April 1, 2006
Cell Phones & Cancer
Not an April Fool's joke; a pretty thorough-seeming study indicates a 240% increased risk of cancer for heavy cell phone users.
Yet another reason to be glad I left practice, I suppose. Then again, as the Reuters piece notes,
Last year, the Dutch Health Council, in an overview of research from around the world, found no evidence that radiation from mobile phones and TV towers was harmful. A four-year British survey in January also showed no link between regular, long-term use of cell phones and the most common type of tumor.
I can't find the report of the study on the Swedish National Institute for Working Life's website as yet.
And streeeeeetched into being relevant by citing the Batch Upload page, which at least mentions tort law.
No Joint & Several Liability in Florida
Top Five Recent SSRN Torts Papers
1. A Model Regime of Privacy Protection (Version 3.0) (Daniel J. Solove, Chris Jay Hoofnagle)
2. Moral Heuristics or Moral Competence? Reflections on Sunstein (John Mikhail)
3. Stem Cell Research and the Law (Russell B. Korobkin, Stephen R. Munzer)
4. Directors' Duties in Failing Firms (Larry E. Ribstein, Kelli A. Alces)
5. Measuring the Value of a Statistical Life: Problems and Prospects (Orley Ashenfelter)
March 31, 2006
MMR & Autism on the Virological Front
Black Triangle has a readable overview of a new study on the virological front:
Translation: measles virus does not persist in autistic children and virology does not support a link between MMR vaccine and autism.
This matches the most solid epidemiological evidence of which I am aware.
March 30, 2006
An interesting piece about potential reforms in jury service. The lede:
Imagine showing up for a college course and being told you can't take notes or ask questions. The course will be taught by several professors, and what they say may or may not be on the final exam. If you know anything about the subject matter, you'll be dismissed.
Oh, and no discussing the lectures with any of your classmates until the end of the course.
That's what serving on a jury is like in many courtrooms, legal scholars say. But jurisdictions around the country are taking measures to change one of the pillars of American democracy, including letting jurors ask questions and telling them ahead of time what points of law to focus on.
CJD Hearts West Virginia, Mississippi, Illinois, Etc.
poll[ing] more than 1,400 senior attorneys to explore how reasonable and fair the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. businesses. The attorneys were asked to judge a number of factors, including overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, judges' impartiality and competence, and juries' predictability and fairness.
The Center for Justice & Democracy has responded, with press releases tied to Gulf Coast states, Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia, and Florida. In most cases, CJ&D's response is not so much that the criticized states have great legal systems as that (a) the Chamber's survey is solely "based on nothing more than the views of corporate lawyers who defend corporate wrongdoers" and (b) the states are plenty business-friendly anyway. For example:
As one illustration of how completely erroneous these “rankings” are, the same day the Chamber released its report, an economic survey by Chicago-based Pollina Corporate Real Estate Inc., evaluating businesses based on 26 factors put Alabama as #5 in the nation for business friendliness.
* * *
CJ&D also condemned the Chamber for focusing attacks on several other states including Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia, and Florida, all of which are doing well or better than they have in recent years in terms of business climate. Florida was just named one of the best states in the nation for doing businesses by the Pollina poll.
March 29, 2006
Apple Announces Volume Protection
Presumably in response to the lawsuits contending that iPods go too loud and can hurt the listener's ears, Apple announced today a software update for the newest iPods and the iPod Nano that will permit parents to set a maximum volume, or for ordinary listeners to set a maximum for themselves, protected by a combination code.
“As the leading provider of digital music players, Apple continuously brings iPod customers innovative and easy to use solutions,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide iPod Product Marketing. “With the increased attention in this area, we want to offer customers an easy to use option to set their own personal volume limit.”
