Tort Law Day
Couldn't be there? Want to re-watch your favorite moments?
Join Eric Foner as he talks about his new book, “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution”
Dr. Foner is the Pulitzer Prize winning America historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University.
He recently appeared in the Henry Louis Gates public television series, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
WHERE: American Museum of Tort Law 654 Main St. Winsted, CT
WHEN: Saturday, November 16 at 11:00 AM
Reservations required: Tickets are $10.00 and include entrance to the Museum.
There is a weed-killer called Roundup. It is manufactured by Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer.
Roundup contains a chemical called glyphosate, which may or may not be carcinogenic. That, at least, is the question that juries around the country are being asked to answer. The evidence on the question is split, with Monsanto, Bayer and the Environmental Protection Agency asserting that Roundup does not cause cancer.
But several juries have disagreed, based upon evidence from World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. There, studies in rats, mice and humans, have led the Organization to conclude that the chemical probably does cause cancer.
So far, several cases have gone to trial, and Bayer and Monsanto have lost.
And the verdicts have been enormous.
Moreover, there are still over 13,000 lawsuits against Bayer pending, arising out of claims that Roundup has caused cancer.
So, why this dispute? What is the answer? Does Roundup cause cancer, or not? A thoughtful article in Business Insider takes a close look at this issue, and concludes that “the EPA and Bayer (the company that now owns Monsanto) both maintain that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans. But Bayer and the US government may not be considering all types of exposure in their analyses.” Brueck, H., “The EPA Says A Chemical In Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Doesn’t Cause Cancer — But There’s Compelling Evidence The Agency Is Wrong.” Business Insider, June 1, 2019.
Specifically the difference is this: Bayer and EPA base the conclusion that Roundup and glyphosate do not cause cancer upon studies of industrial agricultural use, where the chemical is applied by “farmers out in the field with their large, modern spray rigs, where the operator is inside a steel and glass cab with a sophisticated air filtration system that essentially eliminates exposure.” But Roundup contains Glyphosate and surfactants which lets the chemical be absorbed through the skin. So many users, workers are golf courses, for example, who apply Roundup by hand, may be exposed to high levels of the chemical through spray drift.
The studies that Monsanto and EPA looked at (and that Monsanto funded) looked at the farmers, insulated from exposure in their cabs. The WHO studies looked at direct exposure.
The entire article is well worth reading, since it highlights not only the risks of Roundup and exposure to glyphosate, but also the differing lenses of scientific studies and how to assess them for reliability, credibility, and truth.
On Saturday, June 22nd, 2019, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. the American Museum of Tort Law will host an event and reception remembering those who lost their lives in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. The crash of this airplane, the Boeing 737 MAX 8, manufactured by Boeing, took the lives of 157 people, including Samya Rose Stumo, grandniece of Museum Founder Ralph Nader.
The lives of these victims will be celebrated and mourned at a program from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at the American Museum of Tort Law, 654 Main St., Winsted, CT. the speakers will include the parents of Samya, Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo, who will discuss her work in global healthcare and their efforts to bring accountability to Boeing and the FAA for safer airline travel; Ralph Nader; and William J. McGee, noted airline consumer safety advocate, and author of “Attention All Passengers.” The program will be open to the public and the press, and will also be videotaped.
This program will address the causes of the two horrific disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia, both involving Boeing’s 737 MAX 8, followed by a declaration presenting the ways that Boeing and its culpable executives must be brought to justice under both the criminal and tort laws of our land. Ways to reform the FAA by Congress so as to restore its role of a regulator, instead of a cozy delegator of its life-saving duties, will be addressed. Senator Richard Blumenthal has been invited to describe the proposed legislation to strengthen and return regulatory authority to the FAA.
Light refreshments will be served.
There is a famous scene in the classic movie The Godfather, where Michael Corleone, off to meet with an enemy, says, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
The terrible tragedies of crashes of the Boing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia remind us, once again, how wrong that statement it. These tragedies were not “just business.” They are terribly, horribly personal. Hundreds of lives were lost due to callous, negligence, or worse – deliberate indifference to human life.
The Boing 737 Max 8 had software problems that led the plane to drive itself at high speed directly into the earth.
This happened because of unsafe design, overreliance on untested technology, terribly lax oversight and missing governmental regulation, in a competitive environment where Boing focused “on getting the plane on the market quickly to compete with its rival manufacturer Airbus.”
Flyers Rights – the airline passenger consumer group –proposed a real passengers bill of rights. Year after year the industry’s toadies in Congress said no. A slim version passed last year — requiring regulations creating minimum seat standards, regulations regarding prompt refunds for ancillary services not provided or on a flight not taken, and a variety of small improvements for consumers.
Boeing is all over Capitol Hill. They have 100 full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Over 300 members of Congress regularly take campaign cash from Boeing. The airlines lather the politicians with complimentary ticket upgrades, amenities, waivers of fees for reservation changes, priority boarding, and VIP escorts.
It gets worse:
Here is how the Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by FAA, endorsed by Boeing’s Congress:
“In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the U.S. government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations…”
“Hundreds of Boeing engineers would have played out this scenario thousands of times as the company sought to verify the performance of mechanical systems, hardware installation and massive amounts of computer code…”
This is a corrupt business environment, where our government has defaulted on its obligations, trusting instead to corporations to care more about the safety of their passengers, than about their profits.
But that trust was misplaced. It is only now, after two crashes, and hundreds of lives lost, that Boing acknowledges the design and software problems in their aircraft.
