Jewish World Review July 1, 2005 / 24 Sivan,
Stupid lawyer tricks
The Heartland Institute (Chicago) does its bit for the gross
national blood pressure by tracking the outrages of the world's trial
lawyers. The May newsletter offers the following examples:
A jury in New Jersey has awarded $850,000 to a man who got drunk
on New Year's Eve and passed out in a snowbank. It seems that two local
police departments responded to a 1 a.m. call from an anonymous observer who
thought he had seen a man collapse outside a restaurant. Police searched the
area and found nothing. Nine hours later, in daylight, a passerby found
Frederick Puglisi, who was then revived by police and rushed to a hospital.
As Mike Kelly reported in the Bergen Record, ". . . police considered
charging Puglisi with drunkenness, but opted not to. Ramsey Police Director
Joe Delaney said in a newspaper account at the time that Puglisi had
probably learned a lesson already." Not quite. Puglisi sued both police
departments, claiming that frostbite damage to his right hand was their
fault for failing to conduct a more thorough search. The jury had originally
awarded Puglisi $1 million but decided to reduce the prize by 15 percent due
to his contributory negligence. Another judge later reduced it by half.
So there it is. You get blind drunk, wander outside in 22-degree
cold to find cigarettes, pass out in a snowbank and then sue the police for
not finding you sooner. Is this a great country or what?
Actually, that's a serious question.
If a drunk can get almost a million bucks, how much do
sympathetic plaintiffs pull in? In Milwaukee, an 84-year-old man who was
paralyzed in a car accident received $17 million. Who was to blame? Well,
the driver of the car was a volunteer for the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay
organization. He was delivering a statue of the Virgin Mary to an invalid at
the time of the accident. Lawyers persuaded the jury that the volunteer was
an employee of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and assigned damages
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, federal prosecutors are racking up
indictments against individuals who falsely claimed to have been harmed by
the drug Fen-Phen. The Clarion-Ledger reports that Gregory P. Warren
recruited clients for Schwartz and Associates that is, he recruited
people who would claim to have been harmed by Fen-Phen even if they had
never in fact taken the drug. Twelve others have already pleaded guilty to
filing false claims.
In California, a train conductor who claimed that his drinking
problems were exacerbated after a crash won $8.5 million from the Burlington
Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. Patrick Phillips, a 52-year-old
conductor, received minor head injuries when a Burlington Northern train
crashed into the commuter train he was driving. After the accident, he was
treated and released from a local hospital after two hours. But Phillips
claimed that his alcoholism worsened in the years following the crash,
leading to alcohol-related dementia. Burlington Northern agreed to settle
the case out of court.
The tort system is corrupting. By rewarding in cold cash
irresponsibility and a tendency to blame others for unavoidable misfortunes,
we are eroding our national character. We are not alone, of course. Great
Britain, the home of the stiff upper lip, has plowed new ground.
Walter Olson (overlawyered.com) describes a recent case:
"Carl Murphy, 18, of Merseyside, England, has received 567,000
pounds for injuries sustained while criminally trespassing on the roof of a
private warehouse in 1996, from which he fell 40 feet, sustaining multiple
injuries. Murphy, who has convictions for robbery, burglary and assault,
'received his compensation after suing the company that owned the warehouse.
He claimed that if the perimeter fence had not been in disrepair, he would
not have been able to gain entry and suffer his injuries.' Although groups
representing victims of crime expressed anger at his getting a sum 50 times
higher than a murder victim's family could expect to receive from the
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, Murphy was unapologetic about his
windfall, saying he planned to buy 'a few houses and a flash car' and
[adding] 'this money is mine now and I'll do what I want.' Murphy 'was
expelled from two schools in just over two years after his recovery, and his
family blamed the fall for his bad behavior. His mother, Diane, and her
partner, Kevin Parsons, both 36, are currently serving three years in prison
for setting up a heroin and crack cocaine business from their council
It sounds like a joke. Would that it were.
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