Tort Reform

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading InJustice: Tort Reform’s High Cost Documentary Infomercial”

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading Hot Coffee: Spilling Our Way to the ‘Evils’ of Tort Reform”

In case you haven’t been following along, the National Football League has been dealing with a little controversy from 1,250 fans who went to the Super Bowl. It’s been labeled “Seatgate.” These people bought tickets to the Super Bowl, but when they arrived in Dallas, their temporary seats were not completed. It appears that Super Bowl organizers knew there was a chance the seats would not be ready in time, but didn’t tell the fans. It turns out they had to watch the game in a standing-room area, on a television, or from different locations in the stadium.

The fans got screwed; no doubt about that. And, like an airline that bumps people because they oversold the plane, the NFL is trying to make it up to the fans. It’s not out of kindness; the NFL is just trying to mitigate the public-relations damage from Super Bowl ticket holders not having seats. So the NFL has offered the fans a number of “make good” options.

But the fans are not satisfied, and now there’s talk of lawsuits. Why? Because people are dumb and greedy and trying to milk their hardship for everything it’s worth.

To tell you the truth, I really want these super fans to go away already…

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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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* Here’s a list of America’s Worst Bosses for 2010. Shocker: some of them are lawyers. [eBossWatch]

* Is this a legal and/or fair way to get a flaking eBay auction winner to pay up? Maybe all is fair in love and war e-commerce — although that approach didn’t work out well for Vitaly Borker. [Reddit via Consumerist]

* Remember the Syracuse Law satirical blog controversy? Well, now the administration is playing with FIRE. [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]

* Filing a lawsuit against McDonald’s over Happy Meals makes me sad — and Walter Olson mad. (Disclosure: I once worked at McDonald’s.) [New York Daily News]

* Speaking of delicious things — and readers, please note my use of “delicious” to refer to food — how do you overcome the “cupcake challenge”? A panel of experts, including my law school classmate, Georgia state legislator Stacey Abrams, tackled this question in a panel discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. [The ChamberPost]

* Single D.C. lawyers, there’s still time to entrust your love life to Kashmir Hill. We have many responses, but there’s gender imbalance right now. Kash needs men — please help! [Above the Law]

I don’t remember the moment I first learned how to wipe my ass without hurting myself. I don’t think I received a special present or accolade for that momentous life event. But perhaps my parents did take notice in this way:

MOM: Our little boy just successfully wiped himself without incident!
DAD: Good. Maybe you were right when you prevented me from taking him out back and shooting him.

The point is that successfully using toilet paper is a basic skill in civilized society. If you have an accident while administering toilet paper to yourself, it’s the kind of thing you really want to keep to yourself.

Unless, of course, you think you can get money out of the mishap. America baby, the only place where hurting yourself while performing basic hygienic practices can lead to a tort payday.

A Michigan woman broke her hand while trying to get toilet paper out of a dispenser in a restaurant bathroom. And now the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that her case can be presented to a jury….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawsuit of the Day: Woman Breaks Hand Trying to Wipe Bum”

This zone... does not exist.

They had to set the Karate Kid remake in China. If they had set it in modern-day America, Daniel-san would have been mercilessly bullied by the kids from Cobra Kai, he would have killed himself, and the rest of the movie would have been a courtroom drama where Daniel’s parents sought to bring the evil sensei to justice in the form of a multi-million dollar civil suit.

You see, American children apparently have become so fragile, and Americans parents so litigious, that schoolyard bullying is as likely to be settled in a court of law as it is behind a dumpster out back where boys used to handle their disagreements. I used to tell my mother that nobody ever died from embarrassment, but apparently I was wrong. The ABA Journal reports that there’s been a veritable outbreak of children committing suicide in Ohio because they were hounded by mean kids. And that story doesn’t even take into account the Tyler Clementi situation.

And when kids kill themselves, parents are increasingly turning to the courts to stand up to the bullies in a way that used to be accomplished via a flush crane-kick to the face.

It needs to stop. No, not the bullying — which is unavoidable when more than one male competes for whatever status/prestige/sex is on offer — but the tragic overreactions to the bullying, and the accompanying rush to the courthouse steps.

I say this not as an alpha-male with a caviler attitude towards the feelings of others. I say this as a former omega-male who got the crap beat out of me like I stole something from the age of 7 through the point I realized that no girl would ever mate with a guy who couldn’t basically stand up for himself….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Bullying Shouldn’t Be A Crime, No Matter How Many Kids Kill Themselves Because of It”

Yesterday, after whining about law schools on NPR, I motored over to the Fox headquarters on Sixth Avenue. They wanted me on to to talk about a post I did a couple of weeks ago, encouraging oil-spill victims to take their BP money from the $20 billion fund being administered by Ken Feinberg, instead of pursuing private lawsuits against BP. For the debate, they brought on a plaintiff’s lawyer.

I thought it was a good segment, and I do believe the BP fund will be better for the victims (and the justice system) than a slew of plaintiff’s lawyers jumping on BP — and taking a sizable cut out of whatever damages a judge (most likely) reduces.

But a commenter noted something that a few people have told me privately:

Ellie [sic], I think you are on the brink of finally embracing the fallacy of prudential regulation and the idea that government or semi-government programs are ever going to be able to take care of someone who refuses to take the most basic steps of self-preservation. I saw you on Fox News and I bet you vote Republican this November.

I don’t think I was accessing my inner elephant. But check out the clip and tell me what you think…

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Exciting news. Starbucks has just launched its new However-You-Want-It Frappuccino® product, “allowing customers to create a blended beverage that is uniquely their own…. the same way they customize their favorite Starbucks espresso beverage.”

Sounds delicious! But if you order your Frappuccino with extra ice, and then experience brain freeze, don’t turn around and sue Starbucks.

Or maybe do turn around and sue Starbucks? Even though lawsuits based on allegedly unreasonable beverage temperatures have become national jokes, memorialized in popular culture (e.g., Seinfeld episodes), they still keep getting filed — and, presumably, settled.

The latest lawsuit has been filed against Starbucks, for excessively hot tea….

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Philip Morris logo.jpgA Florida state court judge, Jeffrey Streitfeld, has decided that the largest individual award to a former smoker is excessive. The Daily Business Review (gavel bang: ABA Journal) reports on the good news for tobacco peddler Philip Morris:

Calling the $300 million jury verdict “excessive” and “shocking,” Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld said he would determine a lower award later against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA. He gave no indication when he would rule.

The landmark verdict was reached in November for Cindy Naugle, an emphysema patient who quit smoking in 1993.

There are few things that bother me more than smokers blaming tobacco companies for becoming addicted to their products. Does Philip Morris sell an illegal product? No. Do you need to be galactically stupid to smoke yet not know that smoking is dangerous? Yes. So what is the rationale for suing a company that produces a legal product you’d have to be epically dumb to not know is potentially dangerous?

As a smoker, I feel particularly qualified to say: it’s not Philip Morris’s fault if I get sick. It’s my fault. I take personal responsibility for my own health choices.

Personal responsibility. Seems like a winning argument, doesn’t it? Well, it’s pretty much the argument pursued by Philip Morris’s lawyers. And … it horribly backfired.

Judge Streitfeld has decided to step in to correct the lawyers’ mistake.

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