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					THE REFORMER                                                                                                Vol. 9 No. 1 w April 2006
News from the Liability Reform Coalition w 2033 6th Avenue, Suite 1100, Seattle, WA 98121 w 425-868-2698

Legislative wrap-up                                                                                 Medical liability update


The good and the bad                                                                                Compromise between
                                                                                                    doctors and lawyers
                                                                                                          In February, the governor announced
     The 2006 legislative session began with a roar but ended with a whimper in terms
of significant liability reform measures.                                                            a medical liability compromise had been
     Last December, Attorney General Rob McKenna unveiled legislation aimed at                      reached by health care providers and
restoring some level of sovereign immunity for state and local governments that                     personal-injury lawyers. The final product
Washington waived in the 1960s. According to McKenna, “unlike most states, when we                  was encompassed in HB 2292.
waived sovereign immunity we didn’t hold anything back.” With taxpayers paying out                        Following a bruising medical liability
an astonishing $146 million for state liability costs from 2005-2007, the problem has               reform initiative, I-330, the opposing sides
reached an untenable level.                                                                         worked with Governor Gregorie in an effort
     Despite the AG’s leadership, and democrat support, SB 6215 ultimately died in the              to stem the medical liability crisis; at least
Senate Judiciary Committee.                                                                         for now.
     Other promising measures defeated by personal-injury lawyers include the peren-                      HB 2292 addresses the three issues of
nial seatbelt defense bill—a simple measure that allows a jury in an auto accident case             medical liability: patient safety, insurance
to know if the parties involved were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the accident.           reform and liability reform. While patient
Another missed opportunity was SB 6354, a measure aimed at providing some liability                 safety and insurance reform garnered
protection for landowners that make their property available for recreational use.                  most of the compromise, there was ground
     Perhaps the best news coming out of the legislative session was that the LRC and               made in terms of medical liability reform
its members were able to successfully defeat all personal-injury lawyer bills that would            such as:
have expanded liability. This includes HB 2004, a measure that would have increased
                                                                                                      • Statute of Repose: Re-enacts the
the construction statute of repose (similar to a statute of limitations) from the current
                                                                                                      eight-year statute of repose (similar to a
6 years to at least 15 years, and, in many cases, endless. This would have a crippling
                                                                                                      statute of limitations).
affect on the already-strained construction liability insurance market.
                                                                                                      • Certificate of Merit: Requires a

Warning: this article may cause reader to laugh;                                                      certificate of merit to be filed by a quali-
                                                                                                      fied expert at the time of filing suit that
Wacky Warning Label winners announced                                                                 states there is a reasonable probability
    Now in its ninth year, the Wacky Warning Label contest is conducted by Michigan                   the defendant’s conduct did not meet the
Lawsuit Abuse Watch, M-LAW, to reveal how lawsuits, and concern about lawsuits, have                  required standard of care.
created a need for common sense warnings on products.                                                 • Arbitration: Establishes a voluntary
    The grand prize was awarded to Tom Brunelle of Holland, Michigan. He receives $500                binding arbitration system where all par-
and a copy of the national bestselling book, “The Death of Common Sense,” by Philip K.                ties to the suit agree to arbitration after
Howard. Tom submitted a label on a heat gun and paint remover that produces tem-                      the suit is filed, with arbitration subject
peratures of 1,000 degrees and warns users, “Do not use this tool as a hair dryer.”                   to a $1 million limit on damages.
                                                                                                      • Pre-suit Notice and Mandatory
Other winners include:
                                                                                                      Mediation: Requires 90 days notice
• A label on a kitchen knife that warns: “Never try to catch a falling knife.”
• A cocktail napkin has a map of the waterways around Hilton Head, South Carolina,                    before a claim and mandatory media-
  printed on it along with this: “Caution: Not to be used for navigation.”                            tion.
• A warning label found on a bottle of dried bobcat urine made to keep rodents and                    • Collateral Source: Provides that
  other pests away from garden plants says: “Not for human consumption.”                              evidence of any collateral source pay-
• A label on a baking pan that warns: “Ovenware will get hot when used in oven.”                      ment (past and current, but not future)
                                                                                                      is admissible, but the plaintiff may show
Greedy personal-injury lawyers at it again                                                            evidence of an obligation to repay the
    Last month the Yakima Herald-Republic                Attorneys for plaintiffs who sued Zirkle     payments and amounts paid to secure
reported that personal-injury lawyers are           Fruit executives over the Yakima company’s        the right to the payments.
going after the lion’s share of an award            hiring practices are seeking nearly half the          While HB 2292 cannot be considered
against Zirkle Fruit, leaving the plaintiffs with   settlement amount for their expenses and        comprehensive medical liability reform, it
nearly nothing.                                     fees.                 continues on page 2       is clearly forward movement.
THE REFORMER                                                     April 2006                                                                 Page 2

