Articles Posted in Frivolous Lawsuits

A poll recently released by the Defense Research Institute found that an overwhelming majority of respondents found that our civil courts are fair.

Check out the DRI’s release here. Note that the headline says “41% Doubt Fairness of Civil Courts” when the article explains that 58% expressed confidence in court decisions.

There are other interesting nuggets here as well. 83% said that the side with the most money for lawyers usually wins. That’s really interesting in terms of personal injury litigation, where generally only one side has money for lawyers, and the other side only has a lawyer at all because of the existence of a contingent fee agreement.

One of the biggest names in the “legal blog” field is, primarily written and edited by Walter Olson. The site’s self-description states:

“ explores an American legal system that too often turns litigation into a weapon against guilty and innocent alike, erodes individual responsibility, rewards sharp practice, enriches its participants at the public’s expense, and resists even modest efforts at reform and accountability.”

I love the site, and read it nearly every day even though as a trial lawyer I am clearly on the other side of the debate. I often disagree with Mr. Olson, but over the years I have grown to respect the work he does. Like I said, I’m on the other team, but I think Overlawyered is usually intellectually honest. One of the main things we see on Overlawyered is sharp critiques of lawsuits seen as frivolous or unfair.

Today’s paper has an article about a lawyer from Frederick County who has sued the state over an incident where he was arrested in the Court of Appeals building. According to this Baltimore Sun article, the regular bailiff was out, so he was replaced with a police officer from the state’s Department of General Services. When the lawyer arrived at the courthouse, dressed in a slovely fashion, he was asked to show ID. He refused, and lied to the officer. He said he left his ID in the car, when it was actually in his pocket. He was then arrested. The charges were dismissed for lack of probable cause. Now the lawyer has sued for $700k for his “wrongful” arrest.

This is the same guy I wrote about here, when he rudely interrupted a trial judge, showed tremendous disrespect, and stormed out of a courtroom while the judge was hearing the case. In a wrongly decided opinion, the Court of Appeals let him off the hook because the judge made some procedural mistakes in handling the contempt ruling.

It looks like he didn’t learn much. Perhaps he is correct that there is no legal requirement that you show ID when entering the Court of Appeals building. But a person entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of being a member of the Maryland Bar should know better than to handle it the way this guy apparently did. Just because you have the right to act like a jackass doesn’t make it a good idea.

Judge Judy is pulling down $15 million a year for a show that lasts 22 minutes a day, exclusive of commericals.

I hate Judge Judy. People see her show and think it bears a resemblance to real court cases and real lawsuits, which it does not. And her behavior is flat-out unaceptable for a real judge.

Hot of the presses is a new “study” on “Tort Liability Costs for Small Business” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s tort reform propaganda ministry, the dubiously named “Institute for Legal Reform.”

I found this through the efforts of Walter Olson at Overlawyered. I’m ambivalent about reading, and linking to, Walter’s site. It’s not that his site is no good. In fact, just the opposite. The site is outstanding, and is a fantastic resource for news about the legal system. Its just that Overlawyered is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Man, Inc. And you know how I feel about The Man. Nonetheless, I will continue giving credit where it is due.

The report itself is more of what I have come to expect from this source. It wears the sheep’s clothing of objectivity, but an examination of the sources and methods it uses reveals the wolf beneath. Consider this:

Peter King is one of my favorite sportswriters. His Monday Morning Quarterback column for Sports Illustrated has a regular section called “Ten Things I Think I Think.” He is an intelligent guy and a better writer than me, so instead of coming up with an idea of my own I stole his. So here are some things I think I think (but I might be wrong):

Walter Olson points out that the $75 million liability cap in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 does not override state law remedies that may apply to the BP oil spill. His point is that the $75 million cap in the federal law may not be the upper limit of BP’s actual liability, depending on the amounts recoverable under state law. Yeah, but lots of states have damages caps that apply to common law tort claims arising under state law. I do not know if Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have caps that would apply, but I think it’s an important piece of information to know if you are analyzing whether the damages cap in the federal law needs to be changed.

Many lawyers in Maryland (and elsewhere, presumably) believe that to be admissible, expert opinion evidence needs to be accompanied by some sort of magic words like “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” First, I think that is not the law. I think it is sufficient if it is clear that the standard is “more likely than not” for an expert in whatever field is applicable. And I think if the law is that some magic words are required, that is a stupid requirement that should be changed. It is clunky, cumbersome, overly technical, and a perfect example of lawyerspeak that clues the jury in to ignore whatever follows it. The court has just accepted the witness as an expert. It should be clear to everyone that his opinion testimony is offered as that of an expert in the field. Why do we go out of our way to make our legal proceedings as cumbersome, time-consuming and annoying for the jury as possible?

There is a man who lives in York, PA named Albert Snyder. His son was in the military, and was killed in the line of duty. When Mr. Snyder tried to bury his son in Baltimore County, MD, the funeral was picketed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church. They showed up with signs saying things like “God Hates Fags.” Apparently, they believe that U.S. military deaths are God’s revenge for our society’s tolerance of homosexuality. Mr. Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church and got an 11 million dollar verdict. This has been in the news recently because Mr. Snyder lost on appeal to the 4th Circuit, and was ordered to pay the church’s costs of about $16,000.

The same day, there was a $1.44 million dollar verdict in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County in a medical malpractice case. This was a death case. The defendant was an ER doctor who failed to diagnoses sepsis, leading to the death of the patient. Baltimore County is one of the most conservative jurisdictions in the state. Because of this, this verdict was also in the news.

Our local paper’s website allows comments, and I read the comments to both of these stories. The comments to the medmal story pillory the plaintiffs and their lawyers. The plaintiffs are called greedy, their case was called frivolous, and one commenter said it wasn’t fair because $1.44 million dollars won’t bring the dead man back. This is a case where a man died.

Here is a report about a New York lawyer who is helping a victim of horrific abuse. HT to Above the Law.

“Amy” was victimized by an uncle who used her as the star of child pornography. She has hired an attorney, James L. Marsh, who has had her evaluated, and has obtained expert reports showing the effects of the abuse on her, and documenting how much it has cost her in counseling, diminished wages, and lawyer fees. The total is about 3.4 million dollars.

Mr. Marsh has taken the position that every person convicted of posessing one of the images of Amy is jointly and severally liable for her damages. He has made hundreds of court filings seeking restitution on this basis. Many judges have agreed, although some have criticized this approach, arguing that the link between posessing a single image and the damages claimed is too tenuous.

Connecticut has outlawed the practice of using “runners”– when crooked lawyers pay third parties to solicit injury plaintiffs either in person at hospitals or by going through police reports. These injured folks are then steered to crooked doctors, and the crooked lawyer helps them recover on the trumped-up claim.

Of course, I am sure that there are also genuinely injured people who are ensnared by these “runners” as well. The problem there is that they end up with the lawyer who uses runners, rather than with the most competent lawyer for their kind of case.

This is one of the few things that reputable personal injury lawyers, insurance companies, judges and legislators all agree on. This is a practice that is a harm to society, and brings the legal system into disrepute. Thankfully, this practice has been illegal in Maryland for many years.

We are always hearing about these evil, un-American frivolous lawsuits that threaten the very fabric of our society. OK, I get it. I dislike frivolous lawsuits as much as anybody. They devalue the claims of the truly injured, diminish the reputation of the plaintiff’s bar, and waste time and money.

But what about meritless defenses that are made against non-frivolous lawsuits? Two great examples today.

First, Eric Turkewitz writes about a New York defense attorney making the argument that pain is not a “personal injury.” Riiiiiight.

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