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Sick of Lawsuits Update
February 2008

"Every day, I spend time undoing damage done by patients reading faulty or misleading information from the Internet. I am fond of telling patients that the Internet is the world's biggest bathroom wall. It is a natural tendency to either over-interpret or under-interpret information about one's health, so there is no substitution for an objective opinion from a clinician who knows your personal history."

Dr. Randy Fink, OB/GYN in Miami, Florida, speaking about the problem of medical misinformation found on the internet, which is often posted by personal injury lawyers according to a new study. Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, "Insta-America: The Empowered (and Imperiled) Health Care Consumer in the Age of Internet Medicine," January 2008.

In the News

Neurosurgeons scarce in Palm Beach County due to legal climate

"When voters told physicians, 'Three strikes, you're out,' Dr. Douglas Martin cautiously pulled back. He dropped his malpractice insurance and cut his practice to three half days a week. 'The rest of the time, I trade stocks,' said Martin, a neurosurgeon for almost 30 years. 'It's actually more successful.' For Martin, the 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment was a turning point. Designed to weed out bad doctors, the law revokes their medical licenses after three malpractice judgments. But neurosurgeons such as Martin saw it as another blow to their profession. In Palm Beach County and around much of the state, neurosurgeons are becoming increasingly scarce. Among specialists, they pay the highest rates for malpractice insurance, yet reimbursements for the care they provide are low. Working on call - when patients can need them most urgently - is considered risky. Patient care could suffer as the number of neurosurgeons working in hospital emergency departments drops. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 1, 2008. READ MORE>>

Plaintiff-for-hire sentenced: A retired lawyer gets home detention in the Milberg Weiss case

"A Palm Springs man who prosecutors say was paid to act as a plaintiff in dozens of class-action lawsuits was sentenced Monday to six months' home detention and two years' probation and will pay more than $2 million. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter rejected pleas from attorneys for Seymour Lazar that the ailing 80-year-old be sentenced to probation only, saying that Lazar, a retired lawyer, showed 'no respect' for the judicial system. Lazar pleaded guilty in October to obstruction of justice, filing a false tax return and making a false declaration. He could have been sent to prison for 18 years but prosecutors recommended home detention because of his age and deteriorating health. As part of his plea, Lazar, who made millions investing in Coachella Valley real estate, agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and $1.5 million in forfeitures. Federal prosecutors accused him of receiving about $2.6 million to be a professional plaintiff in a series of class-action lawsuits filed by the New York firm Milberg Weiss, which was indicted in 2006 in connection with the alleged payment of $11.3 million to people like Lazar who agreed to be plaintiffs in hundreds of class-action suits. The payments enabled the firm to take lead status in those cases and collect a larger share of legal fees, according to government lawyers." Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2008. Read More>>

The Legal Trail in a Delta Drama

"On a crisp, sunny morning last week, Mississippi's political elite gathered in Jackson for a day of celebration. They began with a gospel prayer breakfast before proceeding to the state Capitol to witness the swearing-in of Haley Barbour for a second term as governor. At the same moment on Tuesday, 170 miles north of Jackson, a very different kind of political theater was unfolding at the federal courthouse here. A former Mississippi state auditor, Steven A. Patterson, stood before a rapt courtroom and pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy. Prosecutors said he had worked with Richard Scruggs, arguably the country's best-known plaintiff's lawyer, to bribe a local judge to rule in Mr. Scruggs's favor in a fee battle with another lawyer. Mr. Patterson's plea - and his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors - significantly ratchets up the pressure on Mr. Scruggs, who was indicted on federal conspiracy and bribery charges in November. To make matters worse, one week earlier, a former lawyer for Mr. Scruggs, Joseph C. Langston, pleaded guilty after prosecutors alleged that he had tried to influence a different judge on Mr. Scruggs's behalf in a separate, earlier dispute with another lawyer over money." New York Times, January 20, 2008. Read More>>

Would-Be Jumper Sues Empire State Building

"Jeb Corliss, the professional parachute jumper who tried to leap off the Empire State Building on April 27, 2006, released a short video today showing him struggling with plainclothes security guards and police officers on the observation deck. Wearing all black and a parachute on his back, Mr. Corliss can be seen awkwardly clambering over the inward curving, spiked fence around the observation deck, then clinging to the outside of it as security guards rush over. 'Don't jump! Don't jump!' one of the guards shouts. Mr. Corliss replies, sounding tense, 'If you do not let me go, I will fall and die.' [...] He said that if the parachute had opened while he was shackled to the fence, his body would have been yanked from his limbs. Wearing his trademark ankle-length black leather jacket and yellow sunglasses, but no parachute this time, Mr. Corliss, 31, recounted his experience at the Empire State Building while standing on the clifflike steps of the neo-Hellenic State Supreme Court building in Downtown Manhattan. He was there to file a $30 million lawsuit against the Empire State Building Company, accusing the building's agents of defaming his character, unlawfully imprisoning him on the observation deck and causing him emotional distress and lost income. His lawsuit was a counterclaim to a $12 million lawsuit filed against him by the Empire State Building Company last year, accusing him of endangering innocent bystanders." New York Times, January 15, 2008. Read More>>

Recent Sick of Lawsuits Activities

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse released a new report on the cost of litigation to the public school system. The report, entitled, "The Fourth 'R' of California's School Districts: 'Ripped off by Litigation,'" shows that three of California's largest school districts - Los Angeles, San Diego, and Elk Grove Unified - spent a combined $32.8 million on outside counsel, verdicts, and settlements in just one fiscal year. The report was distributed to media, legislators, school boards and community groups, and received widespread attention through national blogs and opinion pieces in the The San Diego Union-Tribune and Santa Monica Mirror Online. California CALA board member Robert Donin commented in his op-ed, "Surely we can all agree that this money would be better off going to support students in classrooms, not lawyers in courtrooms." Read More>>

Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse called attention the American Tort Reform Association's "2008 Judicial Hellholes Report," which lists the Rio Grande Valley area as the second worst judicial jurisdiction in the country. The Harlingen Valley Morning Star, Amarillo Globe-News, and Corpus Christi Caller-Times published an op-ed by Rio Grande Valley CALA President Bill Summers on the issue. In his op-ed, Summers condemned "litigation tourism" and wrote, "When our communities become breeding grounds for greed, we all pay the price." Read More>>

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch cautioned citizens to be wary of the information they find when looking for health information online. A recent study by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) found that 43% of supposed medical information sites were, in fact, personal injury lawyer websites cleverly masked as medical information sites. Akin criticized personal injury lawyers' irresponsible websites in a Madison St. Clair Record article, saying, "What is happening is personal injury lawyers are playing doctor. They are trolling the Internet for potential business and in many cases they are not even being up front about their sponsorship of these sites." Akin encouraged people to be smart legal consumers by knowing where online information comes from, and by seeking medical advice from doctors, not lawyers. Read More>>

The Stats

43%: Percentage of supposed medical information Web sites that are, in fact, personal injury lawyer websites cleverly masked as medical information sites. Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, January 2008.

65%: Percentage of Google search results on two safe and effective, FDA-approved prescription drugs - Crestor and Avandia - that were for Web sites containing biased or unverified negative information. Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, January 2008.

75%: Percentage of respondents in a major survey by Prospectiv who view the Internet as "their most trusted and reliable resource for researching ailment and drug information."

35%: Percentage of consumers participating in a recent Pew survey who said the information they found online affected a decision about whether to see a doctor. Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, January 2008.

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