Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #7-01

Published January 14, 2008

We are pleased to offer some Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly happy endings at year’s end … and best wishes for a less-litigious New Year!

Nice Guys Finish First

In February 2007 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 in court. That meant the trial had to start all over again, the judge said.

The ruling came in a case brought by Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis against two surgeons over the allegedly delayed repair of complications from gastric bypass surgery. Weis’s attorney 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 objected they should not be penalized for doing a good deed, saying “they simply stood up and tried to help.”

The case went to trial for the second time some months later, and the Good Samaritans won. Their defense was that they delayed further surgery to correct complications from the first surgery because they feared Weis might suffer a pulmonary embolism due to his weight–350 pounds–and family history of heart disease. The jury agreed their delay for these reasons was not medical malpractice.

Sources: Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, Vol. 6, No. 1. Associated Press, “Juror’s collapse leads to mistrial in Weis case,” February 20, 2007; David Abel, “Weis won’t appeal jury’s verdict–Ex-Pats assistant says he’ll ‘move on,'” Boston Globe, July 27, 2007; Associated Press, “Jury finds against Charlie Weis in malpractice lawsuit,” July 24, 2007

Cheesed Off

In August, a West Virginia man sued McDonald’s after he allegedly told them to hold the cheese on his Quarter Pounder and the restaurant allegedly failed to do so. He wanted $700 in actual damages from McDonald’s for hospital treatment of his allergic reaction to the cheese, plus a whopping $10 million in punitive damages. McDonald’s denied any liability.

It was a bad sign when the plaintiffs’ contingent fee lawyers’ association in the state raised its collective eyebrows. “We are concerned because, on face value the request for damages appears to be excessive, but we don’t know all of the facts. Right now, we’re trying to learn more about the claim,” the head of the West Virginia Association for Justice, formerly the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, said.

In September, a West Virginia legal watchdog group, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), named the man’s lawyer, Timothy Houston, as its 2007 Champion of Lawsuit Abuse. Houston nevertheless contended the suit raised “an important public health issue.” In October, Houston asked the court to take him off the case, telling the judge he was closing his law practice. The judge obliged. So much for the “important public health issue.”

In November, the plaintiff’s mother vowed to press on with the suit. “For goodness sake, after two years of trauma and stress, we do deserve something,” she said, adding, “I’m not some money-hungry person trying to make a buck off McDonald’s.” Of course not.

Sources: Cara Bailey, “Man allergic to cheese seeks $10 million from McDonald’s,” West Virginia Record, August 8, 2007; John O’Brien, “CALA calls McDonald’s lawsuit attorney year’s top legal system abuser,” The West Virginia Record September 27, 2007; Cara Bailey, “Mother of ‘Hold the Cheese’ plaintiff speaks out,” The West Virginia Record, November 28, 2007

Dethroning a Tort King

In March 2007, class-action plaintiffs’ lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who collected a billion-dollar fee in the tobacco litigation, was quickly piling up even more cash in post-Hurricane Katrina litigation.

Scruggs, who lost a house in Pascagoula, Mississippi in the storm, sued several insurance companies for not paying him and other “victims” for damages they suffered from floodwaters, even though the policy coverage clearly excluded flood damages.

Scruggs had just won an agreement from State Farm Insurance in which the company agreed to pay about $80 million to 639 policyholders, plus legal fees of $26 million to Scruggs and his firm. “It was never about the money for me,” said Scruggs at the time.

In November, Scruggs was indicted of trying to bribe the Mississippi state court judge presiding over his squabble with other lawyers over how to divvy up the $26 million. The Wall Street Journal reported the $40,000 bribe was intended to influence the judge to rule in Scruggs’ favor. At about the same time, the settlement with State Farm unraveled.

Scruggs also faces prosecution on criminal contempt of court charges for sharing State Farm documents with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood for use in Hood’s criminal prosecution of State Farm.

State Farm is fighting these “Mississippi Hoods” on all fronts, exposing the seamy, greedy underside of Mississippi law as practiced by Scruggs and his confederates who supposedly represent the “victims” of corporate greed. The New York Times reports Scruggs is now under investigation by the Public Integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The “King of Torts” may be toppling.

Sources: Associated Press, “Katrina Lawyers Stand to Collect A Big Paycheck,” January 26, 2007; The Wall Street Journal, “Mississippi Hoods,” November 15, 2007; Peter Lattman, “Plaintiffs Lawyer Scruggs Is Indicted on Bribery Charges,” The Wall Street Journal lawblog, November 29, 2007; Nelson D. Schwartz, “Court Intrigue for the King of Torts,” December 9, 2007

Last Words: Some Favorites from 2007

Wisconsin state Rep. Frank Lasee’s (R-Green Bay) bill to cut state funding for the University of Wisconsin School of Law by $1 million in 2007 and end state funding completely by 2010, leaving only tuition to support the school. Lasee introduced the bill, not expecting it to be enacted into law (which it wasn’t), but rather to make the point there are too many lawyers in the state. Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, Volume 6, No. 12 (September)

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson’s list of wacky warning labels from Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch: “Do not consult a telephone directory while driving your car; Do not use bubble-bag packing as a flotation device; Do not use a curling iron while sleeping; and Do not eat the toner in your printer cartridge.” Olson’s personal favorites: “‘Risk of fire’ on an artificial fireplace log; ‘may cause drowsiness’ on a sleeping pill; ‘contains nuts’ on a can of nuts.” Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, Volume 6, No. 1 (March)

The dismissal of a Florida woman’s medical malpractice case. She sued a hospital, alleging she was crippled by serious injuries and couldn’t walk. But the hospital’s investigators caught her walking and captured it on videotape. “This is the worst case of misrepresentation, of outright fraud, that I have ever had in 22 years,” the judge after viewing the tape. Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, Volume 6, No. 5 (May)

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
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Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

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