Friday, July 21, 2017
Kyle Graham and I have posted to SSRN The Prosser Letters: Scholar as Dean. The abstract provides:
Examining a previously unexplored trove of letters, this article sheds new light on the thinking and work of William L. Prosser, the past century’s leading torts scholar. In these letters to family written while dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Prosser candidly describes his approach to scholarship; the development of his casebook, the second edition of Prosser on Torts, and some of his most well-known and influential articles. Moreover, Prosser provides his often-cynical impressions of the legal process; his views of his peers at Berkeley and at other institutions; and his work as dean. The letters also demonstrate some of Prosser’s limitations, including his craving for attention, a sometimes petty personality, and racial and ethnic biases. In all, the letters capture a scholar at the zenith of professional accomplishment in his field, who nevertheless showed signs of the insecurity that would later trigger his resignation from the Berkeley deanship and retreat from the forefront of torts scholarship.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Jill Lens has posted two pieces to SSRN. First, An Undetectable Constitutional Violation; the abstract provides;
In Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the Supreme Court mandated that lower courts implement procedural protections to ensure that the jury, when awarding punitive damages, properly considers evidence of the defendant’s harming nonparties. The jury can consider that evidence when determining the level of defendant’s reprehensibility, but punishment for causing that nonparty harm would violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.
Ten years later, this Article is the first to examine lower courts’ attempts to comply with Philip Morris. The Article first seeks to clarify how evidence of nonparty harm can demonstrate reprehensibility, a clarification necessary before courts can even begin to try to apply Philip Morris’s reprehensibility-punishment distinction. The Article then both criticizes the protection most lower courts have used—vague limiting instructions—and suggests alternative protections. A new rule governing the admissibility of nonparty harm should be used because of the constitutional implications of the admission of the evidence. Courts should also include explanations within their limiting instructions and aggressively review awards for possible Philip Morris violations despite the use of limiting instructions.
Second, Justice Thomas, Civil Asset Forfeitures, and Punitive Damages; the abstract provides:
For centuries, governments have used civil asset forfeiture laws to seize property used in criminal activity and then use civil proceedings to take ownership of that same property. Forfeitures have caught the attention of media, John Oliver, and the Supreme Court. In March, because of waiver, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Leonard v. Texas, a case that claimed Texas’s civil forfeiture laws violated due process. Justice Thomas agreed with the denial, but wrote separately to question the constitutionality of civil forfeiture laws. The Court has always held civil asset forfeitures to be constitutional because of their long existence, and now Justice Thomas, the originalist, seems ready to disregard that history.
This Essay is the first to note the seeming inconsistency in Justice Thomas’s applications of originalism to two civil punishments—civil forfeitures and punitive damages. Justice Thomas seems eager to re-evaluate the constitutionality of civil forfeitures despite their long history. Justice Thomas has never, however, publicly entertained the possibility that history does not justify the constitutionality of punitive damages. No obvious reason exists to explain the distinction.
The Essay also generally examines the similarities between civil forfeitures and punitive damages, and cautions that even with Justice Thomas’s vote, any enthusiasm that the Court will find civil forfeitures unconstitutional should be tempered. The Court—minus Justice Thomas—eventually defined some constitutional limitations for the civil imposition of punitive damages, but little reform resulted until legislatures got involved.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Monday, July 17, 2017
Citing a story at Law.com, Byron Stier at Mass Tort Profs notes that Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York has been on the bench for over 50 years. Among other contributions, Judge Weinstein is known for his opinions in mass tort cases.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
There is more data that med mal payouts continue to decline, this time from South Dakota. Payouts in South Dakota for 2016 amounted to $1.8M statewide (for 12 cases), less than half the amount of payouts from 2015. With the small number of cases, such a one-year decline might not mean a lot. Payouts, however, continue a declining trend dating to 1992. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has details.
Registration is now open for the Central States Law Schools Association 2017 Scholarship Conference, which will be held on Friday, October 6 and Saturday, October 7 at Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale, Illinois. We invite law faculty from across the country to submit proposals to present papers or works in progress.
CSLSA is an organization of law schools dedicated to providing a forum for conversation and collaboration among law school academics. The CSLSA Annual Conference is an opportunity for legal scholars, especially more junior scholars, to present working papers or finished articles on any law-related topic in a relaxed and supportive setting where junior and senior scholars from various disciplines are available to comment. More mature scholars have an opportunity to test new ideas in a less formal setting than is generally available for their work. Scholars from member and nonmember schools are invited to attend.
Please click here to register. The deadline for registration is September 2, 2017.
Hotel rooms are now available for pre-booking. The conference hotel is the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Carbondale. To reserve a room, call 618-549-2600 and ask for the SIU School of Law rate ($109/night) or book online and use block code SOL. SIU School of Law will provide shuttle service to and from the Holiday Inn & Conference Center for conference events. Other hotel options (without shuttle service) are listed on our website. Please note that conference participants are responsible for all of their own travel expenses including hotel accommodations.
