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13 posts from June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A classic case of how New Jersey taxpayers pay for lawsuit abuse

Robbinsville, New Jersey, has another expense to consider in its municipal budget for the next five fiscal years: a $250,000 payment to a former employee, via the Municipal Excess Joint Liability Fund.

The reason is a $500,000 lawsuit settlement. 

Back in 2003, the township’s Public Works Superintendent, George Field, underwent bladder surgery.  Two years later, he informed Mayor David Fried and then-Business Administrator Mary Caffrey that he would need an additional surgery in a few months.  Field said that the day before his surgery was to take place, they met with him and informed him his position was being evaluated.  The day following Field’s surgery, he was informed that a foreman would be in charge when he returned from medical leave.  He received a phone call from the Business Administrator just before he was due back, “terminating his employment on the basis that he allegedly did not follow orders.”

This prompted Field, who believed he’d been wrongfully terminated, to file a lawsuit under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  He claimed his age (58), disability, and perceived handicap were paramount in his termination.

Let’s assume that Mr. Field’s lawsuit was 100% meritorious, and Robbinsville Mayor and Business Administrator were at fault.  Should he be compensated for his lost wages?  Yes.  But Field took it several steps further.  In addition to his semi-quantifiable monetary losses, he claimed that he suffered from “(1) emotional distress; (2) injury and damage to his reputation; and (3) humiliation.

This pushed the potential award substantially higher.  And as Robbinsville - like municipalities across the state- seek cost savings to alleviate tax rates and preserve services, a six or seven figure verdict could have had dire consequences.  Admittedly, I’m assuming this factored into the Township’s decision to settle. 

The total settlement the Township reached with field was half a million dollars.  Yes, $500,000.00 of taxpayer money will be paid out to a man who felt embarrassed during a severe economic recession.  $250,000 will be paid from the Municipal Excess Joint Liability Fund.  Since the Township is unable to pay its $250,000 share upfront, the Fund will cover it for now, with the understanding that the Township will pay it back in five annual installments of $50,000.00.

Again, if he was in fact wrongfully terminated, yes, he should be compensated.  But to add on “damages” like “humiliation” is outright abuse. 

In his budget address, Mayor Fried informed Robbinsville’s 15,000 residents that furloughs, pay freezes, and benefit reductions were needed in order to craft this year’s budget.  A settlement of this magnitude – for the subjective reasons noted – certainly doesn’t help. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Read NJLRA's Op-Ed in Today's Daily Record!

In recent months, school funding has been hotly debated by many sides. And the most infamous school litigation of the past two decades, Abbott vs. Burke, is routinely invoked as a major cost driver in education. Whether or not you support the New Jersey Supreme Court's decisions, which required equalized funding between the state's richest and poorest school districts, most of us acknowledge that school districts must look for ways to cut waste from their budgets.

What's often overlooked is the cumulative effect non-Abbott litigation has on school budgets. Tort reform isn't an issue for just New Jersey's businesses and physicians. Budgeting for extensive litigation throughout New Jersey's school districts is having an impact. Just as in the private sector, lawsuit abuse carries consequences. But when it impacts schools, the impact is felt by students and taxpayers, rather than consumers.

The average New Jersey school district allocates approximately $26,000 each school year for litigation expenses. In seven districts, this figure was higher than $500,000 for the 2009 — 2010 school year. And as one Morris County school district learned, sometimes all it takes is one bad lawyer to affect their budget priorities for years to come.

Read Entire Op-Ed!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In New Jersey, it’s en vogue to sue the doctor when Mother Nature is unavailable for questioning

The lawsuit was filed by the family of William Hensley, a 40-year-old Wantage resident, who died after being stung by bees 30 times while mowing his lawn.  The result is a $1.6 million judgment against a New Jersey ER doctor. 

A month before his death in August 2005, Mr. Hensley’s wife says that her husband was stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction.  The ER doctor at Saint Clare’s Hospital, Dr. Allen Retirado, diagnosed him with heat stroke.  When Mr. Hensley was later attacked by 30 bees and suffered a severe allergic reaction, he died before ever making it to the emergency room. 

The widow decided to sue the hospital.  Her attorney, Dennis Donnelly, managed to successfully argue that if William Hensley were diagnosed with an allergic reaction to a bee sting, they would have had the nest on their property removed.  And the subsequent attack would have never happened.