Are you a victim of lawsuit abuse?                                                                    legislature that legal reform is an urgent
                                                                                                      priority. The American Justice Partnership

Legislators need to hear your story                                                                   (AJP), a national coalition of more than 50
                                                                                                      partner organizations, is working with us
By Dana Childers                                                                                      to coordinate this special effort.
                                                  lions – and even billions – in legal fees at
LRC Executive Director                            the expense of people and organizations                  To access the Victims Project website
    For more than 40 years, plaintiff law-        assaulted by frivolous and unwarranted              on the Internet, go to www.AmericanJus-
yers have spent tens of millions of dollars       lawsuits. We must not yield to the preda-           ticePartnership.org. Look for the Victims
to convince the American public that they         tory tactics of plaintiff lawyers who rake          Project logo on the left blue menu column.
are protecting average citizens. In fact,         in more than $40 billion every year in fees         You will be able to quickly describe how
many plaintiff lawyers have manipulated           at everyone’s expense.                              lawsuit abuse has affected your family, your
the courts so that they stand to gain mil-             The Liability Reform Coalition is work-        company, your experience as a medical
                                                  ing with our national network of legal              patient, or even your community organiza-
                                                  reform partners to collect examples of              tion. We can ensure your confidentiality if
Greedy personal-injury                            lawsuit abuse so that we will have stron-           you desire.
lawyers at it again                               ger arguments with the media and the                                       continues on page 3
continued from page 1
      According to the Yakima Herald-Repub-
lic, in a notice mailed to potential plaintiffs
in the class-action lawsuit, the Seattle law      LRC – Bill tracking summary – Sine die
firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and
the Chicago firm of Johnson & Bell said they        Bill                                                     LRC
                                                   Number       Issue                                       Position     Bill Status
will request $600,000 of the $1.3 million
settlement.                                                     Extends the construction statute of                      House Rules Commit tee
                                                   HB 2004                                                   Oppose
      The two firms said they spent $210,000                     repose from 6 years to 15 years                          (dead)
on travel, copying costs and other expenses.                                                                             Signed into law
They spent another $1.7 million in attorney                     Health care patient safety, insurance
                                                   HB 2292
                                                                reform and civil dispute measures                        Passed the Senate 48-0-0-1
and support staff costs billed at “reasonable
                                                                                                                         Passed the House 82-15-0-1
and customary rates.” They are asking for
                                                                                                                         Delivered to the Governor
25 percent of that, or $390,000, for a total                    Mak ing c e r t ain c o mmunic at io n s
of $600,000.                                       HB 2366      between fire fighters and peer support
                                                                                                                         Passed the House 98-0
                                                                group counselors privileged
      Using federal racketeering laws, the                                                                               Passed the Senate 47-0-1-1
lawyers sued the Zirkle executives in 1999                      Concerning notice requirements for                       Signed into law
on behalf of three legal workers, saying the       HB 3120      tort claims against state and local                      Passed the Senate 46-0-1-2
executives conspired to hire illegal immi-                      governments                                              Passed the House 97-0-0-1

