Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Bloomberg Business Week (AP) reports that New York City paid about $521 million in 2010 to settle personal injury and property damages suits. The Police Department, Department of Transportation and Health & Hospital Corp. had the most settlements in 2010.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Engle progeny tobacco cases in Florida are continuing apace, including through the appellate process. On Tuesday, a case that ended with a total of a $15.75 million verdict was argued in Florida's First Circuit Court of Appeals. As usual, the focus was on the plaintiff's knowledge of the risks of tobacco.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
A federal appellate panel in Chicago has upheld the certification of a class action against Pella, a manufacturer of windows, based on allegations of a design defect leading to rotting wood around the windows. One of the issues was how to handle consumers who have not yet suffered economic loss. The plaintiffs' counsel:
came up with a novel solution that persuaded U.S. District Judge James Zagel. He separated the window buyers into two classes: Consumers ...who have suffered economic loss, and a larger, nationwide group of those who haven't. But instead of seeking compensation for the latter class, he asked the judge to void Pella's 10-year warranty, pay for window inspections and other "declaratory" relief. The latter class would be allowed to file individual claims with Pella once rot was detected.
Consumer class actions are typically not in our wheelhouse, but the Chicago Tribune article quotes Sheila:
"This is an interesting twist in consumer fraud cases," said Sheila Scheuerman, an associate law professor at the Charleston School of Law who specializes in class actions. "Courts have been fairly hostile to classes where there are no injuries. But litigation always evolves to adapt to restrictions."
Full coverage from the Tribune is available here.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The South Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to cap punitive damages at three times compensatory damages, with a maximum award of $350,000. The legislation also restricts the state attorney general's abillity to use outside counsel, and the fees allowed for such counsel. Similar legislation is expected to be picked up by the Senate shortly.
The bill is available here, and includes various exceptions to the punitives cap.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
An article in Saturday's NY Times reported that New York State seeks reimbursement from indigent patients in state-run mental hospitals when the patient wins a tort award against the state for poor care in the very same hospital.
On his blog, Dorf on Law, Michael Dorf (Cornell) comments on the impact of this practice on the deterrence goal of a tort award As Dorf explains,
Vis-a-vis an indigent who owes the State hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for past care, the State itself is a kind of indigent--in the sense that it will never see that money, and so can commit torts up to the value of that care without worrying about any real out-of-pocket cost.
Monday, December 27, 2010
As Brian Leiter reports, two law professors (from Penn and Widener) have won $5 million in punitive damages in a defamation suit against West Publishing. Although their contract allowed West to continue to publish their treatise using their names, the two professors sued West, claiming that the latest edition damaged their professional reputations because it was an inferior product (with only 3 new cases added to the entire book). A federal jury agreed with the professors and awarded $90k to each professor for compensatory damages, and $2.5 million each in punitive damages.
Leiter also has links to the Philadelphia Inquirer story as well as the Legal Intelligencer story.
Thanks to Lisa Smith-Butler for the alert.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Josh Freedom duLac of The Washington Post published an article yesterday about liability for bed bugs. Judge Posner's Mathias case was ahead of its time. The recent surge in bed bugs has created an uptick in litigation against motel owners and landlords alike. duLac's article focuses on a Maryland attorney who is filing a series of bed bug liability suits. The typical compensatory damages claim is $200,000, and many of the suits claim punies. Bed bug suits, in Maryland and elsewhere, generally face three major issues.
First, plaintiff will have to prove notice on the part of the motel owner or landlord. Actual notice is best, but constructive notice should suffice. For constructive notice, the focus will be the length of time the condition (bed bugs) has been in place. The Maryland suits contain mostly conclusory allegations, so discovery will be important.
Second, plaintiff will have to establish compensatory damages. Bed bugs are nasty creatures, and I have a lot of sympathy for people impacted by them. On the other hand, as I noted in the article, I'm skeptical of the amounts claimed in the Maryland suits. $200,000 is a large sum of money. I know of someone who received slightly more than that from the tort system for losing his eyesight in both eyes. I don't claim that outcome was adequate, but it does bring the bed bug damages into perspective. I understand that ad damnum clauses are drafted as a ceiling, but these are quite high. Plaintiffs in Mathias got a jury verdict for compensatory damages of $5,000. A Florida attorney quoted in duLac's article is leaving the bed bug liability field because the damages are too small. He noted that he settled one case for $4,000 and another for $10,000.