Keep in mind that William Hensley’s widow, Melissa, openly acknowledges that she believed her husband had an allergic reaction to one bee sting a month prior to his fatal bee attack.  One that was so severe, that he had to be rushed to the emergency room by a neighbor. 

Mr. Hensley was fine after he received treatment and left the emergency room in July.  He’d suffered no adverse medical consequences for the hospital’s failure to diagnose his allergy, and apparently felt healthy enough to mow his lawn again a month later.  Only this time, it was 30 bees that stung him instead of one. 

No one suggests that Mr. Hensley’s death isn’t tragic.  But to hold a doctor responsible for what the plaintiff says she already knew is tragic as well.  You can’t sue nature when a loved one dies, otherwise there would be 30 yellow jackets being marched into court.  New Jerseys’ doctors, unfortunately, are scapegoated instead.  Lawsuits like this one directly contribute to the crisis which is driving good doctors from New Jersey at an alarming rate.  An award of this magnitude is felt by New Jersey’s entire medical community, as malpractice premiums escalate to the point where it is no longer financially feasible to practice medicine inside the borders of the Garden State.  And it will be felt by New Jersey residents as well as doctors decide to practice elsewhere.  A study by the Council of Teaching Hospitals estimates that we New Jerseyans will be short nearly 3,000 doctors by the end of the decade. 

The $1,600,000.00 verdict proves that in New Jersey, it’s en vogue to hold the doctor responsible en lieu of the Almighty.  Since it’s difficult to name God, or Mother Nature, in a lawsuit, the doctor is at fault for Mr. Hensley’s allergy to bee stings.  (For what it’s worth, the doctors involved, Allen Retirado and Harvey Beckman, say they were never even told about a possible bee sting in the first place).

According to the Star-Ledger report, Dr. Retirado was found 52 percent negligent in the man’s death.  Harvey Beckman, an internist at Sussex Borough hospital, was found to be over 47 percent negligent in a separate confidential settlement with the widow and her attorney.  The $1.6 million verdict included $850,000 in lost wages and a near equal amount for “loss of advice and companionship.”  An additional $5,000 was awarded for pain and suffering prior to his death (and prior to reaching the hospital).   

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pay-to-play in PA update

Last year we wrote about the Bailey, Perrin & Bailey law firm, which made significant campaign contributions to the 2006 reelection campaign of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.  The firm was later awarded a no-bid contingency fee contract to sue Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, over marketing of its drug Risperdal. 

Fortunately, this sort of eyebrow-raising partnership is not common in New Jersey, where the Corzine Administration operated in accordance with the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act (PARSA), throughout his administration.  NJLRA applauded the Executive Order issued by the Governor in late 2009. 

A judge dismissed the Commonwealth’s suit against Janssen, citing a lack of evidence.  While this is a step in the right direction for New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, there are other legal challenges ahead.  Businessweek reports that the same law firm will be representing the state of South Carolina against Janssen Pharmaceuticals., Litigation against its once-popular drug could cost the company billions of dollars.  The firm was a large financial contributor to state officials in South Carolina as well. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Half a Billion Dollar Verdict Puts Drug to Sleep – Permanently

Half a billion dollars is a lot of money.  Just ask Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which has just been ordered by a Nevada jury to pay a couple this amount resulting from a lawsuit filed against them.    

The product is propofol, one of the most widely-used anesthetics in the United States.  You may recall hearing this drug last summer, as it has been noted that Michael Jackson had been using it as a sedative prior to his death. 

The Las Vegas-Review Journal reports that the plaintiff, Henry Chanin, contracted hepatitis C after undergoing a colonoscopy four years ago at a clinic run by Dr. Dipak Desai.  The lawsuit claimed that the drug maker failed to adequately label the drug with warnings against multiple-patient use. 

Nevada law exempts product liability judgments from a cap on damages, so the jury was free to award the plaintiff and his wife $356 million in damages, and another $144 million in punitive damages, for a grand total of $505 million. 

