Monthly Archives: May 2007

RIP Henry County Courthouse’s Jim Raes

Well this is a sad one… it seems Jim Raes, the baliff at the Henry County courthouse passed away the other day. Here’s an article on his career.

 He was always a nice guy.

(Howard Zimmerle is a lawyer, practicing in Henry County Illinois)

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Call for disciplinary action in DC dry cleaning case

Here is a cut and paste of an email I got today:

Disciplinary Investigation Called for in Dry Cleaners Case (
Washington, DC)—
The American Association for Justice (AAJ) today called for a disciplinary investigation of District of Columbia Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson Jr., who brought a $65 million lawsuit against a family-owned dry cleaning business for losing his pants.   
(A copy of AAJ CEO Jon Haber’s letter is below.) In his letter, Haber stated: “Our court system has no place for those who abuse the instruments of justice for personal gain or the intimidation of others.”In addition to the call for an investigation, AAJ President Lewis S. “Mike” Eidson stated “As attorneys who are committed to helping Americans receive justice throughout courts, we are outraged by the very idea of a $65 million claim over a pair of pants. It is not only ridiculous – it is offensive to our values.” Eidson and Haber have also personally pledged to contribute to a defense fund established to support the dry cleaners.  In a message to AAJ board members today (below), Eidson emphasized that the unique nature of this case should not be used to undermine the important role of the nation’s civil justice system. “This case is clearly atypical and we cannot allow those who oppose us on fundamental issues of access to the civil justice system to turn this case into an indictment of that system,” said Eidson. “Our mission continues to be to ensure Americans have a level playing field in our courtrooms – even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations.”

Jon Haber letter to District of Columbia Bar Association   May 8, 2007 Mr. James SandmanPresident
District of Columbia Bar Association

1250 H St. NW

, Sixth Floor
Washington DC
20005 Dear Mr. Sandman:  As a member of the District of Columbia Bar, I believe that the widely reported actions of Mr. Roy Pearson, Jr. in pursuing a $65 million dollar lawsuit against a local dry cleaning business appear to constitute a serious abuse of the civil justice system and warrant a disciplinary inquiry from the Bar.   Media reports indicate that Mr. Pearson, an administrative law judge and member of the District of Columbia Bar has relentlessly pursued his lawsuit against Custom Cleaners, a family-owned dry cleaner, for temporarily misplacing a pair of his suit pants.  Despite an apparently generous settlement offer that includes the return of the once-missing suit pants, news reports indicate that Mr. Pearson has maintained his action over a two-year period, filed thousands of pages in documents and made damage claims that appear to be farfetched and unjustified.  Moreover, it appears that Mr. Pearson’s actions in this matter are consistent with his behavior in prior legal disputes, where he has followed courses of action both that appear both vexatious and disproportionate to any legitimate claim. The American civil justice system ought to be a point of pride, both to the public and the profession.  It enables those who, in good faith, believe that they have been wronged to pursue justice and have an impartial tribunal resolve responsibility.  Only in such a courtroom can everyone – regardless of wealth, connections or political clout – stand on a level playing field of justice.   

Our court system has no place for those who abuse the instruments of justice for personal gain or the intimidation of others, rather than just compensation. That Mr. Pearson occupies a position of public trust as an administrative law judge, in addition to his membership in the Bar, further intensifies the dishonor that his apparent actions have cast on both the system and the profession.  As attorneys, we have a special obligation to preserve the integrity of our civil justice system.    Our commitment must be to strengthening the civil justice system so that deserving individuals can get justice, wrongdoers are held accountable, and efforts to weaken basic legal protections are repelled.    For actions inconsistent with the oath and office of our learned profession, I urge that the District of Columbia Bar investigate this matter and take appropriate disciplinary action. Sincerely, Jon HaberChief Executive Officer, American Association for Justice