grants to depress wages. Legal workers who                      Allowing civil penalties for the release                 Delivered to the Governor
                                                                of personal information of criminal jus-
could have had those jobs at a higher wage         SB 5654                                                   Neutral
                                                                tice officials. Punitive damages section                  Passed the House 97-0-0-1
were injured as a result, the lawsuit said.                                                                              Passed the Senate 48-0-0-1
                                                                removed
      Lawyers are attempting to contact all
                                                                Providing some restoration of govern-       Support—
members of the class to notify them of                                                                                   Senate Judiciary Committee
                                                   SB 6215      ment sovereign immunity – AG request        working to
                                                                                                                         (dead)
the settlement. Individuals could receive a                     legislation                                  amend
maximum of $2 an hour for hours worked                          Concerning recreational landowners’                      Senate Rules Committee
                                                   SB 6354                                                   Support
in the class period. But the sum could be                       liability                                                (dead)
substantially less, depending on how many                                                                                Delivered to the Governor
workers are valid class members.                                Providing remedies when limited liabil-
                                                   SB 6531
      Although the workers may get $2/hour                      ity companies dissolve                                   Passed the House 97-0-0-1
                                                                                                                         Passed the Senate 41-0-0-8
or less, there is good news. Their personal-
                                                                Seatbelt defense—allow juries to know
injury lawyers will make hundreds of thou-
                                                                if participants in an auto accident civil                Senate Rules Committee
sands of dollars.                                  SB 6563                                                   Support
                                                                lawsuit were wearing their seatbelts at                  (dead)
      A hearing on the proposed settlement                      the time of the accident
will be held May 11 at 1:30 p.m. before U.S.                    Creating provisions relating to asbestos                 Senate Judiciary Committee
                                                   SB 6771                                                   Support
District Judge Fred Van Sickle in federal                       liability                                                (dead)
court in Yakima.
THE REFORMER                                            April 2006                                                             Page 3


                              The real Stella Awards
 LRC Board                        For years now, the urban myth of “Stella         sible for “allowing” wild birds to fly around free
                             Awards” have circulated through e-mail inboxes.
 of Directors                These so-called “Stella Awards” are purported to
                                                                                   in the air. She never reported the incident to the
                                                                                   store, but still sued for “at least” $100,000 in
 Creigh H. Agnew             be actual outrageous lawsuits when, in fact, they     damages. In January 2006, the case was thrown
 Weyerhaeuser Company        are made-up. But why make up such cases when          out of court.
                             truth is always stranger than fiction?                       #3: Barnard Lorence of Stuart, Fla. Lorence
 John Bishop                      Toward that end, journalist Randy Cass-          managed to overdraw his own bank account.
 State Farm                  ington has compiled his own list of the real          When the bank charged him a service fee for the
                             Stella Awards. The name was inspired by Stella        overdraft, he filed a $2 million suit over his “stress
 Susan Hahn
                             Liebeck. In 1992, Stella, then 79, spilled a cup of   and pain” and loss of sleep over the fee.
 Cascade Diesel &
                             McDonald’s coffee onto her lap, burning herself.            #2: Wanita “Renea” Young of Durango, Colo.
 Truck Repair
                             A New Mexico jury awarded her $2.9 million in         Two neighborhood teens baked cookies for their
 Rick Linneweh               damages. It seems only appropriate that other         neighbors as an anonymous gesture of good
 Yakima Valley               wild, outrageous and ridiculous lawsuits be hon-      will, but Young got scared when she heard them
 Memorial Hospital           ored with The Stella Award.                           on her front porch. They apologized, in writing,
                                  Cassington has compiled his 2005 runners-        but Young sued them anyway for causing her
 Jud Marquardt               up and winner:                                        distress, demanding $3,000. She prevailed in
 LMN Architects                   #7: Bob Dougherty. A prankster smeared           court winning $900.
 Len Eddinger                glue on the toilet seat at the Home Depot store
 Washington State            in Louisville, Colo., causing Dougherty to stick to        AND THE WINNER of the 2005 Stella Award:
 Medical Association         it when he sat down. “This is not Home Depot’s        Christopher Roller of Burnsville, Minn. Roller is
                             fault,” he proclaimed, yet the store graciously       mystified by professional magicians, so he sued
 Tom Paine                   offered him $2,000 anyway. Dougherty com-             David Blaine and David Copperfield to demand
 Avista Corporation          plained that offer is “insulting” and filed suit       they reveal their secrets to them – or else pay
                             demanding $3 million.                                 him 10 percent of their lifelong earnings, which he
 John Maldon
                                  #6: Barbara Connors of Medfield, Mass.            figures amounts to $50 million for Copperfield and
 Group Health Cooperative
                             Connors was riding in a car driven by her 70-         $2 million for Blaine. The basis for his suit: Roller
 Roger Stark, M.D.           year-old son-in-law when they crashed into the        claims that the magicians defy the laws of phys-
 Retired Cardiac Surgeon     Connecticut River, and Connors sank with the          ics, and thus must be using “godly powers” – and
                             car. Rescue divers arrived within minutes and         since Roller is god (according to him), they’re
 Gary Strannigan
                             got her out alive, but Connors suffered brain         “somehow” stealing that power from him.
 SAFECO Corporation
                             damage from her near-drowning. She sued the
 Cliff Webster               driver and the brave rescue workers who risked        Are you a victim of lawsuit abuse?
 Carney Badley Spellman      their lives to save hers.                             Legislators need to hear your story
                                  #5: Michelle Knepper of Vancouver, Wash.         continued from page 2
                             Knepper picked a doctor out of the phone book              While on the AJP website, please also take
                             to do her liposuction, and went ahead with the        90 seconds to watch a brief web video featuring
 Dana Childers               procedure even though the doctor was only a           AutoNation General Counsel Jon Ferrando. He
 LRC Executive Director      dermatologist, not a plastic surgeon. After having    explains how his company was forced to settle
                             complications, she complained she never would         for more than $1.5 million – including $1 million
                             have chosen that doctor had she known he wasn’t       paid to plaintiff lawyers – in a frivolous lawsuit in
 Where You Can Find Us:      Board Certified in the procedure. So she sued ...      which no one was harmed.
Liability Reform Coalition   the phone company! She won $1.2 million PLUS               State lawmakers across the U.S. need to hear
    2033 6th Avenue,         $375,000 for her husband for “loss of spousal         the truth about abusive litigation, and your experi-
       Suite 1100            services and companionship.”                          ences can make a difference in the battle for legal
   Seattle, WA 98121              #4: Rhonda Nichols. She says a wild bird         reform! Thank you for taking a few minutes to tell
     425-868-2698            “attacked” her outside a home improvement             your story. You will be making an important dif-
   425-868-8427 fax          store in Fairview Heights, Ill., causing head         ference in standing up to personal-injury lawyers
                             injuries. Nichols held the Lowe’s store respon-       in the battle for legal reform.
website: www.walrc.org
THE REFORMER                                                   April 2006                                                             Page 4