Mark Tully, who represented the company in court, said that a verdict of this magnitude violates their due process rights.  In court papers, he reiterated guideposts which he believes are consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s disdain for “grossly excessive or arbitrary punitive damages”:  consideration of the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct; the ratio of the punitive damages award to the actual harm inflicted on the plaintiff; and how the award compares with similar cases.

$50 million is a lot of money for a company to have to post as a bond in their appeal and would cause most companies to make some concessions.  The first casualty is propofol itself; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced that it will discontinue distribution of the popular anesthetic. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A-2473 Moves Unanimously Out of Committee

Thank you to all of NJLRA’s supporters who testified, to Assemblymen Gary Schaer and John McKeon for sponsoring it, and Chairwoman Pou for hearing it in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Assembly Appropriations Committee to hear A-2473, capping appeal bonds, on Thursday, June 17th

The Assembly Appropriations Committee will consider A-2473 on Thursday, June 17th, 2010 @ 2 p.m. in Committee Room 11 of the State House Annex.

A-2473, sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, calls for a cap on appeal bonds to the total amount of a monetary judgment, not to exceed $50 million.

New Jersey's current law regarding appeal bonds does not reflect the realities of contemporary litigation.  The reality is that a business can be sued for almost anything.  And when a business, whether large or small, tries to appeal a verdict, they must post a bond in order to stay judgment.  For many companies, it can be difficult to secure the needed financing, forcing them to settle rather than risk additional financial hardship, even when they believe they might have been successful on appeal.  


 Justice shouldn't be denied to businesses and service providers which do not own large facilities or possess hard assets against which a bond can be leveraged.  High tech, bio-tech, and research-based companies, and small businesses and professional firms - all of which are major drivers of economic growth in New Jersey - are particularly vulnerable. 
 Please join with us in encouraging the members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to support A-2473 on Thursday.  Sample language and a list of the committee members' email addresses are included below:

 Sample language:

 Dear Member of the Assembly Appropriations Committee,


 I am writing to encourage you to support A- 2473, sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, which limits the amount of appeal bond in civil actions to the total value of the monetary judgment or $50 million, whichever is less.  


 This legislation is needed in order to protect our state's businesses from lawsuit abuse and keep them operating in New Jersey.  Justice should not be denied to companies which cannot afford the high cost of financing an appeal.  


 A- 2473 is up for a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, June 17th. I look forward to your support of this legislation. 

Sincerely,
[Signature]

 

Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, Chair

aswpou@njleg.org

Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, Vice-Chair

asmramos@njleg.org

Assemblywoman Dawn Marie Addiego

aswaddiego@njleg.org

Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes

asmbarnes@njleg.org

Assemblyman Chivukula

asmchivukula@njleg.org

Assemblyman Herb Conaway

asmconaway@njleg.org

Assemblyman John DiMaio

asmdimaio@njleg.org

Assemblyman Louis Greenwald

asmgreenwald@njleg.org

Assemblyman John McKeon

asmmckeon@njleg.org

Assemblyman Erik Peterson

asmpeterson@njleg.org

Assemblywoman Linda Stender

aswstender@njleg.org

Assemblyman Samuel Thompson

asmthompson@njleg.org

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In case you missed it: Check out NJLRA's piece in the NJ Chamber's Magazine

In case you missed it, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly magazine, Enterprise, ran Marcus’s op-ed in its latest edition:

If your company has never been sued, consider yourself lucky. Plaintiffs' attorneys are one group that’s flourishing during this period of 10% unemployment.  New Jersey has become a top destination for lawsuits (i.e., the McDonald's coffee variety) thanks to weaknesses in our state’s civil justice system which need correcting.  We’ve managed to place 4th in the nation on the American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellhole” list and were recently labeled by Forbes Magazine as “one of the worst places to get sued in America.” 

Consider this: consumers do not have to be defrauded in order to file a lawsuit under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act.  They don’t have to ask for a refund before suing in court, either.  Warnock Dodge found this out when a customer believed she was overcharged by $40 and immediately marched to court.  New Jersey courts also welcome out-of-state plaintiffs.  In one such case, an Alabama resident who claimed a popular acne medication gave him Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome received a $25,000,000 judgment – money he will take with him to Alabama.  In the mean time, New Jersey-based Roche stopped producing the popular product due to its costly legal battle.  

