May It Please The Court: Weblog of legal news and observations, including a quote of the day and daily updates

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Quote of the Day - It's all about how much your pocketbook can afford. You can take a higher deductible, but if you have an accident, you are going to pay a little more. - Loretta Worters
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There are 2033 Journal Items on 255 page(s) and you are on page number 88

Spin The Bottle For Insurance Deductibles

How does MTBE contamination in different geographical areas, different types of spills, different leaks in different plaintiffs all arise from one occurrence under an insurance policy?

When you're in the Third Circuit, and you're in the case of Sunoco Inc. and Sunoco Inc. v. Illinois National Insurance Co.

Let me offer a bit of an explanation.  Sunoco had a $5 million self-insured retention under its insurance policy, and it was facing seventy-seven different lawsuits.  That's $380 million of a total deductible, which is a lot, even for a big oil company.  Practically speaking then, Sunoco would likely not have been able to undertake the cleanup of the contamination. 

In fact, the combined deductible was greater than the $50 million policy written by Illinois National Insurance Company.

The court made this ruling, which binds only Sunoco and Illinois National, based on its logic that each of the 76* lawsuits allege the same cause of action.  It went on, arguing that the suits essentially each claimed injuries from Sunoco's production of gasoline containing MTBE and the company's failure to warn users.  The court finally determined that each plaintiff was exposed to the same general harmful condition (the MTBE additive), which and resulted in the same injury:  contaminated groundwater. 

The ruling, however, presents a two-edged sword.  Absent some stroke of genius on the Third Circuit, there's also only one $50 million policy limit covering these 76 suits. 

But stranger rulings have been issued before.

*Yes, careful readers will have caught what at first appears to be a typo:  77 vs. 76 lawsuits.  The Third Circuit remanded the case to the District Court to deal with an issue not covered here.  You'll have to read the decision to see what that issue is about - I covered a different topic in this post, one not readily apparent in the opinion, but nonetheless a consequence of it.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 at 22:57. Comments Closed (0) |

Swallowing Her Words Proved Difficult, If Not Nearly Deadly

Cell phones have been used for just about everything, but a murder weapon is a new twist.  Melinda Abell got into an argument with her boyfriend, Marlon Brando Gill, over whether she's been talking to other men.

Gill got upset, and Abell alleges he shoved the cell phone down her throat.  Gill denies the charges and claims Abell was trying to prevent him from finding out who she was talking to.  Doctors removed the cell phone from Abell's throat.

Gill faces sentencing after his conviction by a jury.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, February 05, 2007 at 16:39. Comments Closed (0) |

Super Bowl HDTV Flunks The Pixelation Test

MIPTC had the opportunity to watch Super Bowl XLI on HDTV, as many did, but the HDTV signal from Cox Cable gets an "F" in my book.  It seemed like every time there was a major play, the dreaded pixelation "stopped" the signal, and then when it caught up, the play was over.  TIVO could do nothing to rescue the play.

Sure, the picture was sharp despite the rain on the cameras, but the interruption wasn't worth the the trade-off.  We almost switched to the regular CBS channel, but tried to watch the entire game in HDTV.

To add insult to injury, everything associated with the system (television, cable box, HDTV signal and the receiver to process the audio and signal) is expensive. 

If you're thinking about buying, you may want to wait until the technology catches up.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, February 04, 2007 at 22:03. Comments Closed (0) |

Not A Blip On The Tax Radar Screen - Tax Shelters Denied

Auditor KPMG's previous criminal vindication on tax shelters it sold suffered a setback in Texas civil court.  Previously, as MIPTC reported, KPMG set aside a $46 million criminal fine over its Son of Boss tax shelter, also known as "Blips."  But in Texas, Judge Ward essentially reversed himself and ruled the tax shelter was comprised of fake bank loans and therefore illegitimate, despite his previous ruling identified in the link above.

Apparently looking much closer at the aggressive tax shelters, Judge Ward ruled that Blips were not real investments and the related loans were not made and had no economic substance or genuine business purposes, all telltale signs for a tax shelter gone wrong.  According to a New York Times article, the ruling likely exposes other entities who used the shelters, including NatWest, a British bank now owned by Royal Bank of Scotland.  The investors in the tax shelters, Harold W. Nix and C. Cary Patterson, however, have to pay only the taxes on the money in the shelters, not the interest and penalties.  It's KPMG, auditors and tax lawyers who are looking over their shoulders now.

Rest assured, the IRS won't be far behind.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, February 03, 2007 at 16:29. Comments Closed (2) |

Can Advertisers Think Beyond The Buck?

