Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Crane Collapse

Horrible crane collapse in New York City again, resulting in the death of at least one construction worker and injury to a pedestrian. Eyewitness reports describe a catastrophic scene, like a drawn-out car wreck with screeching metal and even fire. A crane collapsing from a high-rise must be a terribly frightening sight.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Whatever Happened to States' Rights?

Good recent New York Times op/ed discussing preemption, the trumping of state law by federal law and a favorite tool of the current administration to further close the courthouse door on consumers. Among other observations (such as how the Bush Administration issued rules preempting state banking laws - over the objection of all 50 states' banking superintendents - and thus helped pave the way for the subprime mortgage crisis):

[T]he federal rule should be a floor, not a ceiling. It should set a minimum level of rights, not stop states from doing more to protect their citizens.

For years, the federal government used pre-emption [to set a minimum level of rights]. Civil rights acts swept away discrimination at the state level, and workplace safety laws upgraded conditions in factories and mines. Conservatives opposed many of these federal laws on the principle that they were trampling on “states’ rights.”

Since the conservative ascendancy in Washington, many of these same people have stopped praising states’ rights and have begun burying them — not to protect citizens’ rights, but to take them away. The Bush administration and its Congressional allies have helped their friends in industry by enacting weak environmental, health and consumer regulations — and arguing that they wipe out more robust state protections.

Most Americans may not know about the supremacy clause, but they do seem to understand that they are increasingly vulnerable. Weeks before the 2006 elections shifted control of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, 79 percent of respondents in an Opinion Research poll said big business had too much influence over the Bush administration. As Democrats and Republicans contemplate what kind of “change” voters are looking for now, they can start with the idea that both the federal and state government need to do a better job of protecting their citizens.

Big Day for Merck, Sad Day for Consumers

Well, no surprise here, but appellate courts today in Texas and New Jersey overturned two jury verdicts against drug giant Merck in cases over its drug Vioxx.

Regarding the Texas court, Plaintiff's lawyer Mark Lanier said, “It’s a sad day that they can write a 10-page opinion and wipe out a widow’s verdict with a new judicial activism that reinterprets the evidence to support corporate executives.” He also pointed out that all three judges on the appellate panel who tossed out his verdict took campaign contributions from law firms defending Merck.

Say what you will about the civil justice system, but it's scary how far the appeals courts will go these days to overturn jury verdicts. Conservatives always rally against "judicial activism," yet the GOP-controlled appeals courts in Texas have become the worst practitioners of this.

Mark Lanier is an incredible trial lawyer. Something tells me he's not through with Merck just yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Truck Wreck in Wise County

Wise County Messenger reporting a bad truck wreck near Chico on Monday. Apparently a car struck the rear of an 18-wheeler that was turning in to a Nabors Drilling plant. The driver and her young child were flown to hospitals in Fort Worth.

Another blog reports that the child may have died. Very sad.

I had a meeting near Paradise not far from Bridgeport in Wise County this morning, and I am amazed at the volume of traffic on Highway 199, 51 and 114 in that area. There are trucks everywhere, mainly rock haulers and Barnett Shale trucks, many of them driving quite fast. On a different note, that is some beautiful country out there. But watch yourself if you drive out that way.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pity the poor insurance companies

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners , companies selling medical malpractice insurance in Texas made $807,325,106 profit in the first three years following tort reform. In 2006, more than 50 cents of every dollar collected was profit.

Hidden Costs of Tort Reform

A disturbing trend is emerging due to "tort reform:" Fewer injured consumers are able to be fully compensated through the court system and more are being forced onto taxpayer-funded government and charity heatlhcare programs. For example, a baby injured by medical negligence can't recover damages because of tort reform, and thus is cared for from now on by Medicaid. Or a worker is injured by a defective product but preemption shields the manufacturer from liability, so the worker goes onto Social Security Disability.

It is sad and ironic that one of the darlings of conservatives - tort reform and reduced access to the courthouse - is shifting this burden onto taxpayers, a burden which was once shared with the insurance industry.

Fox 4 News questions the benefits of tort reform in Texas

Good article on Fox 4 exposing some of the myths that propelled the "tort reform" debacle of the 2003 Texas Legislature.

UT Law Professor Bernard Black's conclusion after studying the matter? "It is entirely clear there was no crisis in medical malpractice lawsuits."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Justice for sale in Texas? Watch this.


And it is so ironic that the tort reformers want judges be appointed based on merit, while the author of the Entergy opinion is Justice Don Willett. Name one case he tried, one appeal he argued, one deposition he took, one Regular Joe client he represented, before leaving his employment with the Bush Administration and going to the highest civil court in our state, courtesy of Rick Perry.

Allstate to pay policyholders, reduce rates

The Texas Department of Insurance and Allstate entered into an agreement whereby the insurance giant will refund some money to policyholders and reduce their rates.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Allstate must pay $36.8 million in refunds for new and renewal policies written between Dec. 1, 2004 and April 23, 2006; give credits or refunds that amount to 3 percent of premiums for most policies written between Aug. 20, 2007 and June 1, 2008; cut homeowners rates by 3 percent on average statewide for most policies written between June 2, 2008 and at least June 1, 2009; and not increase rates between June 2, 2008 and June 1, 2009.