Lewis S. “Mike” Eidson message to American Association for Justice Board of Governors Dear American Association for Justice Board Member:Let me bring you up to speed on the latest on the family-owned dry cleaner in
Washington, DC, being sued for $65 million over a pair of pants. First, I want to repeat what I said Friday: As attorneys who are committed to helping Americans receive justice throughout courts, we are outraged by the very idea of a $65 million claim over a pair of pants. It is not only ridiculous – it is offensive to our values. Today, Jon Haber, AAJ CEO and DC Bar Association member, has sent a letter to the Bar calling for a disciplinary investigation of  Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson Jr. in light of his actions in pursuing this case. A copy of Jon’s letter is attached.  I am also personally making a contribution to the plaintiff’s defense fund, as is Jon. If you wish to contribute, the fund can be found at www.customcleanersdefensefund.comHowever, I continue to believe that the news media is sensationalizing this case beyond reasonable bounds. This case is clearly atypical and we cannot allow those who oppose us on fundamental issues of access to the civil justice system to turn this case into an indictment of that system.  Our mission continues to be to ensure Americans have a level playing field in our courtrooms – even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations. Lewis S. “Mike” Eidson
President, American Association for Justice

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Filed under Legal News, Tort Reform

Get your client’s past claim history!

Insurance companies have a leg up on us. They have access to databases that will tell them about every insurance claim your client has ever filed.

I’ve asked clients about past claims, past accidents and past complaints of similar injuries. Many can remember things well, but very, very often a client will claim that they never had back problems before, and get impeached by a defense attorney who shows records of past low back claims.

It hurts. I don’t let it happen to my clients when I know about prior claims or complaints… but how do you know?

Miller and Zois have the answer. They know of a place where you can get your client’s records from the very same database I mentioned earlier for $25. I think this should be done in nearly every case… and absolutely in every large case.

Oh, and you might be asking “who are Miller and Zois?” They are a firm in Maryland who puts out not only a great informational blog, but a fantastic attorney help center with sample depositions, motions, discovery, etc. It’s Maryland law, but much of the stuff can be of great help to practitioners in any state.

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Filed under Great Websites, Medical Information, Settlements, Trial Practice

How a stenotype works

Most lawyers deal with court reporters a lot. I’ve always been fascinated with what they do because, well… I know I would be terrible at it.

 So I found a neat article on wikipedia about the machine most use – the stenotype. It even has a diagram that tells you what keys are what.

Check out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the stenotype here. And always thank your court reporter.

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Colossus – more tips and tricks

A few weeks ago, I posted about Colossus - the insurance company megaprogram to determine the settlement value of cases – and promised that after my return from Atlanta I would write about it at greater length. With no further ado…

1.         What is Colossus?

            Nearly every major insurance company uses Colossus or a similar computer program to value personal injury cases. Each of these programs uses another computer program, usually Marshall Medical Expert, to analyze the medical aspects of a case.

2.         I send a demand letter. What happens?

            The insurance adjuster inputs the medical information, especially diagnostic and CPT codes into the Medical software. After that, he puts certain other information into Colossus. Colossus only asks yes/no questions (with a few exceptions where an adjuster can enter a number).

            Colossus will determine a settlement range. An insurance adjuster is promoted/praised/etc based on whether he settles at or below this range, whether the range is $3,000 to $5,000 or $300,000 to $500,000. The company will not settle above the range. The key to all settlements is getting the adjuster to put the right thing into the computer.

3.         What adds value to a claim? 

            There are a number of “value drivers” that can add value to a claim. They are:

·        Injuries – number and type

·        Treatment modalities

·        Symptoms

·        Physician type (MD, DC or Specialist)

·        Complications (the only place to put pain)

·        Impairment

·        Duties under Duress

·        Loss of Enjoyment

·        Final Prognosis

·        Add-ons

o       Current and Future medical cost

o       Income Loss – current/future

o       Disfigurement – (demand needs a monetary amount)

o       Aggravating issue – (ie DUI – needs monetary amount)

o       Loss of consortium – (only considered if claim is above $50,000, but typically 5-10% of value of underlying claim).

 

4.         Tips for writing good demand letters:

·        Use Diagnostic codes and procedural codes where available. Everything a doctor diagnoses corresponds to a numerical code. Write each code for each injury (ie. Typical whiplash case needs separate codes for cervical, lumbar and thoracic sprain/strain, cervical, lumbar and thoracic pain, etc. That would be six codes. The more codes, the more $).

