Say what?

That’s what we thought when we ran across Restatement §920 recently – it was by accident; we were researching something else.

The 900 section of the Second Restatement of Torts is about damages, and §920 has to do with mitigation of damages:

When the defendant’s tortious conduct has caused harm to the plaintiff

Skin in the game.  Horse in the race.  Dog in the hunt.  Whatever “it” is – we don’t have “it” in today’s case.  Ansley v. Banner Health Care is a suit brought by plaintiffs who had received damages awards for injuries that required treatment at various hospitals seeking to enjoin those hospitals from enforcing liens

Last week, in Timbs v. Indiana, ___ S. Ct. ___, 2019 WL 691578 (U.S. Feb. 20, 2019), the Court unanimously held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment applies to the states:

Under the Eighth Amendment, “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual

Last month we brought you word of an excellent result (preemption) in a ridiculous case − a class action claiming that the drops in eye-drops are too big.  That decision was in accord with an earlier decision likewise dismissing such claims on preemption grounds. See Thompson v. Allergan USA, Inc., 993 F. Supp.2d 1007

We’ve blogged before about the long-running appeal in the Polett v. Public Communications litigation.  That’s the case where the plaintiff had knee implant surgery that was so successful she agreed to make a promotional video on behalf of the company – but allegedly reinjured her knee during the making of the video.  We pointed out, at the very beginning of our first post, that the plaintiff “frankly, wasn’t all that badly injured” but nonetheless received $27.6 million from a Philadelphia jury.

In the end, that was the reaction of the en banc Pennsylvania Superior Court as well. Last month, in Polett v. Public Communications, Inc., 2016 WL 3154155 (Pa. Super. June 6, 2016), the court (on remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) threw out that whopping verdict because it was just too much money for not enough injury.  The court ordered remittitur in an unspecified amount. Id. at

First, a procedural note. Although the latest Polett opinion is from the en banc Superior Court, it is nonetheless unpublished, and thus non-precedential.  We’ve often thought that the Superior Court overuses unpublished, non-precedential decisions, but Polett takes things to new heights (or depths).  Now, even an en banc decision – which are ordinarily used to overrule prior Superior Court panel decisions – can be unpublished.  That’s a first, and we hope, a last.

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California rejected another attempt by the class action bar to extend the already questionable fraud-on-the-market theory from Basic v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988), a securities class action, to what amount to failure to warn claims for consumer products or, as we’ve seen before, drugs and medical devices.  This time the class action plaintiffs’ bar was focused on e-cigarettes.  See In re NJOY, Inc., Consumer Class Action Litig., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24235 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2016).  A handful of hopeful consumers claimed that they were misled by an e-cigarette’s labeling and were not warned about its ingredients or risks.  Id. at *3.  As is often the case with these types of class action claims, however, the plaintiffs did not allege an injury—well, at least not a physical injury.  They suffered no side effects.  They had no physical ailments.  The risks didn’t affect them.

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The collateral source rule rarely sits well with defense attorneys.  To us, it runs counter to a core purpose of tort law, which is to compensate plaintiffs for damages actually suffered.  Under the collateral source rule, a defendant’s liability for a plaintiff’s financial damages is not reduced by any payments that the plaintiff receives as to those very same damages from a third-party source.  So the plaintiff gets a double recovery—once from the collateral source and once from the defendant.  This happens most often in connection with a plaintiff’s medical bills.  While the plaintiff’s insurance pays all or most of those bills, the defendant remains liable to plaintiff for the entire amount.

There are policy reasons for the rule, and the Louisiana Supreme Court recently laid them out in Hoffman v. 21st Century North Am. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 5776131 (La. Oct. 2, 2015), a decision that addresses an attempt to expand the collateral source rule:

The most oft-cited reason is that the tortfeasor should not gain an advantage from outside benefits provided to the victim independently of any act of the tortfeasor.  We have also recognized the collateral source rule promotes tort deterrence and accident prevention.  Finally, absent such a rule, the reasoning goes, victims would be dissuaded from purchasing insurance or other forms of reimbursement available to them.

Id. at *2.  OK.  We get it, and we can live with it.  We’ve become somewhat numb to the effects of the rule.

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Is there a tougher federal district judge than Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles?  By “tougher,” we do not mean in the usual sense when applied to judges: handing out long criminal sentences – though that certainly does apply to Judge Wilson.   No, we mean in the sense of not suffering fools gladly.  (To borrow a phrase from the movie Rounders, if you are in court for a case for more than a few minutes and you cannot spot the fool, odds are that it is you.)  Judge Wilson, like Judge Rakoff in SDNY or Judge Posner on the 7th Circuit or Judge Kozinski on the 9th Circuit, has a sharp mind and sharp pen (or keyboard).  If he thinks your theory is wrong, he will say so.  If he thinks you are dumb, he will say so.  Sometimes Judge Wilson can come across as a wee bit impatient. When we were a prosecutor in C.D. Cal. (as Judge Wilson had been several years before us), Judge Wilson was the first judge we encountered who imposed strict time limits during trial.  If he decided that a witness examination had gone on long enough, he would halt the examination on the spot.  We remember a guilty plea in front of Judge Wilson that took place the day before trial was scheduled.  Guilty pleas can be messy affairs.  Some people, no matter how overwhelming the evidence, have a hard time admitting that they did the crime.  And yet, such admission is an essential part of the guilty plea.  Often, the defendant stumbles over the admission.  It can take some goading, some reassuring whispers from defense counsel, and simply some time before the defendant can bring him or herself to utter the magic words.  In our case, the defendant hemmed and hawed a little too much.  Judge Wilson said that there was not enough there for a valid guilty plea, he rejected it, ordered the parties to show up the next day for jury selection, and then called the next case.  It seemed to happen in an instant.  There was panic.  We had already told our witnesses that the case would plead out and that they did not need to come to the federal courthouse the next day.  For all we knew, our case agent was already well outside the jurisdiction, on a protection detail or going undercover.  On the other side of the ledger, the defendant knew what the result at trial would be, and wanted at least to get a couple of points off the sentencing guidelines for acceptance of responsibility.  Somehow the defendant and his lawyer got their act together and returned to court near the end of the day and performed the requisite guilty plea allocution, and all was right with the world.   Judge Wilson’s demonstration of impatience had worked.

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