Legal Brief: Plaintiffs Get Zero, Lawyers $49 Million… With More to Come?; 0-24 on the Field, 1-0 in Court; It’s Dinosaur Versus Chicken in Trademark Lawsuit; Shush!

Plaintiffs Get Zero, Lawyers $49 Million… With More to Come?
Will a settlement between the tobacco industry and flight attendants in a case alleging illness from secondhand smoke lead to other suits? This is the question legal analysts are asking as the result of a court settlement in which the tobacco industry agreed to finance a $300 million medical research center to study treatments for illnesses that result from cigarette smoke. While flight attendants will not be compensated as part of the agreement (they had sought $5 billion in damages), their lawyers hit a $49 million jackpot and now will be able to pursue future individual and/or class action suits against the industry for health problems associated with secondhand smoke. Plaintiffs, and other classes of individuals such as casino, bar and restaurant employees who may have been exposed to smoky environments, are thought to be likely to pursue additional cases. A key issue in the case which led tobacco makers to settle was the plaintiffs’ little or no defense of the argument that the plaintiffs could freely choose to be exposed to smoke.

0-24 on the Field, 1-0 in Court
Oregon State University recently struck out in federal court when former softball coach Vickie Dugan won a $1.09 million suit alleging gender discrimination and a violation of free speech rights. Dugan sued after being replaced as coach after she posted only a 64-201 overall record and a 9-112 Pac-10 conference record in her six years as coach, and a 0-24 record in her final season.

Dugan and her lawyers convinced the all-woman jury that the team’s record was due to the amount of money allotted to the softball program, that she was paid less than male counterparts in the athletic department, and punished when she spoke out on perceived gender inequities. The jury awarded her $750,000 in compensatory damages, $329,485 in economic damages and $13,498 in settlement of the pay equity claim. The jury also awarded her $185,000 from the school’s former athletic director.

The University fought Dugan’s suit on the grounds that her performance was inadequate and noted that the two Oregon State search committees that declined to keep her in the job were made up mostly of women.

The cost of the $1.09 million payment will be borne by Oregon taxpayers.

It’s Dinosaur Versus Chicken in Trademark Lawsuit
America’s most loved and hated dinosaur, Barney, is suing the San Diego Chicken, saying the Chicken “would punch, flip, stand on and otherwise assault” a Barney lookalike in an act performed at sports events. The suit is being brought by Barney’s “owners,” Lyons Partnership, which seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the Chicken (Ted Giannoulas) from using a purple dinosaur costume in his acts, and $100,000 in damages for each time he has used the costume.

Although they are also seeking $100,000 in damages for each time the Chicken has used a purple dinosaur costume, lawyers for Barney claim that their real motivation is concern for the welfare of children. The lawyers say that children won’t be able to distinguish the lookalike Barney from the “real” one.

Someone should tell these lawyers that Barney isn’t real

Tort D’Jour
A new standard in frivolous lawsuits may be in the making in Memphis where George Rich is suing his former partner, Gary Jewel, for damages because, Rich says, Jewell oinked like a pig, brayed like a mule and yelled like a hyena in their business office, and displayed a “rotten, molded, stuffed head of a huge wild boar” where it could be seen by clients. Jewell says his behavior was proper and denied that the boar’s head, which he took home for Halloween, was moldy or rotten.

At least Rich and Jewel won’t have high legal fees: both are lawyers.

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