  • If you enclose a physician’s report, everything from the charts has to be in the doctor’s report, otherwise it won’t count. 
  • Likewise, everything in the chart and report must also be listed in the demand letter, otherwise it won’t count.  
  • For aggravating factors or loss of consortium, you need to put in a dollar figure, otherwise the adjuster isn’t supposed to consider it. The best way to do that is to use jury verdict reporters, and enclose them along with the demand. (ie “Your insured also pled guilty to DUI after the accident. Recklessness like this can typically add $15,000 to a claim, as seen in the 2006 Will County case of Smith v. Jones, enclosed).
  • If you put in a number under $10,000, the adjuster can put it in on his own. If you put in a number above $10,000, the adjuster typically must get supervisor approval.
  • Colossus will consider loss of enjoyment. This includes several sub-sets, like loss of enjoyment of life, domestic duties, household duties, hobbies, sport and work. Loss of enjoyment of work also includes loss of status, loss of job security, loss of promotional prospects, difficulty in performing duties and reduced quality of work.
  • The course of treatment and symptoms for each injury should be clearly delineated (ie Broken Left Leg – treated May 15 2006 to July 7, 2006. Pain and numbness until November, 2006.)

 

 This is hardly exhaustive, but will give attorneys a better idea of what to put in demand letters. At some point, I’ll probably post a little info for doctors and chiropractors who want to get their bills paid faster.

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Filed under Negotiations, Settlements

Signing away your right to sue for malpractice?

Apparently some doctors in New Jersey have started requiring patients to sign malpractice waivers that would cap potential damages, require arbitration of all cases, and otherwise limit the patient’s legal options in the event of malpractice.

I don’t see these holding up in court, but I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is that (1) if I was a patient, I sure as heck wouldn’t agree to this, and (2) these waivers will be everywhere soon, until the resulting litigation firestorm is over.

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Filed under Medical Information, Medical Malpractice

$67 million pants? Who is this guy??

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard of the judge in Washington DC who is suing his drycleaners for $67 million because they lost his favorite pair of pants.

The case has sparked debate about tort reform, and has become great fodder for those who say our system doesn’t work. Because it’s impossible for ANYONE to argue that the attorney is justified in seeking so much money in this case, there isn’t much of a comeback, beyond pointing out that this case is a wierd one, the judge is wrong, but that 99.999999% of cases aren’t like that.

So that got me thinking – who was this judge? Was he a crazy person, or was he a brilliant tort-reformer (same thing) who filed this suit just to get the tort-reform message out?

I did my research. Looks more like crazy guy than tort reformer.

The judge involved is Roy Pearson Jr. His bio has been removed from his agency’s website, but a Westlaw search revealed some of his published case opinions (as a lawyer or litigant).

 What I seem to have learned is that Mr. Pearson spent most of his career representing tenants in battles with landlords. Up to a point, his reported cases just seem to be that of an attorney sticking up for the little guy. Then came the case of Woodner v. Breeden, 665 A.2d 929. Somehow his clients were awarded 4.5 million and $9.5 million in punitive damages over a landlord/tenant dispute. The punitive damage awards were overturned on appeal, but this seems to have led to a shift in his case strategy.

The next reported case I found was Carey v. Edgewood Management Corp, 754 A.2d 951, where Mr. Pearson unsuccessfully tried to get emotional distress damages for his clients for a breach of a real estate contract.

Then came his divorce, Pearson v. Vanlowe, 2005 WL 524597, where he was ordered to pay his ex-wife’s attorney fees because he “excessively drove costs up” by threatining to have her attorneys disbarred, among other bully tactics.

 Hate to say it… but he doesn’t look like a tort reformer in disguise to me.

Unfortunately, this case simply sticks in people’s minds, like the OJ Simpson case, the McDonalds Coffee case, and the infamous Stella Awards (which aren’t even real, by the way). The American people hear a lot about the cases that go wrong, but not enough about the cases that go right.

People don’t publicize the cases where someone is able to get their bills paid, their lost wages back, and a little money for their pain and suffering after an accident. The public doesn’t hear about how a company finally made its product safer after a string of lawsuits made it unprofitable to be unsafe.

I guess if nothing else, at least the dry cleaner is scared as heck about possibly losing my pants.

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Filed under Legal News, Tort Reform