I'm skeptical of any agreements reached by Big Insurance and the lapdog TDI, particularly knowing how the insurance companies fight meaningful regulation tooth-and-nail. This could be good for consumers or it could just be window dressing (like when TMLT doubled medical malpractice insurance premiums prior to the "tort deform" debacle of 2003 and them hailed an 11% reduction a year later - yipee).

With all these "reductions," consumers can go broke saving money.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Passenger made to sit on toilet, sues JetBlue

Okay, this one is sorta funny. Probably very poor judgment by the airline crew but I don't know if it's worth two mil, especially since he was on a buddy pass in the first place.

Now in addition to McDonald's hot coffee, we'll have to voir dire the jury panel on this case.

The first small chink appears in Halliburton's armor

Houston Chronicle reporting today that a federal judge has ruled that Jamie Leigh Jones, the former employee of Halliburton subsidiary KBR who alleges she was raped by co-workers while in Iraq, can take her claims to trial. Halliburton, you'll recall, is seeking to have Jones's claims heard in arbitration rather than in court.

Apparently the ruling by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison is that Jones does not have to take the assault/rape claims through arbitration, but that she must first resolve other workplace-related claims through that process before going forward in court on the more serious charges.

Bravo. Sounds like a thoughtful ruling: Employment contract + workplace disputes = arbitration. Employment contract + assault, rape and imprisonment by co-workers = jury trial.

How much you wanna bet Halliburton appeals this ruling?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stay-at-Home Moms' market value = $117,000/year

An annual survey by finds that if a stay-at-home mom could be compensated in dollars for her various duties (housekeeper, daycare provider, teacher, driver, nurse, etc.), she'd make around $117,000 a year.

The study also found that, unlike the average 40-hour work week outside the home, most moms work 94.4 hours. Moms who also have jobs outside the home report working an average of 54.6 additional hours on mom duty.

The DMN has the story here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Jackknifed 18-wheeler catches fire in Dallas

Rarely does a day go by without yet another truck wreck in Dallas. Today, an 18-wheeler jackknifed on LBJ Freeway and ended up hanging over a bridge while on fire. Needless to say, traffic on I35 and 635 and surrounding streets came to a standstill. NBC5i reports that the driver escaped with minor injuries and no word yet on the cause of the wreck.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Even the Insured Feel Strain of Health Costs

The New York Times reports that since 2001, employees' average cost of an annual health care premiums for family coverage has nearly doubled — to $3,300, up from $1,800 — while incomes have come nowhere close to keeping up. Factor in other out-of-pocket medical costs, and the portion of the average American household’s income that goes toward health care has risen about 12 percent, according to the consulting and accounting firm Deloitte, and is now approaching one-fifth of the average household’s spending.

But I thought health care would become more affordable once we passed tort reform...wasn't that one of the promises the insurance and medical lobbies made when they bought the Legislature and sold our rights?

Georgia judge strikes down cap on medical malpractice suits

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington ruled recently that Georgia's $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice suits is unconstitutional, finding that it gives special protections to the medical profession.

"The statute effectively puts substantial limitations on the rights of the poor and middle class to recovery while leaving the right to virtually unlimited recoveries unimpeded for the wealthy," Arrington said. "The disabled manager of a hedge fund, a corporate CEO, an entertainer or such other person whose income is in the tens of millions of dollars has a claim under Georgia law that would dwarf the amount awarded in any case for pain and suffering."

The judge made this ruling in a medical negligence case which has yet to go to trial, so the impact of his decision is unclear at this point. The plaintiffs will have to be successful and the defendant will have to appeal (and lose) in order to create precedent; otherwise, it's just a point to argue in other cases.

Apparently, Judge Arrington has made some controversial rulings in the past and has been reversed by the Georgia Supreme Court on some of them. Nonetheless, I applaud his courage for speaking out against the injustice he sees first-hand in his courtroom.

The cap on noneconomic damages in Texas, by the way, is $250,000. And don't give me that crap about "stacking" two or three limits (for a $500,000 or $750,000 cap). Those scenarios were pitched by the insurance lobby when they rammed tort reform through the pliant Texas Legislature in 2003 but they have no basis in reality. You and your family are worth $250,000 if you get malpracticed on in Texas these days.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Morris Dees on Injustice

I learned from a colleague in Dallas that Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke today to the Dallas Bar Association, where he said:

"In my generation, our greatest injustice was racial prejudice, and I devoted much of my career to fighting it. Nowadays, our greatest injustice is corporate America, which has packed our courts and flooded our legislature with lobbyists -- to deprive American's of basic rights and to destroy our jury system. Why have we decided to lose our jury system? We must fight this injustice as passionately as we in the 1960s fought discrimination."

Well said, Mr. Dees.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A few billion here, a few billion there...

...and pretty soon you're talking real money.

ExxonMobil reported a $10.9 billion First-Quarter profit, up 17 percent.

With all that cash laying around, it should be no problem to pay that little $2.5 billion punitive damages award involving the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska back in 1989.

Fortunately for poor ol' Exxon, the Supreme Court will likely toss out those damages.'d sure hate for Exxon to pass that along to the customer in the form of higher fuel prices.