Tort Law

There’s a general feeling that if you sue New York City, you’re going to get paid. Certainly, if you sue NYPD, you can expect a settlement. Part of that is because the police have probably actually violated or brutalized you. Part of that is because the police department would rather pay you hush money than have a high profile exploration of their gestapo tactics.

The city’s litigious retreat doesn’t extend to the MTA. One would think that being hit by a train would put you on-track for a big settlement (did you see what I did there?). But apparently not, the MTA will fight you tooth and nail, all the way through trial and appeals, to prevent you from getting money from subway accidents. The city’s lawyers will run a train on you in court (yes, I’m having fun, thanks for asking).

And the city is probably right to do this. Have you really thought about how stupid most people are behaving when they’re hit by the subway?

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[T]he risk of being hit in the face by a hot dog is not a well-known incidental risk of attending a baseball game.

– Presiding Judge Thomas H. Newton of the Missouri Court of Appeals (Western District), writing for the majority, and noting that a fan cannot be said to have assumed the risk of injury via flying hot dog by attending a baseball game.

(For some background information, in 2009, Kansas City Royals fan John Coomer’s retina was torn and detached after he was hit in the face with a foil-wrapped hot dog that was thrown by the team mascot.)

Who will help the injured Good Samaritan?

Before you’ve been through 1L Torts, this story is shocking. After you’ve been through 1Ls Torts, it’s not that surprising.

In 2009, two Good Samaritans saw a Hummer crashed off the side of the road. The car was on fire. The two men sprang into action, ran down a snowy embankment, and pulled a woman from the burning wreckage.

They saved her life.

Which is interesting, considering that it turns out the woman was allegedly trying to kill herself.

The men suffered injuries, and now they are suing….

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In Above the Law’s last film review, we spoke about Hot Coffee, a documentary film about the evils of tort reform in America. The film, which received rave reviews from publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, was produced by former trial lawyer Susan Saladoff.

Now, just two weeks later, InJustice, a documentary film that is being hailed as the “anti Hot Coffee,” made its small screen debut on the ReelzChannel — a channel I’d never heard of and do not receive. Luckily enough, in the two weeks since we reviewed Hot Coffee, I had earned enough street cred to get an advance copy of the film.

While Hot Coffee presented the plaintiff’s side of the tort reform debate, InJustice attempts to present the defendant’s side in a more favorable light by exposing the evils of lawsuit abuse and the greed of attorneys involved in “America’s lawsuit industry.” Those are some pretty high aspirations for the film’s producer, non-lawyer Brian Kelly.

All that being said, I have no idea why I waited to release my review of InJustice until after the film had aired, because I’m not sure if anyone was even able to watch it. And if they had been able to do so, I’m pretty sure they would have changed the channel pretty quickly….

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You mean to tell me that this coffee is going to be hot? Are you kidding me?

Most people associate the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case, better known as “the hot coffee lawsuit,” with the very worst of our justice system: namely, frivolous actions brought by greedy plaintiffs with the hopes of winning the lawsuit lottery.

It is commonly believed that the plaintiff in Liebeck was a young woman who decided to sue Mickey D’s because while driving, she spilled her drive-thru coffee all over herself and sustained minor burns. This woman is usually not thought of as the sharpest tool in the shed, because she needed to be warned that her hot coffee would actually be hot and would burn her.

This woman was somehow able to convince a jury of her peers (who apparently weren’t that intelligent, either) that she didn’t realize her hot coffee would be so hot, so they decided to award her with a $2.7 million verdict.

This is the story that most people believe when they think of the hot coffee lawsuit, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. And thanks to this widespread misconception, Hot Coffee, a documentary film directed by Susan Saladoff, explains how corporations were able to promote the “evils” of tort reform….

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Dick intentionally spits on Prudence while she is asleep. Several weeks later, Prudence learns of Dick’s act. Dick is liable for battery.

– hypothetical in a bar exam review outline for Torts. A reader posits: “I truly do not think the writer of this example, with an infinite number of possible battery examples at his or her disposal, had an innocent mind at the time of the example’s writing.”

Legendary humorist Charlie Chaplin was once asked to describe “funny.” He famously responded: “You take a woman walking down the sidewalk. Show the audience a banana peel in front of her. Everyone knows that she is going to step on the banana peel and do a pratfall. At the last instant, she sees the banana peel, steps over it and falls into an open manhole that neither she nor the audience knew was there.”

Alright Charlie. Well here we have the set-up almost right. Reuters has a story about a banana peel and a 58-year-old California woman who busted her ass slipping on one.

Alone that’s not very funny, so we need something more. We need an open manhole…

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Good Samaritans are supposed to help strangers, not beat them up.

Joke about Good Samaritan liability all you want, but we’re about to talk about an interesting case that is right on point.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports on a lawsuit that has been filed in New Jersey. Keith Briscoe was killed during a scuffle with Winslow Township police officer Sean Richards and other men who came to the officer’s aid. Some of the men were cops, while others were random citizens — so-called “good Samaritans” — who had no idea what was going on but tried to help out the cop anyway. All of them are being sued in a civil action brought by Briscoe’s family members.

I hope Briscoe’s family wins.

I don’t know about you, but when I see a cop and a citizen having an argument or even getting into a fistfight, I don’t assume that the cop is in the right. I don’t assume the cop is addressing the situation with the best intentions or proper motives.

But I don’t assume that the cop is doing anything wrong either. I simply don’t assume and go about my business.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I do think I’m in the minority. And I think it’s about time that some in the majority feel some heat for making, and then acting upon, faulty assumptions that reflexively favor the police…

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Here in New York City, the headquarters of Above the Law, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Blizzard of 2010. Check out our slideshow for some images (like the one at right).

Although the snowstorm ended on Monday, and it’s now Wednesday night, many streets remain unplowed and many sidewalks uncleared. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, generally praised for his tremendous competence, is taking a lot of flak for the city’s inadequate response.

And that’s just in terms of politics and public relations. Wait until the lawyers get involved!

What possible causes of action could arise out of the snowstorm? Let’s discuss….

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F. Murray Abraham could be a producer of Two and a Half Men.

While bedbugs continued their silent attack on the Waldorf Astoria, this Tuesday morning, The Plaza hotel also came under assault by a creature equally insidious: Insectus Charliesheenus.

The police found the “star” of  Two and a Half Men three and a half sheets to the wind, naked in his trashed suite at the Plaza, after the woman he was with felt threatened and called the front desk…

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