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fear of a litigious nation

Lawyers for some of the victims of the Rhode Island/Great White fire are going to sue Clear Channel, owners of a local radio station that promoted the concert.

WHJY urged listeners to see the show and offered free compact discs and free admission, which resulted in overcrowding

Bud Paras, the general manager of WHJY, said his station did not promote or sponsor the concert at the nightclub. He said the radio station simply produced and ran 15 half-minute spots bought by the nightclub for about $700. [Station DJ Michael] Gonsalves introduced the band, Paras said, but only because the musicians had been guests on his show and were friendly with him. WHJY gave away four free tickets, but did not hand out CDs, he said.

Gonsalves died in the fire.

While Clear Channel is guilty of many things - mostly for destroying radio - I cannot accept its guilt in this tragedy.

Clear Channel owns 1,200 stations nationwide. I'm not going to sit here and figure out how many concerts are advertised on the stations daily, but let's just assume it's a lot. Now, let's suppose that in one hour's time, one of the Clear Channel stations runs ads for McDonald's, American Idol, Budwieser and a baseball game.

Is the station responsible for whatever happens to a listener who utilizes or attends the advertised products?

If a person slips and falls at the local McDonald's, can Clear Channel be sued because the person heard an ad for Chicken McNuggets on their local affiliate?

If I'm sitting home and my television explodes while I am watching American Idol, can I hold Clear Channel partly responsible because the ad they ran made me want to sit in front of my tv and watch that show?

What about drunk driving accidents? What if I get hit with a line drive while attending a Yankee game that was promoted on a Clear Channel station?

Even if the station did promote the show outside of advertising, I don't see how Clear Channel itself bears any culpability in this scenario.

What if the lawyers of the victims win? What will that mean for radio? No more free cds or concert ticket giveaways. Maybe some stations will even hesitate to promote concerts at all. And without advertising, who will know about the concerts or when tickets are going on sale? Soon even newspapers and magazines won't want to touch concert promoting and eventually the live show will go the way of the vinyl 45 and become all but extinct.

Far fetched? Perhaps. But something to think about. While attorneys become more brazen and more outlandish in their pursuit of "justice," we are going to end up as a nation living in fear of a lawsuit.

As if we aren't halfway there already.

(link from MeFi)


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Victims of the Great White fire are suing Clear Channel because a CC-owned radio station played ads for the concert and gave away free tickets. (Of course, we know it's actually because CC has more money than either than band... [Read More]

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People will find any reason to sue nowadays. [Read More]


everyday I wake up, read or hear the news and think it can't get any more asinine than the day before. I am wrong every single day.

if this is HALFway, i thin i'm going to have to start going to lawschools with a bat and suggesting career changes to the students to thin out the number of lawyers. i think we're much further along than half. i really really hope we are anyway.

And by extension, what happens when you or some other blogger talks up an upcoming movie, convincing me to go see it, and it sucks so bad that I choke and die on a nacho? Does my family get to sue you? Would they get anything good?

Know what is sad, I'm willing to bet that the ClearChannel station has since been promoting some sort of fund for the victims families.

I'd be curious to know if suing Clear Channel was a suggestion of the lawyer or if the plaintiffs came up with that one all by themselves. Nothing says "I love you and miss you" like trying to take an unrelated company for everything they've got.

Cool! Now I can sue my employer for telling me what a great place it is to work in, only now it's almost as fiery an inferno as a Great White concert!

So what's next, the band will get sued because they didn't advertise, "Come on down and die in a fire!" ?!?!

As fun as it is to blame the lawyers for perpetuating these suits, as much blame lies with judges who don't throw them out on first reading, and juries who continue to be stupid and gullible enough to award damages. There are several steps to the legal process, and each has a respnsibility to show common sense and morality.

