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9 posts from January 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good Morning America puts the Subway lawsuit to the test


What do red light cameras and Subway have in common?

Yes, that’s right - the same New Jersey lawyer is taking them to court. 

Stephen DeNittis, who brokered the $6.00 per person class-action settlement on behalf of those who received red light camera tickets, has found his next professional conquest: Subway. 

Subway is facing a class-action lawsuit under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  All it took was a lawyer and an antiquated law.  It started out as a Facebook photo in Australia.  One man’s footlong sub measured in at 11 inches, which sparked Mr. DeNittis’s interest in suing the sandwich shop under New Jersey law on behalf of nearly everyone who’s purchased one. 

Good Morning America took an unofficial test.  Out of the six footlongs it purchased, all were indeed a foot long.  One was even slightly larger. 

Of the $4.2 million settlement in the red light camera class action lawsuit, a whopping $6.00 was allocated for the plaintiffs who received tickets ranging from $85 - $140.  With approximately 500,000 plaintiffs, DeNittis received over $1 million for his trouble.    

DeNittis’s thirst for the next big corporate cash-cow underscores exactly what we’ve been saying – New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act allows enterprising attorneys to file suit against nearly anyone, make millions in attorney’s fees, and walk away.  Consumers end up paying the price for higher production costs. 

Assemblyman Craig Coughlin’s legislation, A-3264, would make these ridiculous lawsuits a rarity for New Jersey, instead of a punchline.  It’s time to advance this legislation before more of these ridiculous suits gain momentum. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oral arguments to begin in motion to recuse judge for bias

As many in the legal world know, Atlantic County, NJ is one of the most hostile jurisdictions in the country for defendants in mass tort litigation.  Judge Carol Higbee’s 9-year tenure in Accutane litigation has been marred with questionable decisions and pro-plaintiff bias.  Most of Judge Higbee’s Accutane cases which reached appellate review were reversed after great time and expense. 

Hoffman-LaRoche, which manufactured the popular acne medication before litigation costs made its production impractical, had enough.  They filed a motion to recuse Judge Higbee from Accutane litigation, accusing her of bias and partiality. 

Her transgressions include prohibiting valuable scientific evidence from trial, to Roche’s detriment, and appearing alongside plaintiffs’ attorneys mid-trial at a DRI conference, where she made unfavorable remarks about the company. 

Roche, which shed nearly 1,000 New Jersey jobs when it closed its Nutley campus last year, employs 80,000 people worldwide.   

Oral arguments are scheduled to begin tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. in the Atlantic County Civil Courts building.  Read more about Roche’s motion to dismiss Judge Higbee here

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And the worst lawsuit of 2012 is...

Carteret resident Ellen Shane’s “Thanks for saving my life.  That’ll cost you $5 million” lawsuit.    

  2012 worst lawsuit

When Carteret resident Ellen Shane was taken hostage at knifepoint at Woodbridge Center Mall earlier this year, a Woodbridge Township police officer valiantly saved her life, shooting the hostage taker as he lunged toward Shane and her husband.  His thanks?  The couple filed a $5 million lawsuit against the police department, claiming that she was traumatized.  Read More

Shane ‘won’ this infamous distinction with nearly 2/3 of the vote, our widest Worst Lawsuit margin to date.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Read NJCJI's LTE in The Record

NJCJI weighs in on the Drug Dealer Liability Act, under which a man's family seeks damages.

No deterrence to drug dealing

In the cities of Trenton and Camden, forfeiture money seized in drug trafficking is being used to sponsor gun buyback programs. Perhaps our emphasis should be on similar programs instead of creating more lawsuits.

Read entire letter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A-3282 Passes Assembly Health Committee with Bipartisan Support

A-3282 clarifies that first aid, ambulance or rescue squads, as entities, have immunity from civil damages in certain circumstances

While this may seem to be a routine legislative clarification, the catalyst case, Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, was eye-opening. 

In August 2004, a young man was shot by his own brother.  Alive and able to speak, his parents immediately called 911.  The Plainfield Rescue Squad arrived by ambulance and fruitlessly performed CPR; some believe that if he had instead been immediately transported to the hospital, Odis Murray would have had a 20 – 30 percent chance of survival. 

The Murrays decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit – not against their other son, Akeem Murray, who intentionally fired the shot that killed Odis – but against the Plainfield Rescue Squad

A lower court found that the because the Squad provided “intermediate life support services in good faith,” they were protected from civil liability under N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, also known as the Good Samaritan Act. 