                    Message                    As we do each election cycle, the LRC will
                                               interview all Supreme Court candidates and
                                                                                                you this is a noble cause and therefore is
                                                                                                justified. But the affect of judicial activism
                    from the                   make recommendations to our members.             is an unpredictable, and therefore unfair,

                    Chairman                   This year we may also consider getting           legal system.
                                               involved in targeted Court of Appeals                Judicial restraint is a judicial philoso-
                    Cliff Webster
                                               races.                                           phy which endorses the limited exercise
                                                   The LRC is committed to making our           of power by the judiciary. In deciding
    With the legislative session behind us,
                                               legal system balanced and providing cer-         questions of constitutional law, judicially
the LRC is turning its focus to judiciary.
                                               tainty for all partied involved. To accomplish   restrained jurists go to great lengths to
Early this summer you can expect to see
                                               this goal it is imperative we elect judges       defer to the framers of the Constitution.
the third installment of the LRC’s Judicial
                                               who are fair, impartial and understand their     Judicial restraint requires the judge to look
Scorecard. This scorecard will review the
                                               job is not to legislate from the bench.          first to the Constitution. If the meaning
significant Supreme Court rulings over the
                                                   The terms judicial activist are judi-        cannot be discerned, the judge is then per-
past two years and provide a “score” for
                                               cial restraint are used regularly and it’s       mitted to look to the intent of the framers.
each of the nine sitting justices.
                                               important that we all understand what            Only when neither the Constitution nor the
    The timing of the Scorecard is deliber-
                                               each means.                                      intent clarifies an issue may a judge invoke
ate, as it is a lead-in to the 2006 judicial
                                                   A judicial activist judge is one who         his/her own understanding of the issue.
elections where three Supreme Court
                                               creates new law from the bench. It is one            The LRC is committed to electing
justices—Susan Owens, Gerry Alexander
                                               who makes a ruling to achieve an outcome         judicially restrained judges. Then, and only
and Tom Chambers—are up for election
                                               despite the fact that law does not provide       then, will our courts be fair, balanced and
along with eight Court of Appeals judges.
                                               for that outcome. Some judges will tell          predictable for all parties.




  THE REFORMER
  A Publication of the Liability Reform Coalition
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