The Medical Malpractice Myth Exposed Review
Without a doubt, the book is quite timely. President Bush’s 2006 State of the Union Address included a request for medical liability reform based on the malpractice myth–that “lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice.” Throughout the book, Baker very effectively connects the legal arguments and the insurance and litigation data to his broader points about the politics of tort reform. Baker’s style is concise, lively, and very readable. He effectively weaves in the personal stories of particular plaintiffs to illustrate many of his broader points. The book is aimed at and accessible to a general audience, but it will also prove interesting and informative to lawyers, and to legal, medical and public health academics.
Mississippi Says: Thank Heavens for West Virginia and Louisiana
...because now Mississippi is ranked 48th by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce! The change is attributed to the various statutory changes to the tort system in recent years. Not everyone is convinced:
Stevens [a Jackson, Miss., trial lawyer] said perception has everything to do with why Mississippi remained 50th for so long.
"People want to say Mississippi is a piece of crap, and it should outrage us. This poll has nothing to do with our civil justice system.
"They think in Mississippi we're a bunch of toothless, no-shoe-wearing ignoramuses."
When Mississippi had several large jury verdicts, a lot of other states were worse, he said.
The resulting tort reform has made it difficult and sometimes impossible for those injured to get the damages they deserve, he said.
March 28, 2006
Joint & Several Liability Still the Law in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell vetoed Senate Bill 435 which would have eliminated joint & several liability for defendants found less than 60% at fault. (The bill also carried exceptions allowing joint & several liability in the case of intentional misrepresentation, intentional torts, and a couple of statutory violations relating to hazardous material releases and liquor code violations.)
The governor, in his veto letter, said he still believes that reforms in joint & several liability are necessary:
. . . I am vetoing Senate Bill 435 because it does not effectively balance the critical needs of victims who should be adequately compensated for their injuries with the reasonable needs of businesses to limit their exposure to liability for damages caused by other parties.
In the days since the passage of Senate Bill 435, I have received letters from many business associations and business leaders whom I greatly respect all urging me to sign this legislation into law. I have also received many letters from union and consumer groups (such as the American Association of Retired Persons and Mothers Against Drunk Driving) all urging me to veto this legislation. Just as our businesses have given me telling examples of the unfairness and harm that is caused to them by the current law, consumer organizations have given me just as telling examples of how victims – many times the children of parents killed by negligent actions – would be left without adequate compensation for their loss.
I believe we must find a better way – a law that will balance the equities between our businesses and the victims of negligence.
Gov. Rendell specifically cites efforts by Sen. Greenleaf and Rep. Gannon to reach a compromise as good examples. Point of Law is skeptical of the reasons given for the veto.
The vetoed bill also had some interesting provisions relating to assumption of risk in the context of downhill skiing and off-road vehicle use (at least interesting to me, since we're in the middle of assumption of risk in my evening Torts class):
10 (B.3) OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING.--
11 (1) OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING AREA OPERATORS SHALL HAVE NO
12 DUTY TO PROTECT RIDERS FROM COMMON, FREQUENT, EXPECTED AND
13 NONNEGLIGENT RISKS INHERENT TO THE ACTIVITY, INCLUDING
14 COLLISIONS WITH RIDERS OR OBJECTS.
15 (2) THE DOCTRINE OF KNOWING VOLUNTARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK
16 SHALL APPLY TO ALL ACTIONS TO RECOVER DAMAGES FOR NEGLIGENCE
17 RESULTING IN DEATH OR INJURY TO PERSON OR PROPERTY BROUGHT
18 AGAINST ANY OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING AREA OPERATOR.
19 (3) NOTHING IN THIS SUBSECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED IN ANY