To make matters worse, when a questionable judgment is levied against a New Jersey business, many companies simply cannot afford the cost of an appeal.  We think that defendants, like plaintiffs, deserve to appeal an unfair decision.  But in New Jersey, businesses must pay in advance.  A defendant cannot pursue an appeal without posting the entire award amount, and oftentimes attorneys’ fees, as a bond.  Awards have skyrocketed in recent years to the point where it is nearly impossible for many small and mid-sized businesses to obtain the financing they need to meet the bond.  As a result, it’s usually not cost-effective to fight.  A company may be forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to stay the judgment.  The money used to finance a bond for the duration of an appeal – which often takes years – is lost and never recovered, no matter what the outcome.  Not to mention the irreparable harm to a business’s reputation. 

In this economy and in this highly-regulated state, the last thing that any conscientious business needs is a frivolous lawsuit. 

There is good news.  A proposal to reform our civil justice system is gaining traction in Trenton.  It’s a cost-neutral approach to revitalize our economy, and the Legislature is starting to notice: Senator Raymond Lesniak (Union) and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (Passaic) introduced S-480/A-2473, which would limit the amount of appeal bond in a civil action to the total amount of the judgment, not exceeding $50 million. 

Tort reform can help New Jersey businesses during this economic downturn. And it can do it without cost to the state.   

Chamber

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tort Reform and Women's Health: What you should know about New Jersey's medical malpractice crisis and women's access to care

New Jersey’s OBGYNs pay the seventh highest malpractice premiums in the nation, encouraging them to reduce their services or practice out-of-state, where premiums are lower.

90 percent of physicians enrolled in the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOG) have been sued at least once.  Merely being named in a lawsuit can force premiums higher for OBGYNS, and the average OBGYN is sued 2.7 over the course of a career.  Physicians, therefore, are required to prepare themselves with sufficient insurance should they find themselves – or others with whom they share a practice or support staff – to be the victim of frivolous litigation.

New doctors wanting to practice obstetrics face disproportionate hurdles.  In addition to student debt, high premiums dictate that new OBGYNs will have to deliver scores of babies each quarter in order to remain financially solvent. 

The fear of being sued is one of the biggest barriers to care in New Jersey.  Nearly 60 percent of OBGYNs have made changes to their practice during the last three years because of the high risk of liability claims.

35 percent of OBGYNs have either decreased the number of high-risk obstetric patients or have ceased providing obstetric care altogether, making it harder for women with high-risk pregnancies to access specialized care.  If this trend continues, New Jersey women can expect to find that they cannot get the prenatal and gynecologic care they need, and many will not be able to find doctors to deliver their babies. 

New Jersey has the highest caesarean rate in the nation.  More than 1/3 of New Jersey babies are now delivered by caesarean section.  OBGYNS frequently site the fear of being sued as a chief reason for this high number. 

On average, New Jersey’s OBGYNs stop practicing at age 48 – an age that was once considered the midpoint of an OBGYN’s career. 

The current gap between doctors and patients in New Jersey is 12 percent.  A study by the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals estimates that New Jersey will be short an additional 3,000 doctors in the next decade unless comprehensive changes are made to our state’s liability system.  If no changes are made, it increases the likelihood that the doctor shortage will reach crisis levels. 

You can listen to Marcus testify in support of A-1982 in the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee today at 10 a.m. on the Legislature’s website. 


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Testimony before the Women's Legislative Caucus

The newly formed Women’s Legislative Caucus held a hearing into women’s healthcare disparities in New Jersey.  The bicameral, bipartisan caucus is chaired by Assemblywomen Amy Handlin and L. Grace Spencer, and Senators Loretta Weinberg and Diane Allen.  Below is the testimony I gave to the committee. You can read the Caucus’s statement here.   

 

Testimony before the Women's Legislative Caucus

By Marcus Rayner, executive director

New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance

Public Hearing: Access to Health Care Services

Monday, June 7, 2010

 


I want to thank the Women's Legislative Caucus and its co-chairs for the opportunity to testify here today.  As you may know, the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance (NJLRA) was created in 2007 out of a broad concern among business leaders and professionals in the medical community about the state of New Jersey's civil justice system.  I am very pleased that the Caucus has convened this hearing to look at the various ways that access to care is limited in certain health care services for women in New Jersey.

