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Greed, pants, and $54 million

by pelcan Thu Jun 14th, 2007 at 06:58:52 PM EST

I'm sure many of you have heard of the lawsuit crisis in America that is costing taxpayers billions and seems to have no end in sight. Now I agree with some of them. Exxon still hasn't fully paid for the Valdez spill. Gender pay discrimination is alive and well. Tobacco companies have been lying to the public for years. But while in these cases, the companies' lawyers can take care of justice, it seems the most ridiculous cases are not as entertaining as they are unfair. Failed supreme court nominee Robert Bork, who fought for a cap on how much plaintiffs can get paid, recently tripped on his way to the podium for a speech and is suing the host for $1 million for not providing proper care for people getting up to speak (I don't think the host did anything wrong). One lady spilled hot McDonalds coffee over her lap: $2 million. A waiter spilled water and someone tripped over it. A mother who sued Disneyland over the emotional harm caused when her children saw people coming out of costumes, thus ending the magic (fortunately the judge had half the sense of turning her case down). The guy who sued the city who sponsored a baseball contest where he slipped in. The millions NYC pay each year to people who trip on the streets and in buildings. The list goes on. And on. And on. As stockholders and pension holders lose out from company payments to those doucebags. As prices go up. As lawyers buy their third vacation home. As those doucebags get rich off the decent people's backs. There have been few efforts to correct this wrong. The Republicans response is to blame the Dems for this mess and enact their own measures, which end up restricting people's access to courts and preventing good lawsuits.

Which leads me to this next ridiculous case. Many Korean immigrants who came here set up laundry shops. I had a suit cleaned in one once and it came back nice and only cost me $1. These are good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who always greet you when you come in and out the door. So one shop owned by an elderly Korean couple got a taste of the nasty part of America when they happened to lose the pants of a judge, yes, judge. So this judge, who has a history of suing for ridiculous reasons comes back some time later to sue the poor couple $64 million, pointing to the "misleading" satisfaction guaranteed sign out their shop. After some public outrage, he thought it would be more probable to take the money by asking for $54 million. Lots of evil people go after companies like Starbucks (over terminated coupons) and cities (for malevolently setting up streets so people will trip). But this guy's going after these poor people. Among the costs, $540,000 for legal fees- and he's representing himself! Look, this guy was offered $12,000 (which, believe me, for this couple is a lot of hard-earned money) but refused! To continue his lawsuit! Over lost pants! And in court a few days ago he had real tears and broke down over the emotional sorrow he felt because of the incident(Um, what about the people whose lives you're destroying and the tens of thousands of me and my fellow Americans' money your burning for your stupid trial.) I don't know about you, but I would be angry but shrug it off if the laundromat lost my pants. And that isn't even the most ridiculous part. The couple found his pants and offered to give it back. He refused. The only incident I can cite that is more ridiculous is when the person didn't get something back. A worker at a fast food joint severed the tip of a finger that ended up in a guy's ice cream. The doctor wanted the tip back so they could sew it back on before the cells around his finger died. The guy refused, citing the need for evidence when he sues the company; so the workers' cells did indeed die off. Anyways, back to the trial. If I had it my way, the couple would get $1 million for emotional damages and this judge would be locked up for life to ensure he won't be presiding over anymore cases. And tort reform is not on the way. I am not saying that Americans are, by nature, more evil, we absolutely aren't. Most of us wouldn't do these greedy things. The Democrats need to stand up against these type of lawsuits without hurting the good and necessary ones. Conservatives like to equate these stupid trials with the Dems' actions, even though they've taken more reasonable steps to fight them then the GOP. Most, if not all, liberals I've heard from oppose these frivolous lawsuits. I'd like to end by talking about those warning labels that pop up after a lawsuit. Among them: don't catch a falling knife and don't iron you lottery ticket. My favorite: in a cell phone instruction sheet: do not place phone in microwave when wet. I would like to know if Europe is facing a similar crisis and how countries have dealt with this crisis.

...it seems the most ridiculous cases are not as entertaining as they are unfair.... One lady spilled hot McDonalds coffee over her lap: $2 million.

Not so ridiculous. The woman was badly hurt, and McDonalds wouldn't even pay basic medical costs despite their knowing the coffee was at a dangerously high temperature and having had several prior complaints:

Rumors fly whenever an odd case like this comes up. People accused Liebeck of trying to take the lid off the coffee while driving, when she was really a passenger in a stopped car, for example.

(I agree the pants lawsuit itself is just stupid. If a cleaner loses or damages your clothing and won't pay to replace or fix it, take them to small claims court to recoup the cost of the clothing.)

by lychee on Thu Jun 14th, 2007 at 09:24:42 PM EST
Thanks -- you beat me to it.  That woman had 3rd degree burns over 6% of her body, spent days in the hospital, and had to have skin grafts.  She originally sued for only her medical costs and McDonald's refused.  The amount awarded was designed to be punitive after it was discovered McDs had had more than 700 complaints.