Finally, a fairly standard punies regime requires a plaintiff to prove some type of conscious and deliberate behavior on the part of the defendant. In Mathias, the hotel owners were informed about the bed bugs. Instead of paying for a $500 extermination, the owners allowed the bed bug situation to fester for nearly two years. It was widely known the hotel had bed bugs. There were certain rooms that employees were not supposed to rent out because of the bugs, yet the rooms were rented if there were not enough other rooms available. Guests were informed the bugs were ticks (as if that's better!). Under these circumstances, the court upheld a punies verdict of $186,000. If proving notice in the Maryland cases will require the discovery of significant facts, for punies the bar is even higher.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Yesterday in San Antonio, a civil jury found a nursing home negligent in the care of a man who developed severe, infected bed sores. The nearly $600,000 verdict will be reduced by a damage cap to $250,000. In a newspaper interview, the plaintiff's attorney argued that such trials had become rare because of the cap. My SA.com has the story.
Monday, September 27, 2010
In his role as Circuit Justice for the Fifth Circuit, Justice Scalia granted a stay of execution on a $241.5 million judgment to fund a smoking cessation program for the benefit of class members in Scott v. Philip Morris, a class action involving Louisiana residents. In a five page opinion, Justice Scalia found it likely that the Court would grant certiorari and that the case raises important questions about due process limits on class actions. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUS Blog has commentary.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Last week, a federal judge ordered a gossip blog to pay a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader $11 million for libel and defamation:
U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman on Wednesday ordered Los Angeles-based Dirty World Entertainment Recordings — which the complaint and judgment said operates TheDirt.com — to pay $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for failing to respond to the suit.
Politico, however, reports that the plaintiff may have sued the wrong holding company for the blog.
More from Legal Blog Watch.
Thanks to Lisa Smith-Butler for the alert.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
SC Adopts Risk-Utility As Sole Test in Design Defect Cases, Also on Post-Distribution Evidence and Punitive Damages
In an opinion filed on Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court adopted the risk-utility test for design defect cases, rejecting use of a consumer expectations test. Under the risk-utility test, the court held that the plaintiff was required to present evidence of a reasonable alternative design that would have prevented the product from being unreasonably dangerous.
The court further held that "the use of post-distribution evidence to evaluate a product's design through the lens of hindsight is improper."
And finally, as to punitive damages, the court considered what financial evidence is proper in assessing punitive damages. Recognizing that the U.S. Supreme Court has not spoken on this issue, the court adopted a cautious approach, holding that only the defendant's net worth could be introduced. Applying this standard, the court found that evidence concerning the salaries and compensation of the defendant's officers was improper.
Thanks to William Gaskill for the case alert.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
In less than two weeks, The Measure of Injury: Race, Gender, and Tort Law, the new book by Martha Chamallas (Ohio State) and Jenny Wriggins (Maine), will be available from NYU Press.
At Law & Society in Chicago next week, there will be an "Author Meets Readers" panel on the book. Scheduled for Friday, May 28 from 4:30-6:15 at the Renaissance Hotel, the panel will be chaired by Anne Bloom (University of the Pacific). Readers are: Julie Davies (University of the Pacific), Lisa Pruitt (California, Davis), Catharine Wells (Boston College), and me.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Yesterday, a jury in Wisconsin awarded the family of a deceased farm worker $3.7 million in damages for medical malpractice. Gustavo Espinal-Santos died Jan. 1, 2004, after contracting blastomycosis, a fungal infection often transmitted through water or soil. He presented at a family practice in December of 2003, where he was examined by physician assistants and diagnosed with pneumonia. The family alleged a failure to run basic diagnostic tests, specifically x-rays. After a four-day trial, the jury deliberated eight hours before finding negligence on the part of the practice and the physician supervising the physician assistants. The award will be reduced pursuant to Wisconsin's damages cap. The story, courtesy of greenbay pressgazette.com, is here.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
A divided Michigan Supreme Court has allowed to stand a ruling that a dead mother's family can sue for $1.4 M for lost household services. The defendants argued the damages were noneconomic and, thus, subject to a damages cap. I haven't read the opinion, and I can't vouch for the valuation, but the principle seems accurate. Replacing these services will require a monetary payment. The Chicago Tribune has a brief story here.