 

As the national debate on health-care reform and tort reform unfolds, it is worth noting that here in New Jersey, we have our own health- care crisis under way. And it is driving out physicians, limiting patient access to care and increasing the cost of health care for all of us.

 

For many existing and aspiring medical students in New Jersey, the dream of practicing specialized medicine faces a significant hurdle: malpractice insurance premiums.  Too many promising medical students are becoming a casualty of our litigious health-care system.  This, in turn, limits the number of specialized medical doctors such as OG/GYNs in our state and eliminates access to care for thousands of New Jersey women. 

 

At some point in their education, medical students realize that in order to have a solvent future as an OB/GYN, they will have to deliver scores of newborns each quarter just to afford the cost of the high malpractice premium. Rates have skyrocketed for doctors practicing specialized medicine during the last few years. In order to simply maintain a viable practice, many doctors will likely have to see more patients and deliver more babies than any doctor reasonably could without compromising quality of care for patients.

 

Conversely, many will opt to not treat various patients, such as emergency room or acute care patients, because of the liability that doing so presents.  These decisions are the direct result of the high medical malpractice premiums facing specialty doctors in New Jersey today.

 

Malpractice insurance costs so much because New Jersey's current civil justice laws are decisively anti-physician. Malpractice awards in New Jersey are not capped, for one, as they are in thirty-two other states. In addition, some New Jersey courts allow cases to be built around weak "junk science" that is often not permissible in other jurisdictions. As a result, New Jersey's courts have become a lottery for those wanting to turn an unfortunate medical outcome into a payday. Physicians, therefore, are required to prepare themselves with sufficient insurance should they find themselves -- or others with whom they share a practice or support staff -- to be the victim of frivolous litigation. As I mentioned, this excessive physician liability can also force many doctors to abandon specialized medicine altogether, leaving many patients without care.

 

While both federal and state governments bear responsibility for setting civil justice and medical malpractice policy, aspiring physicians in New Jersey are at a notable disadvantage. Medicine bears the distinction of being both business and personal. Why practice specialized medicine in New Jersey when other states, including some of our neighbors, offer much less burdensome alternatives?

 

In Pennsylvania, for example, punitive damages against individual physicians is limited to 200% of compensatory damages.  Many of you may be familiar with the successful medical malpractice reforms in Texas, which after capping medical malpractice awards in 2003 saw an average 21.3% annual decrease in  medical malpractice premiums in the following four years.  As a result, the number of medical license applications in Texas increased 18% in the four years since the state legislature enacted the caps. (Source, The New York Times, More Doctors in Texas After Malpractice Caps, October 5, 2007).

 

Mississippi experienced 25% annual increases in medical malpractice premiums prior to their reforms and even created a state insurance pool to offer coverage to doctors.  After their reforms, rates plummeted and the State of Mississippi was able to sell the state insurance pool.

 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all but 15 states have adopted some limit on medical malpractice awards.  New Jersey must join the majority of states in adopting some reasonable limits on medical damage awards.  Without them, we will continue to force doctors out of our state and we will limit care to thousands of our most vulnerable women and children.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Don’t bully the New York Assembly Next

The Wall Street Journal reported on the New York Senate’s passing of a bipartisan anti-bullying measure, which would allow employees to sue employers for “bullying.” 

Aside from how subjective the term “bullying” may be when applied to adults (just why is it that those who are thin-skinned seem more susceptible to “toxic” work environments, anyway?), such a law would be ripe for abuse. 

New Yorkers can sue their employers when they are discriminated against based their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.   But suing an employer who makes you cry?  That has Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Manhattan Institute, and others fuming. 

“Who hasn’t worked in a workplace where there aren’t derogatory remarks?” said Jim Copland, the director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute. “Big corporate law firms, trading floors, these are exceptionally abusive work environments.  People are yelling, people are cursing.  This is what happens.”

You could probably add any level of government to these examples, as I know many who would struggle to adapt to a political environment which was free of it. 

According to the Journal, the bill applies to organizations of all sizes.  Other pro-employee laws, like the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, exempt small businesses.  This proposal would also hold employers responsible for the bullying of workers by colleagues and not just supervisors.

One could always try standing up to bullies, as parents used to teach.  Or quit.