In the end, Michael Corleone came to realize that he had been wrong.
“Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes? Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.”
Mario Puzo, The Godfather.
Ralph Nader’s grandniece, Samya Stumo, was killed when the Boing aircraft crashed in Ethiopia in March. Her life, and the lives of all of the other passengers, and the crew, make this personal, not business.
At the wreckage near Bishoftu in a small pastoral farm field and in the Java Sea off Indonesia lie the remains of the early victims of arrogant, algorithm driven corner cutting, by reckless corporate executives and their captive government regulators.
Here is a link to the press conference about the lawsuit Samya’s family has filed against Boing. It explains in detail what went wrong with the design and operation of the Boing 737 Max 8.
The families who lost little children in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 sued the gun makers. The case was thrown out of court, however, because in 2005 Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which sharply restricted lawsuits against gun sellers and makers by granting industry-wide immunity from blame when one of their products is used in a crime. The families appealed that decision, and today, the Connecticut Supreme court has ruled that the lawsuit can be returned to court, and may proceed.
The [Connecticut Supreme] court agreed with the lower court judge’s decision to dismiss claims that directly challenged the federal law shielding the gun companies from litigation, but found the case can move forward based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices.
Essentially, the plaintiffs’ claim is that
the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack had been marketed as a weapon of war, invoking the violence of combat and using slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”
Such messages reflected, according to the lawsuit, a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who charged into the elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 first graders, in a spray of gunfire.
Specifically, the plaintiffs’ argue that
the companies were wrong to entrust an untrained civilian public with a weapon designed for maximizing fatalities on the battlefield.
Lawyers pointed out advertising — with messages of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity — that resonated with disturbed young men who could be induced to use the weapon to commit violence.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Joshua D. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the panel of judges during oral arguments in the case in 2017.
None of this guarantees that the plaintiffs’ will win when the case finally gets tried. But this ruling is important for two reasons: First, it allows the plaintiff’s to have this issue tried, and so to delineate the boundaries of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Second, the answer to that question will lie, not with lobbyists, or legislators, but with a jury of Connecticut residents. As the Supreme Court wrote,
“it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet.”
When all is said and done, the ability to have our legal cases decided by a jury, is one of the great strengths of our Constitution.
This is an important decision, in a case which is not over yet.
Here is the NY Times article about this decision, from which the foregoing quotes were taken: Rojas, R. and Hussey, K. “Sandy Hook Massacre: Gun Makers Lose Major Ruling Over Liability,” NY Times, March 14, 2019
An ongoing series highlighting cases you should know.
Here’s a case you should know about. It highlights not only the dangers of predatory lenders, but also the many shortcomings of mandatory arbitration. This is another reason why trial by jury, in open court, and subject to the rules of evidence, is so very important.
The Founding Fathers knew this; so should you.
Remember when we wrote about the lawsuit filed against Alex Jones and Infowars by families whose children were butchered in the Shady Hook Massacre? “When Madness Walked the Earth,” April 19, 2018? Here’s some context: Shortly after that terrible event,
Conspiracy theorists began claiming that the parents of the dead children were “actors in an elaborate scheme to enact stricter gun control laws.” The conspiracy theorists asserted that the grief-stricken parents, were, hoaxers; that there had been no slaughter; that the story was fake.
One of the loudest voices promoting this cruel theory has been Alex Jones, “a right-wing conspiracy theorist,” who is a popular radio host, and operates the “conspiracy theory website Infowars.” According to the New York Times, he “has long claimed the shooting was ‘completely fake’ and a ‘giant hoax’ perpetrated by opponents of the Second Amendment.” He “has questioned for years whether 20 children and six adults died in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.” Haag, M. “Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones for Defamation”, NY Times, April 17, 2018.
Last year, some of the parents of the murdered children sued Jones for defamation.
Well, the story continues. And check this out – The Court has ordered that Alex Jones must appear and testify at at a deposition in the defamation lawsuit filed by the parents.
A deposition is sworn testimony, given under oath, in preparation for a trial. Jones is not happy – he has previously moved to dismiss the lawsuit (unsuccessfully), and has objected (unsuccessfully) to a previous order that he turn over financial records of Infowars.
And now, he’ll be questioned, under oath, about his statements that the slaughter of these children was faked and a hoax. Good. Let’s see what he has to say when he has to tell the truth.
Here’s an article about the case: “Judge Rules Sandy Hook Families Can Depose Alex Jones In Defamation Case,” by Owen Daugherty, February 13, 2019.
CBS This Morning reported on January 24th, 2019 that the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, is “targeting Purdue Pharma and eight members of the Sackler family who own the company, alleging in a lawsuit they are ‘personally responsible’ for deceptively selling OxyContin, the narcotic which is central to the opiod crisis.” “Family behind OxyContin maker engineered opioid crisis, Massachusetts AG says,” CBS NEWS January 24, 2019
Almost 400,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017, according to the CDC. Massachusetts is one of 36 states now suing Purdue Pharma, accusing the company of downplaying the dangers of OxyContin. In a 2007 federal settlement, the company admitted to falsely selling the drug as “less addictive” than rival products. The company paid $630 million in fines.
Healey alleges that “the Sackler family hired “hundreds of workers to carry out their wishes” – pushing doctors to get “more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer, than ever before” all while paying “themselves billions of dollars.”
In a statement, Purdue Pharma said the lawsuit “distorts critical facts” and “cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents.”
To that, Healey said, “If Purdue thinks we’re cherry picking, I invite them to produce all of their documents and let the public judge for itself.”