The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed.  The spirit of the act was to protect volunteers acting in good faith from liability so as to not dissuade volunteer responders from helping in the first place.  While it specified who would be protected, it did not define ‘rescue squads’ clearly enough for the Court’s liking. 

“The Legislature chose to provide immunity to volunteer rescue squads and to rescue squads rendering advanced life support services,” wrote Justice Barry Albin in a unanimous decision.  “By the clear language of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, the Legislature chose not to provide immunity to rescue squads, as entities, rendering intermediate life support services.

“If the failure to provide immunity to such rescue squads was an oversight, any corrective measure must be taken by the Legislature.”

The Legislature took the first step toward clarifying the intent of the Act today.  Primary sponsors of A-3282 include Assemblymen Eric Peterson (R-Hunterdon), Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), and Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington).  Its companion bill, S-2165, is sponsored by Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) and has been referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.   

Click here for Assemblyman Conaway's statement.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bad faith bill reintroduced

Superstorm Sandy did something few insurance brokers could do: it forced homeowners to, in some cases, read their insurance policies for the first time. 

Many of us opt for lower premiums in exchange for higher deductibles.  Others quickly sign on the dotted line and hope we never meet the devil lurking in the details.  But when the worst happens, as many New Jerseyans experienced late last year, customers expect their insurer to cover their losses as defined in their coverage. 

New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. (NJM) CEO Bernie Flynn told a legislative committee last month that they expect payouts to reach $300 million.  State Farm has made a point of expediting their 30,000 Sandy-related claims.  On some occasions, however, an insurer may fail to live up to their end of the agreement and deny payment to a customer.  New Jersey consumers are able to file suit against their insurer in these instances.  But recently reintroduced legislation threatens to add more bureaucracy and litigation into an already stressed civil justice system. 

S-2460, the covertly dubbed “Consumer Protection Act of 2012,” is a new lease on trial lawyers’ attempt to create a new cause of action for ‘bad faith’ (S-766/A-3434).  It wouldn’t simply codify existing case law with respect to ‘bad faith;’ rather, a court would only need to find that an insurer acted ‘unreasonably’ in order to win a bad faith case, adding subjectivity and the potential for awards beyond one’s coverage. 

Acting Department of Banking and Insurance commissioner Kenneth Kobylowski noted that New Jersey’s strong homeowners’ insurance market had rates near the national average despite having property values among the highest in the country. 

"To have average premiums in the middle of the marketplace is just a testament to how stable, how competitive and how well-run our homeowners' market is," he told NJ BIZ

But if the cost of doing business increases for New Jersey’s insurance industry, we can all expect our premiums to rise. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The pot brownie lawsuit

A Hunterdon County Country Club may be on the hook for a prank played by two of its members. 

James Kavanagh, Jr. and Gregg Chaplin convinced their 68-year-old friend, Barry Russo, to eat a “delicious” brownie, the product of Kavanagh’s “special culinary training.”

You guessed it: the brownie was laced with pot

The behavior of Kavanagh and Chaplin may more closely resemble sophomoric teenage trouble making than the caliber of Copper Hill Country Club’s average patron.  According to the diabetic Russo, this prank may have contributed to his feeling “light-headed and dizzy,” among other ailments. 

Russo is suing the Copper Hill Country Club, its owner, and the two men for an undisclosed amount of money.  And no, neither the Copper Hill Country Club nor its owner is alleged to have participated in the lacing or ingestion of said brownie. 

Chaplin vehemently disputes Russo’s account. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

A red-light camera lawsuit that will have you seeing red

It’s not exactly a refund. 

If you were one of the half-million motorists who received a ticket in the mail courtesy of American Traffic Solution’s red light cameras, take comfort: the $85 - $140 fine you paid may not be the last word.   

The timing of yellow lights wasn’t officially recertified until July 25th, prompting lawyers to argue that fines issued before that date in eighteen of New Jersey’s municipalities should not stand.  ATS avoided a trial by agreeing to a $4.2 million class action settlement. 

But don’t celebrate just yet.  You won’t be getting the full sticker price of your erroneous ticket returned.  No.  After attorney’s fees and administrative costs, you and other red-eyed motorists will receive $6.  And that’s assuming all of your paperwork is correct. 

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) has long argued that intersections with red light cameras pose a greater risk to public safety than those without the cameras.  Accidents have increased nearly 400 percent at some intersections in just the first year of installation. 

According to the Star-Ledger, a separate class-action suit is pending against Redflex Traffic Systems, which is the red light vendor for cameras in eight other municipalities. 

Good luck to those eligible for a $6 check.  I’m sure the legal maneuvering was worth every penny.