Barry, we're just blaming the first line of defence basically. judges and juries will always be there. we the consumer have no control over how many there are. judges are appointed not elected, and juries are just randomly chosen. lawyers however only have business so long as WE the consumer give it to them. so we're focusing on the lawyers because the less of them (or more responsible they are) the less frivolous lawsuits ever get TO the judges and juries.

the only reason they are listed in the suit is because they have the deepest pockets. suits like this are not attempts at justice. they are attempts to assuage greif by profiting from tragedy. it's the culture of entitlement. suing the band or the club - quite possibly legitimate suits in a quest to prove negligence, may well be legit. but they can easily go chapter 11 and the plaintiff gets zip. sue clear channel, and suddenly a 50 million dollar award is well within reason.

this is the one part of the american legal system that disgusts me the most. it's repugnant and immoral and irresponsible.

much like the presidency of george w bush, but at least we can do something about that in two years. (sorry. had to get that in there).

Jimbo, yeah whatever.....

Back to the real discussion, the whole concept of defense and prosecution to me seems illogical. One side is trying to prove innocence, the other side is trying to prove guilt. One of them is trying to prove a lie.

But I'm not a lawyer, I'm a programmer. I need 0's and 1's so everything is black and white for me.

sure thing jimbo. i mean with Al Sharpton and John Kerry running, Bush doesn't stand a chance right?

meanwhile, back in reality.....

there's no such thing as an evil system. it's the people running it that do bad things. but they do good things once in a while too.

the problem is that when it comes to cracking down hard in the justice arena, people wuss out. people against being tough on crime start tossing out the "what if you were wrongly accused" line and everyone chickens out. Same thing with the awards to people suing big companies for "pain and angish" money. the lawyer for the poor person just lays the "think if this was YOUR child that died" line and the jury just HANDS them some money. i mean how many jurors do you think were honest with themselves and said "well, if my dumbass smoked for 40 years i guess i'd EXPECT to die of cancer. so why the hell should we award them money for giving themselves a disease?" instead they were thinking "what if i were dying and my family didn't like seeing me in pain?" just like jimbo is trying to do, you paint a picture that it's a "system" or a "company" that's doing the evil, not one or two misguided people.

That pisses me off. Yeah, I'm not a fan of Clear Channel, but I'm a fan of 94HJY and I know several people who work there. They're a class act all the way, and they're one of the few stations that CC allows to be run fairly independently of the corporate Kool-Aid dictates. Don't these people realize the station lost one of its own in this fire? And it's not like they actively helped in the setting of the fire. Plus, every other report I've read said the club was under-capacity.

No Robb, you are not a lawyer.

In cases such as this, guilt and innocence are not implicated. The question is liability. Is the station LIABLE for the damage caused to Plaintiff. The adversarial process allows the slimy Plaintiff lawyers to attempt to bend the law to their view and the Defense lawyers to respond and correct their sorry asses. The bottom line responsbility lies with the judge who has to buy the line of crap from the Plaintiff in order for the case to even see a jury.

That said, remember, there are some of us non-evil defense lawyers out there. :-)

And remember, the real flood of this sort of crap started with the lunatic anti-tobacco lawsuits, which set precedent for many of the current abuses.
I remember warning people at the time they were feeding a baby dragon but the common reaction was "I hate smoking and I don't care!"
As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

Remember how stupid the lawsuits against gun manufacturers seemed? Why blame the gun manufacturers when it is evil people who use them for evil means that should be held responsible?

So why is it that the same people who think these types of lawsuits are unwarranted immediately blame lawyers for all the world's woes? Why aren't people as quick to blame the greedy clients (smokers/criminals/clutzs/victims) who hire a lawyer (a quintessential hired gun) to dig into any deep pockets they can find? Under the law in every state in the union, a lawyer cannot bring an action without his client's authorization.

Couldn't we cull the lawyer population by STOP HIRING LAWYERS. Jimmy is right: We are the consumers. So stop consuming. Or at least spread the equal weight of responsibility to the gluttons who are hiring these lawyers to be the chefs of the feast, as it were. (Oh, but they make it taste soooo good.)

Our legal system is fed by the same motivational forces that underlie our capitalistic economic system: greed, avarice, and jealousy, not to mention opportunism. People in America treat tragedy as a winning lottery ticket to cash in, and this greed has created a market for lawyers to capitalize on it. When juries are presented with cases, they see a victim on one side and a deep pocket on the other. They feel sorry for the victim, and they are jealous of the deep pocket. So they redistribute wealth.

