Welcome to the latest edition of my newsletter. We've been exploring best practices for managing legal counsel. This month we groan over some of my favorite worst law suits filed last year. The review is in the context of a market already overcrowded with lawyers, continuing to rise alongside a flood of litigation.
I'd like to hear your thoughts about the topics in this and past issues of the newsletter. Please send the to me at this e-mail address.
You can review past issues of the newsletter at these links:
How to Choose a Law Firm Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and finally Part VI.
Some of the Best Worst Lawsuits Filed in 2011
The cost of legal representation will never be cheap, nor should it be. The good news for small business owners, however, is that it is still a buyer's market. My advice to small businesses for 2012 and beyond is to use legal services proactively and to avoid litigation like the plague. Embrace mediation and face-to-face meetings to settle disputes if you truly want to cut your legal costs.
Following are some interesting facts. Law schools keep pumping out more new lawyers every year, just as they have since Y2K (which many people think lawyers invented). In 2010 alone, over 44,000 new attorneys started looking for work. In 2011, the number of licensed attorneys grew about 2% from 2010 to 1,225,452.
As the number of attorneys rise, so do the number of lawsuits each year. The National Center for State Courts tabulated that approximately 20 million civil lawsuits were filed in 2009 alone. With approximately 250 million adults living in the US, this means that there was one lawsuit filed in the US during 2009 for every 13 adults, just in State Courts alone (e.g. not including Federal District Court, Bankruptcy, Tax Courts). You can check out the State Court statistics at this link. The numbers are not in for 2010 and 2011 but by all reports they have risen again. Sadly, it appears that for every ridiculous, harassing or frivolous lawsuit that someone filed in recent years, there were 16 or 17 lawyers clamoring for the business.
Here is a question that can't be answered if ever there was one: Why in a stagnant economy where almost 10% of Americans are out of work, are so many people filing so many lawsuits?
Mark's Top Picks for Best Worst
Lawsuits of 2011
I seem to have digressed from my intention of starting the year off with some humor, so here is my list of favorite best worse lawsuits from 2011:
- In a unanimous ruling, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the dismissal of what it calls a "bad mothering" lawsuit that a pair of ungrateful adult siblings filed against their mom. The 2009 lawsuit accused the mom of "a course of conduct which has caused both the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress" to her children. The Court forced to take the claims seriously, found that the mother's actions were "unpleasant and perhaps insensitive," but that they did not meet the legal standards of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- A County Circuit Judge is hearing preliminary motions in a lawsuit claiming a mouse was found in a can of Mountain Dew. The Plaintiff claimed that after opening and beginning to drink soda he purchased from a vending machine at work, he tasted something foul. He claims he spat out the soda to reveal a dead mouse. Plaintiff claimed he sent the mouse to Pepsi, which destroyed the mouse body. Pepsi denies the claims, and has moved to dismiss the case. In support of its motion, Pepsi cited expert testimony that the mouse would have dissolved in the soda had it been in the can from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff drank it.
- A 290-pound New York man is steaming mad at the White Castle fast-food chain, which he claims repeatedly broke promises to make the booths in his local eatery bigger. The lawsuit filed in federal court, claimed that the uncomfortable booths violated the civil rights of fat people. The Americans with Disabilities Act is "applicable -- not only to me, but to pregnant women and to handicapped people," according to the Plaintiff, who is suing for bigger chairs and unspecified damages. "I just want to sit down like a normal person."
- A Michigan woman sued the distributors of the film Drive because she said the trailer misled her into buying a ticket for the film, and when she finally saw the movie, it wasn't what she was expecting. She claimed the ads were in violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. She also wants a notice to the public ordered regarding the "extreme gratuitous defamatory racism, and promotion of violence, directed against members of the Jewish faith."
- Forget about a cruise ship capsizing, an Indiana woman filed a complaint against Carnival saying that "due to the speed of the ship I became very sick ... the ship was moving so fast everyone on board became sick, even the workers."
- A San Diego mother sued the company that owns the Chuck E. Cheese's family restaurant chain, claiming that many of the games intended for children at these locations are actually illegal gambling devices - like slot machines. The mother of two daughters ages 3 and 5, filed the potential class-action suit in U.S. District Court noting that "We don't think that children should be exposed to casino-style gambling devices at an arcade," and adding that the games take only a few seconds to play and some of them feature a roulette-style wheel. Never mind that California is the 6th largest state in terms of income from legal gambling activities.
- A North Carolina couple sued Air Tran Airways for $100,000, claiming that they saw cockroaches on a flight. The couple claimed that the sight of cockroaches crawling out of an air vent "caused great distress," and forced them to throw away clothing in their luggage for fear of roach contamination.
- A woman sued Texas police, alleging that after her arrest for a traffic violation, she was forced to endure Rush Limbaugh's radio show. The woman who is African-American, says that an officer unjustly arrested her and handcuffed her in a police car, where she had to listen to the conservative radio host "make derogatory comments about black people."
- A former manager at Target sued the company, claiming he was fired for working during his lunch break. Target requires employees to clock out for half an hour for lunch. But Jason Kellner, an eight-year veteran, says his lunch was often interrupted by requests from customers and supervisors and that he never expected to be fired for helping them. For once I hope there are two sides to this story.
- Chick-Fil-A apparently owns the rights to the "Eat More" slogan, as in "Eat Mor Chikin" [sic]. When Eat More Kale applied for a federal trademark for its "Eat More Kale" logo, Chick-Fil-A blocked the application, demanded Eat More Kale to stop using its slogan, and to turn over its website to the chain. According to Chick-Fil-A, "Eat More Kale" dilutes its intellectual property and, revealing how dumb it must think we are, argues that customers would confuse a brand that encourages bad spelling and consumption of chickens with one that encourages proper spelling and consumption of a healthy leafy vegetable.
- In February, a San Diego mother was shocked to discover from her friends that Nutella is not nearly as healthy as she initially thought. Had the company's commercials and other advertisements not fooled her into believing that the spread was high in nutrition, she claims, she would not have fed her kid the hazelnut chocolate poison every morning. Those of us in favor of reading labels, will be unhappy to learn that the producer of Nutella, Ferrero USA, appears to have settled the case last month, after the federal court certified the lawsuit as a class action.
Again, I'd enjoy hearing from you, so e-mail your thoughts to me here.
Welcome to the Law Firm of Mark Garfinkel, Esq.
We are a boutique business law firm that proudly serves both international and domestic clients. Our office is located in an old Victorian in downtown Berkeley Springs, W.V., which is about an hour outside of the WDC metro area.
The founding partner, Mark Garfinkel is admitted to practice in the District of Colombia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virgina. Prior to founding the firm, Mark was the General Counsel of OPIC in WDC (www.OPIC.gov
Mark is an experienced business and corporate attorney with both domestic and international clients.
He is also a commercial mediator who relishes solving business disputes without legal fighting.
See his website at www.garfinkellaw.com
to find out more about his practice areas.