Bigger Than Breast Implants; Pickled Justice?; Millions for Lawyers, Zero for Plaintiffs; Stop the Presses: Accidents Can Happen; Spousal Lawsuits to Sweep Japan?

Bigger Than Breast Implants
Unless the public learned a lesson from other class action suits another legal hysteria could be in the offing: Trial lawyers are representing hundreds of plaintiffs in lawsuits alleging that latex products caused allergies. One such lawyer, Daniel Becnel, Jr., told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram that latex producers’ liability could be in the billions of dollars, saying: “This could be bigger than breast implants.” Manufacturers have spent millions finding ways to make latex less allergic for health care workers, who use gloves as a defense against AIDS. But with many courts willing to award huge damages on weak science, some producers have begun moving manufacturing facilities out of the U.S. to avoid liability for claims made by trial lawyers that manufacturers believe are scientifically weak. Perhaps the U.S. workers who lose their jobs at these manufacturing plants should consider eye-for-an-eye justice: suing trial lawyers for threatening their livelihoods.

Pickled Justice?
A West Virginia convenience store worker was awarded an astonishing $2,699,000 in punitive damages after she injured her back when she opened a pickle jar, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. Cheryl Vanevender also received $130,066 in compensation and $170,000 for emotional distress. State Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard called this award an “outrageous sum,” filing a dissenting opinion: “I know an excessive punitive damages award when I see one, and I see one here.” The court, however, upheld most of the punitive damages: $2.2 million.

Millions for Lawyers, Zero for Plaintiffs
When a group of Philadelphia lawyers sued Archer Daniels Midland for a price-fixing scandal, they claimed to be working on behalf of the stockholders. The suit was settled for $8 million, but the shareholders will receive not one dollar. Half of the money will go to the trial lawyers and the other half will be set aside for other lawyers to advise ADM on corporate governance. “It’s a classic case of lawyer greed,” attorney Mark C. Hansen told the Washington Post. “This is a deal that does nothing but put money in the pockets of lawyers. Not a dollar goes to shareholders. And much of the lawyers’ time in court was spent sparring over which firm did the work.”

Stop the Presses: Accidents Can Happen
A Court of Appeals in Texas refused to reinstate a lawsuit against the skipper of a boat pulling a water skier who suffered an injury when he fell and was hit by his own ski. Matt Mitten, professor at the Texas College of Law, told the Houston Chronicle that “the law in Texas is basically that, if you participate in competitive sports events, you are assuming the foreseeable risks.” The skipper’s attorney, Edward Wallison, agrees that “accidents can happen in leisure sports.”

Tort D’Jour: Spousal Lawsuits to Sweep Japan?
A Japanese man sued his former wife for $38,000, saying their marriage broke up because she refused to do all the household chores, cook him rice and miso soup for breakfast each morning, and give him a monthly allowance of $850 — all while she was working full-time.

The Washington Post reports that the Toyko District Court ruled for the wife, noting that she had not objected to doing all of these chores, as long as her husband lived up to a prenuptial agreement to live near her place of work. He had refused. “There was a reason for every action that the woman took,” said Judge Hiroto Waki.

Japanese women’s groups, noting that many Japanese men not only expect their working wives to do all the housework, but also expect them to draw their baths, applauded and predicted more lawsuits. One told the Post: “If she can win this suit, it’s going to give all these other women who are tortured by housework the idea to sue. They will realize that they can go to court and win.”

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