Monthly Archives: September 2010

What is The Value of a Human Life?

In theory, human life is priceless. Under most belief systems, each human life is uniquely created by God and has an intrinsic value that cannot be measured in Man’s terms.

But when you are talking about a death caused by a negligent driver, often the value of a human life ends up being the limit of the insurance coverage. For example, take a look at this Baltimore Sun article about a settlement of a lawsuit for wrongful death caused by an accident on the Bay Bridge in the summer of 2008. This case got tons of local media coverage when it happened. It was alleged that the defendant was driving with a blood alcohol content of .03 when she crossed into oncoming traffic, causing the death of a truck driver when he swerved to avoid her and went through a traffic barrier and into the Chesapeake Bay.

The value of this truck driver to his family? Immeasurable. The recovery for his loss? $100,000. The limit of the available insurance coverage. And this defendant had five times as much insurance as the State of Maryland requires. Currently, Maryland drivers are only required to carry $20,000 in liability coverage, which will soon increase to $30,000. I have seen death cases where the only recovery is $20,000. Explaining this to grieving family members is an experience that I wish I had never had.

So please- buy enough coverage to protect yourself and your family. There is no amount that can make up for losing a loved one, but a tragedy like this one can only be made worse when there are inadequate resources to replace the income that may be a family’s sole support. Be smart- don’t depend on the other guy.

It’s Your Fault for Looking

In Vermont, you may be subject to criminal liability if, when your neighbor showers in front of an open window, you look.

I’m not saying it’s ok to go around peeping in your neighbors windows, but it is probably also a good idea to hang a curtain over the window in your shower.

Senate Republicans Continue to Shamefully Block Confirming Judicial Nominees

I mean, seriously. Even that hippie rag The New York Times recognizes this is a problem.

Nobody seriously contends that President Obama’s judicial nominees are any less qualified than those of the prior office holder, George W. Bush. Nonetheless, the Times’ editorial states that at a comparable point in time 61.4% of Bush nominees were confirmed as opposed to less than 50% of President Obama’s nominees.

Many of these nominees have already been approved once or even twice by the Senate Judiciary Committe. One of these is University of California law professor Godwin Liu, who has even been endorsed by Bill Clinton adversary Kenneth Starr for his “independence and openness to diverse viewpoints.”

These are qualified nominees. It’s unconscionable to not allow them to proceed to the Senate floor for a vote. The nation’s judiciary should not be used to play politics. In my view, confirmation of judicial candidates should be a one question process. Are they qualified? If so, confirm them. Quit worrying about ideological litmus tests. It all evens out in the end. When a Republican holds our nation’s highest elected office, they will have their turn. All this infighting does is deprive the country of the service of these qualified candidates while the politicians bicker back and forth.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not understand the importance of this issue or the continuing harm it does to our judicial system. So don’t look for these Senators to get a flood of constituent calls demanding that this logjam be broken up.

Steal This Blog

You know about news aggregation, even if you don’t realize it. It’s everywhere on the internet. You have Ron Miller’s new favorite, Google news. There are blogs that aggregate news in specialized areas, like, THR, Esq. and How Appealing.

You know that you have hit the mainstream when somebody gets mad and says what you are doing is illegal, and Harvard University publishes a white paper (via the aforementioned THR, Esq.) about it.

Apparently, the traditional media have thrown a fit over this wide-spread phenomena. Rupert Murdoch has called Google’s aggregation “theft.” Of course, accusations of stealing intellectual property have been flying around since before the days of Gutenberg. Today’s version has traditional news outlets like the Associated Press claiming that aggregators are “free-riding” because they typically do little to no original reporting, but they derive a benefit from packaging and essentially re-selling third party content. The aggregator incurs none of the cost of producing the content, but is still able to benefit from it.

According to Kimberly Isbell, the author of the Harvard study, there is no definitive law on this issue. She summarizes three notable cases involving the issue, but notes that all have settled. The legal issues involved are copyright protection and the fair use doctrine. This is yet another area where 18th century legal concepts must struggle to adapt to the internet age. Remember back in the 1980’s when VCR makers got sued because you could use the device to copy protected works?

Based on Ms. Isbell’s work, it looks like so-called “blog-aggregators” like Ron and I have the strongest claims to fair use, because (hopefully) the blogger provides context and analysis which generally adds to and changes the purpose of the original work. Not to mention, there is a real argument that what we do benefits the original producer of the material as well. For example, if this issue interests you, you may click on the link to Ms. Isbell’s paper and read it yourself.

It seems to me like this is similar to any situation in which there is unsettled law. Those kinds of cases usually settle, because neither side wants to risk making bad law by pushing for a ruling. Eventually, a case will arise where there is no workable settlement available, and law will be created one way or another.

Unfortunately, cases where nothing can be worked out tend to be the kind where bad law gets made. I guess we will have to wait and see which side of this debate ends up creating bad law.

Confirming Federal Trial Judges Should Not be a Political Football

Here is an article from the AP discussing the extreme problems President Obama has had in getting federal judicial nominees confirmed.

