Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #8-23

Published December 21, 2009

A Cook County sheriff’s department custodian will collect a little more than $14,000–over toilet paper.

The custodian claims she injured her back twice by “reaching around to pick up a piece of toilet paper.” She remains on the job.

Source: Lisa Donovan, “County Out $14K for toilet paper injury,” Chicago Sun-Times, November 19, 2009 via, a project of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Finger Feud

The Pittsburgh Police Department has been breaking the law for years, the department admitted recently, by arresting people for disorderly conduct for “flipping the bird.” This has cost the city $50,000 already in one payout, with more cases likely in the pipeline.

Between March 2005 and July 2009, 198 persons were ticketed for disorderly conduct in the city for making the obscene gesture, even though the state supreme court has found the gesture is a constitutionally protected expression of speech. The city agreed to pay one of the arrestees $50,000 and to retrain police officers on what constitutes disorderly conduct–and what doesn’t.

“I felt really let down by the system,” the settling defendant said. “A lot of good things have come out of this,” he added: He’s thinking about going to law school.

Source: Sean D. Hamill, “Citation for Gesture Costs Pittsburgh,” New York Times, November 24, 2009 via

Deadly Shell Game

An amateur herpetologist in Georgia was acquitted of criminal charges of illegally possessing about 500 turtles, many of which he had tenderly raised from hatchlings over the past 20 years. The turtles didn’t fare as well after government authorities confiscated them. About 300 of them died while in the supposedly protective custody of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Even the survivors are scarred and pitted, the man said, and one had its leg bitten off by an otter. About 44 turtles are still being kept by the state. The man plans to sue to recover the turtles and about $1 million in damages.

Source: Andria Simmons, “Man acquitted of endangerment, but his animals died in custody, 300 of 500 turtles seized from Steve Santhuff died,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 31, 2009 via Jonathan Turley

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A Denver resident was engaged in doing a good deed–helping two little old ladies across the street during a snowstorm–when he saw a pickup truck heading toward them. He pushed the ladies out of the way and was struck himself. He suffered a brain injury, broken bones, and a dislocated shoulder.

When he woke up in the hospital, something else was waiting for him: a ticket for jaywalking.

Source: Brian Sullivan, “Heroic Hassles,” ABA Journal, November 1, 2009

Antisocial Media

A Canadian woman who was receiving sick-leave payments from her employer because of her alleged depression is suing the company after the benefits were cut. The company’s insurer concluded the woman is no longer depressed and is able to work. The proof is on Facebook.

The woman posted photos on the social networking site showing her having fun at her birthday party, on vacation, and at the all-male erotic dancers show Chippendales. The woman said her doctor recommended evenings out with friends, and it works temporarily. “In the moment I’m happy,” she said, “but before and after I have the same problems.”

Source: David Colker, “Facebook photos could be hazardous to your health benefits,” Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2009

Foul Ball

A Bronx school has offered $20,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a student-spectator hit by a ball during a dodgeball game.

The school gave players in the school gymnasium soccer balls to play with rather than the “gentler red dodgeballs” typically used. The boy’s lawyer said soccer balls are harder and hurt more when a student is struck.

The student was sitting on the sidelines because he didn’t want to participate in the “brutal game.”

Source: Minara El-Rahman, “School Hit With a Lawsuit over Dodgeball Game Injury,” FindLaw, November 18, 2009 via

Hourly Grilling

With lawyers’ hourly rates skyrocketing, their billing practices are increasingly under scrutiny. Here are the 10 worst abuses, according to Business Insider:

1. Double-billing two clients for the same hour of work. According to a 2007 survey, one-third of lawyers in the U.S. admit to doing this occasionally.

2. Padding hours. This can involve rounding up (work 1½ hours; bill for 2 hours) and outright fakery: One Chicago lawyer billed 150 hours when he worked only 50.

3. Billing for overhead. Quarterback Michael Vick was billed for running air conditioning over weekends and for taxi rides home for lawyers working late.

4. Trivial tasks. Some lawyers have gotten slapped for using high-priced talent to do mundane work, such as sending a paralegal billed out at $190 per hour to deliver a letter. FedEx would have been much cheaper, a judge observed.

5. Expense accounts. One New York lawyer, now disbarred, billed clients for personal meals and for first-class air travel when he took coach.

6. Exorbitant rates. The top rate at one U.S. firm was $1,260 per hour. Two other firms topped $1,000 per hour. Business Insider notes, “There is something wrong about four-figure hourly rates. … That counsel better be good.”

7. Inefficiency. Hired to recover billions of dollars lost in a Ponzi scheme, the lawyers at one firm billed its client $27 million to recover just $81 million.

8. Negligence. Lawyers who collect their fees upfront sometimes fail to do the work. This has been a particular problem in foreclosure cases recently.

9. Training. Some business clients, taking a close look at descriptions of the work done, have concluded they’re paying for training the rookie first-year lawyers at large firms. One firm is suing its former lawyers, alleging the young associates have “inadequate experience.”

10. Working while sleeping. One Chicago bankruptcy lawyer is famous for billing 5,471 hours in one year, pulling 52 all-nighters in the process.

Source: Lawrence Delevingne and Gus Lubin, “10 Ways Lawyers Rip-Off Clients,” Business Insider, November 16, 2009 via

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