Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #8-21

Published November 23, 2009

More than 550 lawyers were smiling last week. That’s how many lawyers have a financial stake in the Katrina case, in which a federal district court ruled the federal government is liable for Hurricane Katrina damages in parts of New Orleans.

The court in New Orleans ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly construct levees near New Orleans and failed to maintain them, and that resulted in flooding in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and a neighboring parish. The trial was a “mini-trial” involving only six plaintiffs. But there are another 100,000 plaintiffs waiting in the wings to have this same court hear their claims. The six plaintiffs recovered a total of $720,000, which could lead to an eventual recovery of $72 million if the rest of them win.

In ruling for the plaintiffs, the court said, “It is the court’s opinion that the negligence of the corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MR-GO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness.” The MR-GO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet) is a channel constructed to cut the distance from the Gulf to the Port of New Orleans by 60 miles. Its purpose was to ease shipping difficulties experienced in World War II.

It’s relatively rare for the United States to have liability in such cases, so an appeal is certain. Meanwhile, even more such claims are likely to flood the Louisiana courts.

Source: Ashby Jones, “Whose Fault Was Katrina Damage? Judge Partly Blames Army Corps’ Failure,” Wall Street Journal Law Blog, November 19, 2009

Tip Off

Two college students were arrested and dragged off to jail in handcuffs after being charged for theft in a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania restaurant. Their crime? Failing to leave a tip.

They were with a group of other college students at Lehigh Pub. A local law–its terms printed on the menu–requires a tip of 18 percent on the bills for groups of six or more. Their bill was about $73, and the tip was $16.35.

The two students said their waitress’s service was subpar. They say she didn’t bring them silverware and napkins, because she was outside smoking, and that they had to get their own soda refills and waited more than an hour for salad and wings.

“You can’t give us terrible, terrible service and expect a tip,” said one of the students. The pair will be in court in December.

Source: Peter Mucha, “College students arrested for not paying tip,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 19, 2009, via Jonathan Turley

Flu the Coop

It’s a fate worse than jail.

A juror in a case in a suburban Philadelphia court didn’t feel well but evidently felt that didn’t sound serious enough to get out of jury duty. So he told the judge he had been diagnosed with swine flu.

The judge declared a mistrial and fellow jurors panicked, thinking they had been exposed to the dreaded disease. “He might as well have said, ‘I have the bubonic plague,'” the judge said, finding him in contempt of court.

His sentence: no jail time, but three days watching other trials.

Source: Martha Neil, “Malingering Juror With ‘Swine Flu’ Sentenced to 3 Days Watching Trials,” ABA Journal, November 19, 2009

Noise Maker

A San Francisco man is suing the San Francisco airport and numerous other defendants, alleging pollution and jet aircraft noise from the airport is responsible, among other things, for his divorce.

His suit names the airport, the counties of San Mateo and San Francisco, dozens of airlines and aircraft manufacturers, the real estate agents who sold him the home, and the former owners for public nuisance, negligence, assault, battery, fraud, and breach of contract. He claims the noise caused not only his divorce but also health and job problems. He wants $15 million in damages.

“The marriage went downhill almost immediately upon moving to this location,” he told the San Mateo County Times. “The house became extremely uncomfortable with the smog and the noise, and it caused enormous problems that led to the divorce.” The man practiced law for 30 years but was disbarred before filing this suit.

He previously sued a building owner and its manager for $20 million after he was stuck in an elevator for an hour, claiming he now has a “phobia of riding in elevators.”

Source: Mike Rosenberg, “Hillsborough man blames plane noise for divorce, sues SFO,” San Mateo County Times, November 16, 2009 via, a project of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Weed Whacker Whackers

The Service Employees International Union is threatening the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania with a grievance filing because it allowed a 17-year-old Boy Scout to clear growth to create a 1,000-foot biking and walking path in a local park. SEIU is also “looking into” the Scout, though it wouldn’t say whether it’s contemplating charges against the boy.

The city laid off 39 union workers last summer. “There’s to be no volunteers,” a union representative told the city council. “No one except union members may pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower, or clear a walking path.”

The mayor praised the Scout, who has put in 250 hours on the project. “This young man is performing a great service to the community. His efforts should be recognized as such.”

Source: Jarrett Renshaw, “Union troubled by Eagle Scout project in Allentown; After layoffs, SEIU president complains about city’s use of volunteers, contractors,” The Morning Call, November 15, 2009

Go Directly to Jail

A McHenry County, Illinois man was sentenced to six months in jail even before his trial on home invasion charges started in circuit court. His mistake was flipping off the judge. As the man was being sworn in, he raised his right hand, but only one of his fingers–the middle one.

The man was wanted for assault and aggravated battery and home invasion. He had allegedly attacked a pregnant woman in Crystal Lake, Illinois, punching her in the face and kicking her in the ribs after she fell down. He also kicked in the door of a Crystal Lake home and struck the resident with a flashlight.

Source: “McHenry County Man Flips Off Judge, Goes To Jail, Kane Kellett Was Appearing In Court On Home Invasion, Aggravated Battery Charge, CBS, November 3, 2009

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