There are 854 federal judgeships. 102 of them are vacant. 47 of the vacancies have been labeled “emergencies” by the federal judiciary due to heavy caseloads. Although the Obama administration got off to a slow start, there are now 45 nominations awaiting a vote, with two of the nominees having waited for 13 months.

The article places primary blame for this on “[a] determined Republican stall campaign,” but also points out that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (a Nevada Democrat), “has been unwilling to set aside the considerable time needed to force votes.”

The article says this has been delaying not only votes on nominees to appeals courts, but also nominees to trial courts. These consist of U.S. District Courts and local Washington, D.C. courts, whose nominees also must be confirmed by the Senate because Washington, D.C. is a federal enclave.

It has been such a problem that even Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have taken the Senate floor to plead for a vote on an appeals court judge supported by both.

I disagree with, but at least understand, objecting to appeals court nominees on ideological grounds. But objecting to or delaying confirmation of trial court judges is just stupid. They don’t make policy. Having open judgeships just delays the courts in promptly resolving the cases on their dockets, and inhibits the parties’ ability to access the courts. Fewer judges means that all civil and criminal cases take longer to resolve than they should.

As I argue here, at a minimum there should be a streamlined confirmation procedure to fill seats on trial-level courts. Otherwise, cases sit unresolved and the country as a whole suffers for it. So get moving, Senators.

This Lawyer is a Disgrace

Today’s paper has an article about a lawyer from Frederick County who has sued the state over an incident where he was arrested in the Court of Appeals building. According to this Baltimore Sun article, the regular bailiff was out, so he was replaced with a police officer from the state’s Department of General Services. When the lawyer arrived at the courthouse, dressed in a slovely fashion, he was asked to show ID. He refused, and lied to the officer. He said he left his ID in the car, when it was actually in his pocket. He was then arrested. The charges were dismissed for lack of probable cause. Now the lawyer has sued for $700k for his “wrongful” arrest.

This is the same guy I wrote about here, when he rudely interrupted a trial judge, showed tremendous disrespect, and stormed out of a courtroom while the judge was hearing the case. In a wrongly decided opinion, the Court of Appeals let him off the hook because the judge made some procedural mistakes in handling the contempt ruling.

It looks like he didn’t learn much. Perhaps he is correct that there is no legal requirement that you show ID when entering the Court of Appeals building. But a person entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of being a member of the Maryland Bar should know better than to handle it the way this guy apparently did. Just because you have the right to act like a jackass doesn’t make it a good idea.

From the cop’s perspective, what was going on? A man who was shabbily dressed and did not look (or apparently act) like a lawyer, was asked for ID and refused, and then proceeded to go upstairs where the judges’ chambers (and the clerk) are located. I can understand why this would cause the officer concern. Maybe the officer had no legal right to arrest this guy. But the lawyer completely brought this on himself by his own actions.

Now this story is on the front page of the local paper. When I go to court for a jury trial, to represent a real person, who had something terrible happen to them, my jury is going to be getting their views about lawyers from stories like this.

That offends me. In my opinion, this lawyer is a discredit to the profession. I think he is exhibiting a pattern of behavior that brings shame on the profession and harms public confidence in the legal system. Whether what he has done is legal or not, at a minimum it is disrespectful and shows an alarming lack of judgment. Based on what I have read, I think this gentleman should be disbarred. This is not the sort of publicity lawyers and the legal profession need or want.

“Black Box” Data Relevant to a Truck Crash? That’s Un-Possible!

I am involved in a court case in Prince George’s County where I am representing a lady who alleges she was injured when a tractor-trailer struck her car.

We live in an increasingly technological age. One consequence of this is that trucking companies often equip their vehicles with a “black box” that records vehicle data, such as speed, location, movement, etc. They do this to promote efficiency in terms of scheduling, cargo tracking, route determinations, etc. To some extent it is also probably done to make sure the drivers are where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing, while they are out on the road.

Many lawyers think a trucking accident case is just a plain ol’ car accident case on steroids. Wrong. This an example. Experienced truck accident lawyers, like me, know to ask for things like vehicle data recorder information in discovery requests. I do this in all of my truck accident cases, like the one in P.G. County I have going on now.

Well, I got a response back to my request. Here it is, verbatim:
OBJECTION. This Request is overly broad, unduly burdensome and seeks to discover information not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Apparently, I had a liquid lunch at the local bar the day I wrote my request. Who would think that information about speed, stopping, vehicle load and driving time would be relevant to figuring out if a truck driver was negligent? Oh, right. EVERYONE. This response is about as ridiculous as arguing that a videotape of the accident is irrelevant.

That is, everyone except this defense lawyer with about 35 years of experience. What his response really means is “you are only getting this if you make me.” The root cause of this phenomenon is lazy plaintiffs’ lawyers who will not take the time to get this information the hard way. Obstructionist defense lawyers get away with this all the time because the plaintiff’s lawyer doesn’t read the discovery responses closely or at all until 2 weeks before trial.
Sorry dude, you picked the wrong guy. Red flag, meet bull. The only way I won’t get it is if a judge denies my motion to compel it. Which I think unlikely, since there is nothing more relevant to a truck crash than vehicle movement data.

“The only thing neccesary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke, (1729-1797)