20 WAY TO ABOLISH OR MODIFY A CAUSE OF ACTION AGAINST A
21 POTENTIALLY RESPONSIBLE PARTY OTHER THAN AN OFF-ROAD VEHICLE
22 RIDING AREA OPERATOR.
23 (C) DOWNHILL SKIING.--
24 (1) THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FINDS THAT THE SPORT OF
25 DOWNHILL SKIING IS PRACTICED BY A LARGE NUMBER OF CITIZENS OF
26 THIS COMMONWEALTH AND ALSO ATTRACTS TO THIS COMMONWEALTH
27 LARGE NUMBERS OF NONRESIDENTS SIGNIFICANTLY CONTRIBUTING TO
28 THE ECONOMY OF THIS COMMONWEALTH. IT IS RECOGNIZED THAT AS IN
29 SOME OTHER SPORTS, THERE ARE INHERENT RISKS IN THE SPORT OF
30 DOWNHILL SKIING.
1 (2) THE DOCTRINE OF VOLUNTARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK AS IT
2 APPLIES TO DOWNHILL SKIING INJURIES AND DAMAGES IS NOT
3 MODIFIED BY SUBSECTIONS (A) AND [(B)] (A.1)
It's Fun When Highly-Respected Publications Fight
Really, it is. This blog at The Scientist has a nice summary the ongoing tiff between Nature and Encyclopaedia Britannica, with some intriguing factoids, including Nature's apparent refusal to share the data on which their EB/Wikipedia comparison was based.
March 27, 2006
One project I've thought about but never quite gotten around to is to test the predictive value of plaintiff attorney advertising for pharmaceutical plaintiffs -- i.e., determining if an increase in ads by attorneys for a particular pharmaceutical product predicts the withdrawal of or other negative action relating to that drug.
Purely out of curiosity, I periodically checked on the numbers of ads for Vioxx attorneys between the initial indication of Cox-2 inhibitor problems and Vioxx's withdrawal, and saw a modest increase in numbers in the weeks prior to the withdrawal, but I wasn't nearly methodical enough to say there was anything significant there. It would be a fun project for an enterprising programmer; shouldn't be too hard to parse the search results pages automatically, track where the links lead, and identify trends.
Putting the "Tort" in "Torture"
The near-total absence of remedies for U.S. sanctioned torture does not reflect a determination by Congress or the courts that remedies are unwarranted. Rather, it reflects that current law was not designed with U.S.-sanctioned torture in mind. Congress designed the FTCA to deal with the "garden variety torts" of federal employees, as the Supreme Court has observed. . . .
* * *
The problem with current law is that it treats U.S.-sanctioned torture as a mere tort. Instead, it should be treated as a human rights and a civil rights violation. One way to move toward this treatment is through legislation that would make the U.S. and its officials liable for torture under the same circumstances as local governments and their officials would be under the civil rights statute, 42 U.S. Code Section 1983. Such legislation, though not ideal, might be politically feasible. It would put the U.S. and its officials on a similar footing with local governments and theirs -- hardly an irrational result -- using familiar and well developed (even if arguably flawed) legal standards.
March 26, 2006
How Insurance Rates Get Set
The Post has a great piece about the various GEICO entities and how they end up setting insurance rates, based on materials GEICO submitted to New Jersey regulators:
The guide looks at an applicant from three perspectives: driving record, personal characteristics and the vehicles to be insured. It appears to seek information beyond a basic application and does not address many standard questions such as miles driven, type of car and gender of driver.
Driving record is mostly what you might expect -- accidents, tickets and other violations, and license suspensions and revocations. But there are some nuances: Recent accidents are considered less favorable than those more than a year old; for families or other applicants with more than one driver, the guide says, "if there is more than one accident, view the risk more favorably if the accidents are spread among the drivers, rather than one driver having multiple accidents."
It goes into quite a bit of detail, including categorization by occupation into five categories. The endpoints:
The guide divides applicants into half a dozen or so "groups" based on occupation and education. "The most favorable occupations" are those in the top two groups plus military personnel above pay grade E-6 (Army staff sergeant) and graduate students.
Group 1, "occupations that have exhibited superior loss experience in the past," generally requires a bachelor's degree or higher, such as accountants, architects, lawyers, teachers, and "professional Federal employees in an administrative or technical position."
* * *
Group 5 includes "minimally skilled clerks, assistants and postal clerks" along with "unskilled and semiskilled blue and gray collar workers," gray collar generally referring to service workers, such as waiters and security guards.