuse Web site, took note of wacky warning labels collected by Bob Dorigo Jones, in his New York Times review of Jones’ book Remove Child Before Folding. Jones, who is president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, which runs a wacky warning label contest each year, takes his book title from a warning label on a child’s stroller.

Among Olson’s favorites from the book, all stemming from corporate fears of abusive litigation: “Do not consult a telephone directory while driving your car (#84); do not use bubble-bag packing as a flotation device (#37); do not use a curling iron while sleeping (#26); and do not eat the toner in your printer cartridge (#10).”

Olson also adds a few of his own favorites: “‘Risk of fire’ on an artificial fireplace log, ‘may cause drowsiness’ on a sleeping pill, ‘contains nuts’ on a can of nuts.”

It’s not entirely a laughing matter, however, Olson notes. “By inuring the public to warnings, it teaches us to tune them out.” 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.
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