Earlier in the week, a promotional stunt in Boston was misinterpreted and went wrong, snarling traffic and commutes over the downtown area.  Last year, Paramount Pictures teamed up with the Los Angeles Times to promote the new movie, Mission:  Impossible III.  Paramount, apparently with the LA Times' permission, hooked up a device in the news racks to play the them to the new movie each time a patron opened the door to get a newspaper.

The music was triggered by a device that resembled a six-inch long red tube with wires running to the paper box.  After one of the devices was reported to the police as a possible explosive device, the LA bomb squad blew up the newspaper dispenser

Advertisers continue to come up with creative ways to catch our attention (some better than others, many not that good), but it seems to MIPTC that these two apparent misunderstandings could have been easily prevented, by both the police and the advertisers.

Had the advertisers thought to notify the police ahead of time, reports of possible bombs attached to newspaper boxes could have been summarily dismissed, and the promotion gone on to successfully caught our attention.  Had the police thought to call the LA Time and ask if they knew anything about the device, the Times could have explained it instead of having the bomb squad blow up one of its newspaper dispensers. 

In Boston it might not have been so easy for the police to call the Cartoon Network, which apparently placed around the City computers displaying the company's new TV show. 

In any event, both the police and advertisers need to remember the hypersensitive world we live in now, and talk with one another.  Whether prosecutors should file criminal charges against these advertisers will likely depend on whether the advertisers actually sought the ultimate attention they got by designing something that looked like a bomb or could have been mistaken for a bomb. 

It's a crazy world out there.  Let's be careful and talk with one another more frequently.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, February 02, 2007 at 15:51. Comments Closed (0) |

Ninth Ward Victims To Get Their Day In Court Against Army Corps Of Engineers

There's only so many ways to get out of a lawsuit, and the federal government holds the trump card:  sovereign immunity

It works most of the time. 

But not when the government agency is possibly grossly negligent.  The allegations against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the way it built the dikes around New Orleans fall into that latter category.  The USACOE tried to use the sovereign immunity trump card to buy its way out of a lawsuit, but it didn't work.

Now we'll get to see all of the evidence about what wasn't done right when the dikes were constructed.  The victims in the Ninth Ward will have their day in Court.

MIPTC continues to believe that we should hire the experts in dike-building:  the Dutch.  They've got years of experience.  We've just got big trucks and bulldozers that built those dikes in the 50's.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, February 01, 2007 at 14:32. Comments Closed (0) |

Yes, Goddammit, You Can Curse In A Public Meeting

Can you take the Lord's name in vain in a township meeting?  According to the Sixth Circuit, yes you can.  The court categorized one upset citizen's statement to the town's board, "That's why you're in a goddamn lawsuit,"  as mild profanity.  If you've seen Chris Rock, that's a certainty.  If you've been to church, perhaps not. 

But this statement didn't arise in either of those venues.  It arose during the portion of a public hearing where Thomas Leonard made the statement.  He is the husband of Sarah Leonard, who was in a suit with the City of Montrose, Michigan, over the loss of her towing company's contract, and was addressing the town's board.  He was taken outside and arrested for disorderly conduct, held in jail for an hour and released.  The charges were later dropped. 

As you'll see from reading the exchange between the participants in the meeting, one of the town board's members took issue with Leonard's "using the Lord's name in vain."  Free speech rights, however, allow this type of exchange, and preclude the police from arresting people for expressing their opinions as long as they're not otherwise disorderly.

Thank God.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 14:10. Comments Closed (1) |

Yosemite Park Faces Questions Over Public Use And Rehabilitation

Yosemite is in shut-down mode.  There will be no $60 million construction project for the fishing lodge and possibly no $442 million in rehab after a 1997 flood of the park.  The battle for our national parks has shifted from snowmobiles to you and me.

The question before the house is whether we'll be able to use the park.  There are those who think that these improvements will result in a direct pass-along of the cost to improve the park.  The government claims it's like taxes.  We all pay, we all get to enjoy.  No rate increases they say.

The Friends of Yosemite Valley filed suit against the government to stop it from passing along the costs by stopping the improvements. 

Baby?  Bath water?

Certainly our parks deserve to be protected.  There are too many of us who access the parks, potentially destroying the fragile ecosystem.  Precautions may prevent that damage, and stopping construction on a part of the park that's already got a hotel, campgrounds and a parking lot doesn't make too much sense to me, but then again, the last time I was there, virtually no one else was, and there was plenty of space.

Associated Press writer Garance Burke notes in this article, "In 1996, when the park had a record 4 million visitors, rangers shut gates when all parking spaces were filled.  But last year, the nation's third-most popular park hit a 16-year low with 3.36 million visitors."



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 00:45. Comments Closed (0) |



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