For more information about CSLSA and the 2017 Annual Conference please subscribe to our blog.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Monday, July 10, 2017
A Kentucky woman has filed a lawsuit alleging that the medical malpractice panels put in place earlier this year and effective June 29th are unconstitutional:
The 38-page suit claims the law “discriminates against a class of litigants who, based on nothing more than legislative whim, must delay any judicial remedy while other litigants can pursue their rights in court immediately.” It asks the court to “preliminarily and permanently” stop the state from enforcing the new law and to award the plaintiffs unspecified “reasonable costs.”
The lawsuit said at least seven states have removed medical review panels and five others have found them unconstitutional.
Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald Leader has the story.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Agnieszka McPeak has posted to SSRN Regulating Ridesharing Through Tort Law. The abstract provides:
As the sharing economy digs its heels in to the American mainstream, it turns the existing regulatory structure on its head. But the law needs to both facilitate innovation while balancing countervailing concerns like safety and cost allocation. While finding the best way to regulate ridesharing platforms is important, tort law plays a crucial, complementary role as well. On the regulation side, regulators need to craft meaningful rules that promote fairness across the industry – to both sharing economy actors and traditional enterprises. But comprehensive federal regulation under the new Trump administration seems like an unlikely solution. And local regulators run the risk of unnecessarily burdening the sharing economy through barriers to entry or other anti-competitive or onerous regulatory schemes.
Tort law is thus a critical legal tool, and the main focus of this article. While regulations provide prospective limits that may stifle innovation, tort law, on the other hand, addresses retrospective harms and deters future bad conduct. Allowing tort law to provide solutions may be key to preventing over-regulation while still promoting fairness. Thus, while propositions to fix the regulatory piece of the puzzle certainly have merit, tort law is also an important aspect to consider.
This article builds off of longstanding cases dealing with taxi or other transportation services and concludes that tort law is already able to handle the seemingly unique liability concerns arising from ridesharing platforms. In particular, it focuses on vicarious liability doctrines, like joint enterprise liability, as the means for achieving important regulatory goals through the tort system. By using tort law to address some of the concerns surrounding the sharing economy, important objectives can be achieved without risking over-regulation.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
In a decision sure to reach the state's highest court, Wisconsin's $750K med mal cap on non-economic damages was ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court today. The gist:
A Milwaukee County judge sided with the [plaintiffs], finding the cap was unconstitutional as applied in their case. The 1st District Court of Appeals went further Wednesday, ruling the cap is unconstitutional on its face. The court found the cap allows full awards for less severely injured patients but results in reduced awards for the catastrophically injured, amounting to an equal protection violation.
The court went on to say the cap doesn't achieve any of the Legislature's stated goals in adopting it.
Lawmakers included language with the cap that said it was designed to encourage doctors to practice in Wisconsin, contain health care costs by discouraging "defensive medicine" and providing certainty in damage awards as well as protect the solvency of the state compensation fund.
The number of doctors participating in the fund has grown every year and there's no data indicating a cap has any effect on physician retention anywhere, the court said. Doctors don't face any personal liability thanks to the state fund, which would appear to eliminate the need for defensive medicine. As for the fund's solvency, claims against it have decreased since 2005 and as of 2014 the fund's assets stood at about $1.2 billion, the court said.
"We are left with literally no rational factual basis in the record before us which supports the legislature's determination that the $750,000 limitation on noneconomic damages is necessary or appropriate to promote any of the stated legislative objectives," the court's opinion said.
Todd Richmond, of the AP, filed this story.
Monday, July 3, 2017
Chad McCoy, a Republican state House member and husband of a physician, explains in this article why med mal panels are a bad idea. Like me, he prefers a certificate of merit program. Here's a sample:
“If the panel tells me there’s no negligence, I’m still going to court,” McCoy said, if he has done his homework and thinks there’s a legitimate claim.
“All it does is delay it,” he said. “When you look at Indiana, which has almost the same law, the delays are horrible. It delays cases, on average, about three years.”
Kentucky’s constitution says there can be no “unreasonable delay” in a court case.
The statute also makes cases more expensive because the insurance companies have to hire attorneys to make their arguments before the review panels whether they go to court or not, he said.
The people on the panel don’t make any money. The lawyer who chairs it gets paid in a day about what he could bill for an hour if he were working other cases, and the doctors don’t get paid at all. They’re conscripted.
“The intention is great. Let’s get rid of frivolous lawsuits. Let’s make justice efficient. I’m for all of those things. It’s just unfortunate that this is not the best way to go about it,” McCoy said.
In fact, it may actually result in more, not fewer, frivolous lawsuits, he said.
