Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #6-6

Published May 30, 2007

Thanks a Million-Plus

The lawyers for the plaintiffs in a class-action case hit the jackpot before a Cook County Circuit Court judge in Chicago but were severely reprimanded, as was the defendant, by the judge in a companion case in North Carolina. Both suits alleged Sears, Roebuck and Co. marketed and sold unnecessary four-wheel alignments on automobiles.

According to the North Carolina complaint, the four-wheel alignments are needed only for vehicles with front-wheel drive or an independent rear suspension. Rear-wheel drive vehicles require only a two-wheel alignment. The suits alleged Sears marketed and sold only the more expensive four-wheel alignments.

In the Chicago case, the attorneys received a fee award of $1,050,000, and the class received a total of $2,402 in cash and coupons–not per plaintiff, but for the total class.

The North Carolina judge was outraged. “The shocking incongruity between class benefit and the fees afforded counsel and the representative leave the appearance of collusion and cannot help but tarnish the public perception of the legal profession,” he wrote in an opinion dismissing the case.

Source: Moody v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 02 CVS 4892, New Hanover County, North Carolina Superior Court, May 7, 2007

Dogged Determination

Joint custody of a dog owned by a deceased Memphis man who died without a will was awarded in early May to his divorced parents by a probate court under an agreement between the parents. The dog, a 13-year-old golden retriever named Alex, will spend alternating two-week periods with each of the parents. The parents also agreed to provide veterinary treatment twice a week for Alex’s arthritis.

The agreement reflected the recommendation of a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the dog’s interests. “Guardians ad litem commonly are appointed to represent minor children or incapacitated adults in court proceedings, but legal observers cannot recall another local case in which one was appointed to represent a dog,” a Memphis newspaper reported. Attorneys for the two sides, who declined comment, now are shifting their focus on the estate itself, which is estimated to be some $2 million.

The guardian said the issue was highly emotional because the son killed himself, and his parents view the dog “as an extension of their son in some ways.” There was no indication of whether Alex testified.

Source: Lawrence Buster, “Parents to share deceased son’s dog; Court now shifts focus to man’s $2 million estate,” [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, May 8, 2007

A Lesson in Ethics

An Ohio high school honor student who was disciplined and criminally charged for hacking into a teacher’s computer to look at a future biology test has sued the school district, school officials, and the teacher. His parents joined him in the suit.

As a result of the hacking episode, the student was suspended for five days and received a failing grade on the test. The district also filed juvenile court charges of unauthorized use of property against the student.

The suit alleges that the student, in the U.S. on a student visa, was denied special counseling, was treated “far” more harshly than other students, and that his rights were otherwise violated. The district said the suit was “without merit and we’re certain we will prevail.”

Source: Marci Piltz, “Kent student sues over suspension; Allegedly hacked into computer,” [Kent, Ohio] Record-Courier, May 3, 2007

Here We Go Again, Again

Last month [#6-4], Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly reported on a suit against Starbucks for damages suffered by a woman who was sold “scalding hot coffee,” reminiscent of the 1994 suit for the same thing against McDonald’s.

Now McDonald’s has been sued again. A Texas woman says the restaurant failed to warn her that the coffee was hot. She is seeking unspecified damages.

Source: David Yates, “Hot cup of Joe lands McDonald’s in lawsuit,” Southeast Texas Record, May 2, 2007; Nancy Wilstach, “Woman claims Starbucks coffee caused burns, sues,” Birmingham News, March 30, 2007

Playing for Big Money

Wood chip surfaces installed in school playgrounds to prevent injury discriminate against wheelchair-bound disabled students, a federal district court judge in Oakland, California ruled on May 5. The suit was brought by a group called Disability Rights Advocates, alleging the surfaces prevent children from wheeling themselves to swings and slides.

“Our experts and people with disabilities tell us that wood chip surfaces are not accessible,” said a spokesman for the group. “They constantly form mounds and gullies … and they’re impossible to maintain. Little kids in wheelchairs are already struggling to get around, they have less muscular strength, and it’s important that play structures be easily accessible for them so they can be mainstreamed (with other children) as much as possible.”

The district is exploring installing rubber mats in their playgrounds at an estimated cost of $2.7 million. No one wants to see discriminatory treatment of the disabled, but at the risk of being politically incorrect, there are some obvious questions here: Should little kids in wheelchairs be allowed to wheel themselves over to the swings and slides and play on them in the first place? Wouldn’t that subject the school to a negligence suit?

Source: Bob Egelko, “Wood chips ruled unfriendly to disabled kids,” [Contra Costa County] Chronicle, May 5, 2007

A Judge Clears the Air

A California law firm that advertised in a newspaper for a plaintiff to bring a class-action lawsuit against Oreck Direct LLC was reprimanded last week by a federal judge who declined to certify the class action. The plaintiff who responded to the ad said he had not read the complaint before it was filed in his name and met his lawyers just before his deposition.

The suit alleges an air purifier manufactured by Oreck failed to purify the air.

“The conduct in this action does not look good, does not sound good, and does not smell good. In fact, it reeks,” the judge said. “It is clear from the record that plaintiffs counsel, and not plaintiff, is the driving force behind this action,” she wrote. The law firm disagreed, saying the suit would benefit the public.

Source: Peter Lattman, “Firm’s Choice of Plaintiff Gives Judge a Bad Reaction,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2007

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