The WSJ has an online poll: Should employees be able to sue employers for suffering at the hands of a workplace bully or toxic boss?  You can cast your vote here. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Even When Defendants Win, They Often Lose

If you ever wanted clear evidence that our civil justice system favors plaintiffs over defendants, consider the issue of attorney's fees.  A defendant, once sued, must hire attorneys to defend against the suit regardless of merit.  Many plaintiffs, on the other hand, are able to sue based upon contingency fee arrangements so that they must pay little to no money up front.  Those are the traditional rules of the road. 

But now our courts are making it even worse for defendants.  Last month a New Jersey court awarded interim attorney's fees in a Consumer Fraud Act suit that has yet to be decided.  You can read the New Jersey Law Journal (NJLJ) story here, although it requires a subscription.  

According to the NJLJ, the judge said "Although I’m not in a position to order a final judgment, I think that the plaintiffs should be awarded counsel fees for at least the work that they had to do through obtaining the preliminary injunction."  He had also previously issued a temporary restraining order barring the defendants from selling, encumbering or transferring the home.

But the case is still in discovery, according to the NJLJ, and the defendant has yet to be found guilty of violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. 

The plaintiffs attorney in the case, Abraham Borenstein, called the fee award “ground breaking" and says it means that “litigants — who previously could not afford to initiate a lawsuit — are now empowered to fight and expose mortgage fraudsters.”

But this precedent is about more than (alleged) mortgage fraudsters and the implications can mean that defendants, far beyond having to pay for their own defense in a lawsuit, may now be forced to finance the plaintiffs suit against them before a verdict.  Is this fair?

In Rhode Island last month a judge also ruled that three companies that sold lead-based paint and were sued by the state in a landmark case cannot recover money they spent defending themselves in the lawsuit.

Despite the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling that Rhode Island law does not support a nuisance claim against the lead paint manufacturers, the Associated Press reports that:

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein denied that request, saying the lawsuit was brought in good faith and focused public attention on problems associated with lead-based paint, which can cause reduced intelligence and even brain damage in children who ingest flakes or dust from it and was banned for U.S. residential use in 1978. The judge said ordering the companies to be reimbursed could deter the state from bringing public health lawsuits in the future.

It's worth noting that some of the defendants in this case had never manufactured lead paint but were owners of legacy companies involved in lead paint manufacturing much earlier in the 20th Century.

Courts in the United States are moving in the wrong direction.  In Europe and other Western democracies, courts embrace the concept of "loser pays," which is the concept that the loser in a suit makes the victor whole.  Pointoflaw.com has an excellent article discussing the concept of loser pays

Here in America, it seems that some courts want the defendant to pay - regardless of whether they win the suit.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Michigan business suffers from an abusive lawsuit

Richard Singer runs a family business in Bay City, Michigan called Acra Cast, Inc. He employs about 15 people and manufactures metal products, ranging from sculptures to machine parts. 

His livelihood (and the livelihoods of 15 others) was threatened when a new neighbor in Bay City sued him, claiming that the company’s emissions damaged the paint on his five cars and damaged the carpet inside his house. 

As it turns out, the plaintiff did not own two of the vehicles for which he tried to collect compensation.  And he’d already sold two others.  As for the carpet, he disposed of it without collecting so much as a sample to prove his case in court.  This particular plaintiff should have known that such evidence could be helpful.  After all, he should be pretty familiar with the system – he’s filed 23 lawsuits in that county alone, as of 2006. 

“Most of these cases settle before they ever make it to trial, so people that understand the system… will bring these cases over and over again in order to get something for nothing,” said Singer. 

Singer, whose business had never been cited for any environmental violation by Michigan authorities, refused to settle. 

From what little they could collect, it was determined that the material on the plaintiff’s remaining vehicle could not have been caused by the wax burned at Acra Cast.  Rather, it was likely a result of the plaintiff parking near an auto body shop. 

“We spent close to $20,000 defending ourselves during a time when we should have been using that money to buy new equipment and improve our facilities,” Singer noted.  Litigation dragged on for nearly three years, and ultimately, some employees were let go. 

You can hear Richard Singer tell the story in his own words on You Tube, courtesy of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s Faces of Lawsuit Abuse series.