Currently, there aren’t that many of them in Kentucky despite the all the TV ads for ambulance chasers. That’s because it costs so much to take those cases. The plaintiff’s attorney has to decide if he’ll earn enough to pay the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to get a doctor to testify as an expert witness. In most cases, it isn’t worth it.
“I turn away, on a daily basis, probably four or five medical malpractice cases, not because they didn’t show a mistake, but because the damages weren’t high enough to even get past our fixed costs,” he said.
Now that the new law is in place, however, he and his partner have a couple of cases they intend to file with the cabinet because it won’t cost them anything.
McCoy got out a 2015 edition of the “Kentucky Trial Court Review,” a compendium of court cases, to show that the number of medical malpractice cases has declined steadily since 1998, and most cases don’t result in awards.
“Look at how the number of cases has plummeted over the years,” he said. “It’s almost like this is a solution in search of a problem.”
Friday, June 30, 2017
House Republicans had just enough votes to pass a med mal reform bill on Wednesday. The bill would impose a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages in med mal suits that involve coverage provided through a federal program such as Medicare or Medicaid or to coverage that is partly paid by a government subsidy or tax benefit. In addition, the bill would curb attorneys' fees and impose a three-year statute of limitations (with some exceptions). WaPo has the story.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
A scaled-back version of Lavern's Law, adopting the discovery rule, has passed the legislature in New York. The approved bill is more modest than the proposed bill in two ways. First, it only applies to med mal cases involving cancer. Second, the change is prospective only; there is no one-year window to revive past cases. Thus, the family of the bill's namesake, Lavern Wilkinson, would not be able to sue pursuant to it. Governor Cuomo, who supported the original bill, will review the bill as approved. The Daily News has the story.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Monday, June 12, 2017
James Goudkamp has posted to SSRN the Introduction to his book Tort Law Defences. The abstract provides:
The law of torts recognises many defences to liability. While some of these defences have been explored in detail, scant attention has been given to the theoretical foundations of defences generally. In particular, no serious attempt has been made to explain how defences relate to each other or to the torts to which they pertain. The goal of this book is to reduce the size of this substantial gap in our understanding of tort law. The principal way in which it attempts to do so is by developing a taxonomy of defences. The book shows that much can be learned about a given defence from the way in which it is classified.
Friday, June 9, 2017
Yesterday, on equal protection grounds, a sharply divided Florida Supreme Court struck down a 2003 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases:
“We conclude that the caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” said the majority opinion shared by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. “We further conclude that because there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis justifying the arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims, there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps … and alleviating this purported crisis. Therefore, we hold that the caps on personal injury noneconomic damages … violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.”
News 4 Jax has the story.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
New York is one of the few remaining jurisdictions that does not have a discovery rule for its medical malpractice statute of limitations. For the past several years, a bill has been introduced to join the majority of jurisdictions. The bills have been referred to as "Lavern's Law" after Lavern Wilkinson, who died in 2013 after a misdiagnosis of cancer that delayed her treatment by two years. The New York Daily News ran a pro-Lavern's Law editorial yesterday.
Friday, June 2, 2017
James Goudkamp has posted to SSRN The Birth of a Tort: A Practical Perspective on the Tort of Malicious Prosecution of Civil Proceedings. The abstract provides:
The law of torts periodically spawns a new cause of action. For example, Wilkinson v. Downton  2 QB 57 established the tort of wilful infringement of personal safety. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 created the tort of harassment. Tort law sometimes also grows by absorbing a cause of action that was previously understood to pertain to another branch of the law. Thus, the action in breach of confidence, which was for centuries understood exclusively as a species of equitable wrongdoing, has been acknowledged, at least in cases that involve a breach of privacy as opposed to the divulgement of secret information, as a “tort” (see, e.g., Douglas v. Hello! Ltd  UKHL 21;  1 AC 1  (Lord Nicholls)). The newest addition to the stable is the tort of malicious prosecution of civil proceedings. The Supreme Court recognised that action in its landmark decision in Willers v. Joyce  UKSC 43;  3 WLR 477. In doing so, the Court thereby gave the ancient tort of malicious prosecution of criminal proceedings a sibling. This article addresses the decision in Willers.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Back in March, I reported that a med mal review panel bill had passed the legislature in Kentucky. The bill was signed by the governor and goes into effect on June 29. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services is accepting applications from attorneys interested in participating in those panels; fifty attorneys have already expressed interest.
Panels will have nine months to review cases and render an opinion, with the results admissible in court, but not binding. They can render one of three opinions:
A medical provider violated standard of care and that action was the proximate cause of injury.
The provider violated standard of care, but it was not the proximate cause of injury.
Standard of care was not violated.
Kentucky New Era has the story. The panels will add further delay to the resolution of med mal cases, which are already too slow (averaging 4-5 years from event to resolution).