Most of these cases are publicized as ridiculous because corporations want to restrict peoples' access to the courts.  The judges do throw out almost all of the ridiculous ones.  It's actually not as easy to sue in the US as these stories make it out.

I'll have to look up this pants thing -- it sounds crazy.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 14th, 2007 at 11:43:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, cases like these ridiculous ones are being used as justification for restricting peoples' access to courts. But I would have to say that there are many, many frivolous lawsuits where hard-working pople pay up (Newsweek even did an article a few years back titled Lawsuit Hell). And there are many cases where rich companies shoot down plaintiffs' rights, such as the recent Supreme Court case where Goodyear didn't have to pay up for pay discrimination. But we have to differentiate them. I appreciate the trial lawyers' work on behalf of the Dems on nabbing Repubs who take lobbyist money and harm constituents' medical care. But reform against frivolous lawsuits are needed, in a way that doesn't harm good suits (the ones the GOP are trying to get). If you think there is a way to do it, please comment on it.
by pelcan on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 01:22:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
reform against frivolous lawsuits are needed, in a way that doesn't harm good suits

Actually, that's the problem -- I don't think there's a way to restrict ONLY "frivolous" suits without harming everybody's access to the courts.  These kinds of suits make news because they're the exception.    Most people have to find a lawyer to take the case, first.  That can be very difficult.  Then they have to make the case so that a judge accepts it.  Through both of these steps, most cases with no merit are thrown out.

It looks like this case got through because the guy is a judge, he's his own lawyer, and the judge of the case is an idiot.  I think the real question to look at is how to keep some freak occurrance like this from damaging people like these drycleaners for life.  There will probably be a judgment against the pants guy, ordering him to pay the lawyer's fees, but there's also talk about him losing his job over this, so the fees are unlikely to be recovered.

I don't know what the answer is -- victim's funds to repay people who've suffered from this sort of thing?  a civil equivalent to a public defender's office?  

I agree with your sense of outrage about this case.  What's happening to the drycleaners is terrible.  But I just don't think it's symptomatic of some wide-ranging problem.  The courts really are not filled up with frivolous lawsuits.  Many that are considered such are people trying to pay for medical expenses.

In my view, the courts are mostly filled up with frivolous criminal prosecutions.  I wish we had half as much outrage about the abuses of the criminal courts as we do about the freak occurrances in the civil ones.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 02:21:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
there's now a diary on dailykos about this:


Tort "reformers" will attempt to use this case to strengthen theirs, but that is only the oldest trick in their book. Using one isolated example to wildly distort the problem gets us off track in terms of what civil justice is about. The civil justice community is equally appalled by this lawsuit; the difference is that we know that knee-jerk reactions to scrap the whole system because of one troubled, vindictive individual would be a grave mistake. Why toss out both baby and bathwater? We should enforce the consequences that are already built into the system. This is why the American Association for Justice (formerly ATLA) called for an investigation into Pearson's professional ethics when he filed this lawsuit.

Tort "reformers" claim that this lawsuit is symptomatic of a system that is too open and accessible, and therefore demonstrates a need to further restrict access to the courts. This basically translates into an argument for compromising the American public's right to protection under the law. Despite one crazy lawsuit we know that access to the court system is a very good thing.

and it turns out there is a movement already, addressing the problem of paying for lawyers:

The civil justice system provides an added check against corporate misconduct as well as a remedy to those affected by it. Instead of limiting people's right to use this forum, we should protect it. Indeed, there is mounting evidence of the need for increasing access to the courts through establishment of a civil-law version of the criminal right to counsel--called a Civil-Gideon right--in cases involving important basic human needs.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 04:25:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you-- I can't really add anything to this except you will always have people trying to test the limits of the law to see what they can get away with, no matter how strict the law, and stopping the truly frivolous lawsuits in the find-a-lawyer stage or the initial hearing is probably best, at least until a better system can be thought up.

For the cases that do get through, such as this one, can't countersuing be an option? I'd imagine the drycleaner could countersue for malicious prosecution?

by lychee on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 06:31:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IANAL, but I think they can countersue, although not for malicious prosecution, which is strictly a criminal court thing.  Still, there's probably some civil equivalent.  The problem is, like I said, it looks like the guy is going to lose his job, so getting any money out of him seems unlikely and pursuing more legal action only runs up more legal fees.

I would also hope the judge of this case is reprimanded in some way for letting it get this far and allowing all these legal fees to be run up.  I have a feeling she's going to rule in favor of the drycleaners, in which case it's normal to have her assign their attorney fees to the pants guy, but that still doesn't guarantee he'll pay the fees and doesn't make up for the time and suffering the drycleaner family had.

It is really awful for people when the system is misused in this way.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 09:25:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the insurance companies doing? It is largely them who are paying out and of course their customers paying the premiums.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 02:32:33 AM EST
What are the insurance companies doing?

Oh, you know, lobbying Republicans and putting out the word that the courts are hopelessly broken and full of idiotic cases in the hopes that they can manufacture enough outrage to restrict access.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 15th, 2007 at 02:28:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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