I will reveal my bias, in case you haven't figured it out already. I'm a lawyer, but I don't make my living capitalizing on tragedy. I do something much more mundane like write the wording in your 401(k) plan that the government mandates be there. But I believe it is about responsibility, and we all need to take responsibility for our own greed.

Well said Todd. I would add that the cult of victimization that's running rampant in our society is the worst contributor to this. "If I took a bath with my toaster, surely it's not MY fault that I got electrocuted." Bah!

Todd, Faith....welcome to a blame-free society. and by that i mean nobody is to blame for anything THEY do. but everyone else in the world is responsible for your problems. you just need to find them...and sue them.

"there's no such thing as an evil system. "
If that's true, why is it that not a single Communist country hasn't failed miserably?

Barry, jimmy, Toren and Todd:
That out of the way, lets try to debug our defective system. It didn't used to suck this way, now it does. Something has changed.

The actors are clients, lawyers, juries, judges, and legislators. They interact according to the rules of statutory law, common law and precedent. I will assume that human nature is constant, so clients and juries are not the problem. Basic principles of free-market economics say that the lawyers will try to do whatever they think they can get away with in pursuit of fees. So if something's going wrong, it's with the judges, and the legislators who make the rules they enforce. Actually the judges make a lot of the rules themselves through precedent and "common law" but the legislators have the power to overrule them.

So why is it we see suits like this now where we didn't a hundred or even fifty years ago. What was different then?

Well for one thing, the lawyer would have been fined for initating a frivolous suit at best, and at worst maybe disbarred if he made a habit of it.

Why don't judges do that anymore? Well, there's been a change in common expectations, and precedent says to allow what all the other judges allow. How to change this? Change the law, so that punishments for frivolous suits are more common.

Abusive suits will cease as soon as there starts to be a downside to them. Making there be a downside is the business of judges, and making sure the judges do their job here is the business of elected officials.

If you don't like this kind of thing, make sure your US and STATE legislators know how you feel about tort reform.

Solution to all these frivolous lawsuits for "punitive damages". Allow the lawsuits to go ahead - but change tort law such that any and all money paid to the plaintiffs (assuming they win) that are not direct compensation for actual damages caused are deemed to be a "penalty" on the guilty party. And then, as a "penalty", 100% of these awards (before the sharks - I mean lawyer get a cent) goes into a fund managed by the State to provide for much needed state services.

I bet as soon as the lawyers realise they won't get paid for this, the lawsuits will stop.

Whats the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?

One is a bottom-dwelling, scum sucking scavenger, and the other is a fish.

Ralph, communism wasn't run by a group of robots. it was run by.....*drum roll please* PEOPLE. yes that's right you idiot, like i said before. it's PEOPLE in the system NOT the system itself that are evil. If communism weren't run by people, it would be a pretty good system to live under.

Next time read the whole post and not the first sentence.

Jimmy, calling someone an idiot is a great way to make a point. Bravo!

I'm curious. How is a system designed to regulate human behavior--including the leaders of those people--good if it's primary flaw is that it can't be run by people?

But back to the discussion . . .

Keith, you raise an interesting proposal, but there are constitutional problems with labeling punatives as a penalty. And tort reform is definately needed. But in finding ways to fix the system, I think it important to keep in mind that a tort system is designed to hold people accountable for causing harm to someone else. So let's not undermine the benefits that come from accountability.

Perhaps Ralph is right that there should be more stringent consequences for filing "frivolous" lawsuits. The problem is determining what is frivolous apart from "I know it when I see it." Let us not forget that we have safer products, cleaner air and water, and more security because lawsuits were filed against evil doers.

And let's not pretend there are any easy answers.

The suit will work. Clear Channel will settle out of court. No company will face a jury in this situation. Big bad and rich company against a band of grieving widows? It's a no win scenario.

My grad school law professor made a point that I have never forgotten...Jury verdicts have nothing to do with the law. As the company or business owner, you never want a jury deciding your fate. Never.