Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #7-06

Published April 1, 2008

I Feel Your Pain … Now Sign Here

The practice of signing up clients for potentially lucrative contingent fee lawsuits when they’re traumatized seems to have reached a new low in south Texas. A woman in the Rio Grande Valley said she was solicited at a funeral home while picking out a casket for her 11-year-old daughter, killed in an automobile accident.

“At that moment, they still hadn’t released my daughter’s body,” she said. “I wasn’t in my right mind and signed so many papers I didn’t even know what I signed.” One of the papers was a document retaining lawyers and agreeing to pay them half of any recovery, when a fee of about one-third is more typical.

According to Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) in Weslaco, lawyers in Texas solicit indirectly through doctors, chiropractors, police, tow truck drivers, funeral home directors, and even unethical members of the media. “Ambulance drivers, emergency room people are even on the payroll of some of these lawyers,” said CALA founder Bill Summers.

The dumbest move, though, was probably made by the lawyer who tried to sign up a KGBT news crew after their van was involved in a traffic mishap. That station later reported on the incident and the broader trend.

Source: “Cash for Crash,” KGBT Television, Harlingen, Texas, February 2, 2008

Food Fight

Some would call it a veggie burger, but prison inmates in Vermont are calling it cruel and unusual punishment. In their class action suit against prison officials now before the state supreme court, the inmates allege being forced to eat “nutraloaf” violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Nutraloaf” is made by mixing and then baking cubed whole wheat bread, cheese, carrots, spinach, raisins, beans, vegetable oil, tomato paste, powdered milk, and potato flakes. It’s finger food, so prison officials commonly serve it to prisoners as punishment for food-related infractions such as slinging feces around the dining room with their silverware.

In 2001 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled feeding prisoners “nutraloaf” was lawful, finding prison food in that state doesn’t have to be tasty or pretty–just nutritious. That ruling followed similar ones in the federal Courts of Appeal for the Sixth and Ninth Circuits. Considering what some of these prisoners put on their forks, nutraloaf doesn’t sound so bad at all.

Sources: Wilson Ring, “Vermont court to decide if disliked prison food is punishment,” Associated Press, March 22, 2008, via, March 23, 2008; Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (2002); Arnett v. Snyder, 331 Ill. App. 3d 518 (2001), review denied, 198 Ill. 2d 587 (2002); Childs v. Hofbauer, 27 F.3d 566 (6th Cir. 1994); LeMaire v. Maass, 12 Fed.3d 1444 (9th Cir. 1993)

First We Tax All the Lawyers …

Struggling with a $16 billion budget deficit, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tossed out a trial balloon to increase state revenues–a sales tax on legal fees and other professional services.

State officials estimate taxes on such services, plus construction fees, could raise as much as $10 billion a year.

“We have to look at the way we are taxing,” Schwarzenegger reportedly said. “There’s whole new economies that are developing, service-oriented economies.” The Recorder said even Republicans might support a tax on lawyers because of their unpopularity.

Source: Cheryl Miller, “Is Schwarzenegger Serious About Taxing Lawyers?” The Recorder, March 25, 2008

Family Tradition

A Springfield lawyer may be dead and buried but he’s not pushing up daisies. His widow is suing the cemetery after workers ripped out the flowers she had planted on her husband’s grave.

The cemetery tried to explain they have “different rules and regulations for different areas” in the cemetery, but reportedly they have nothing in writing. The widow, represented by her daughter, a lawyer, claims it amounts to discrimination because her “plantings were consistent with other plantings” in the cemetery.

Source: Sarah Antonacci, “Removal of cemetery planting spurs lawsuit,” State Journal Register, March 25, 2008, via Illinois Civil Justice League, March 25, 2008

Class Actions

First it was the “new math,” then it was “whole word recognition.” Now the latest fad in education is “sue the teacher.” Several such suits are pending in Canada. The father of a British Columbia second grader is suing a Montessori teacher, alleging she “purposely and maliciously worked to damage the self-esteem” of his son, causing him “anguish, suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, worry and loss of dignity” by failing to make the boy do his homework and not coaxing him to read.

Another teacher is being sued for failing to stop a student from being bullied. And two cases are pending against a third teacher because she allegedly caused a student to feel “fearful and constantly victimized” and allegedly “discouraged, disparaged and screamed at” another.

David Anderegg, a college psychology professor and author of Worried All the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety, blames this lawsuit trend on “parental misconceptions about self-esteem.” High self esteem is so last-year, he notes, since research now shows “adversity is actually good for children.” We’ll soon find out whether it’s good for teachers.

Source: Zosia Bielski, “The new golden rule, More parents turning to the courts when their children fail in school,” National Post, March 20, 2008, via, March 21, 2008

Poultry in Motion

A rail transportation company was negligent in allowing a goose to nest in its railroad yard in Texas, a conductor alleges in his $75,000 lawsuit against the firm.

The complaint argues CSX Transportation is liable for the conductor’s injuries, suffered when the goose “suddenly jumped out from under one of the railcars, striking plaintiff, and causing him to fall.” It remains to be seen whether the goose will lay a golden egg.

Source: Chris Dickerson, “Employee sues CSX over run-in with goose,” Southeast Texas Record via, a project of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Twist and Shout and Sue

A businessman on the receiving end of a lap dance says he was injured at a New York City “party loft” when the dancer “swiveled” and struck him in the eye with the heel of her shoe. He is suing the Hot Lap Dance Club, which has a Web site and posts testimonials from satisfied customers. One said, “It’s really more than just a place to get a lap dance in a dark corner.” We know one person who’d probably agree.

Source: “NYC Businessman Claims Lap Dance Injury,” Associated Press, March 17, 2008;

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