The Squeeze Inn, A New Beginning!

On Saturday, February 6, an end of an era will come to Sacramento. The famous Squeeze Inn will be closing it’s location at 7916 Fruitridge Avenue in Sacramento. To clarify, The Squeeze Inn is not closing, it is simply closing it’s historic location that became the scene of a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) last year. It will be opening its new location right around the corner in the next few weeks.

Famous for it’s 1/3 of a pound hamburger with a bubbling cheese skirt, the Squeeze Inn garnered extra publicity after appearing on the Food Network show, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. In fact, the show’s host Guy Fieri recently appeared on Jay Leno’s show and ranked it in the two best burgers he has ever had.

Come Saturday, the famous location on Fruitridge will be closing and the cozy 12-seat diner owned by the great Hausauer Family will be no more. A little slice of Sacramento will be gone, all due to an ADA lawsuit. While it will live on in it’s new location and another location in Galt, it wont’ be quite the same.

Legal Reform = Jobs Jobs Jobs

Governor Schwarzenegger is right on the mark by making legal reform one of his top 5 priorities he outlined in the State of the State. Although legal reform was not part of his speech, it is included as one of his five proposals to get California’s economy back on track.

Focusing on the elimination of frivolous lawsuits as a part of our economic recovery is a huge step forward. Governor Schwarzenegger has always understood litigation reform. He is a businessman and and I think he better than most knows what kind of damage a lawsuit can do.

The Governor’s proposal is to focus on on an atmosphere in which businesses can thrive. He will propose a series of changes to regulations governing class action lawsuits, product liability suits and seek to cap punitive damage awards. While the devil is always in the details, this will be huge reform if delivered to the Governor’s desk later this year.

California – A Judicial Hellhole?

Well not quite, but it is now on the Watchlist according to the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF). The annual report issued by ATRF gives the latest rankings of America’s least fair legal climates. These are places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an inequitable manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. This is ATRF’s eighth annual report.

This year, California has been placed on the report’s Watchlist. The Watchlist shows jurisdictions that may be moving closer or further away from other Hellholes as their respective litigation climates improve or degenerate. I think it is fair to say that ATRF feels California might be slipping further and further into the litigation abyss.

Shining the Light on Public Sector Lawsuits

When most people think about where their tax dollars go, they think of schools, parks, public safety and other social service programs. It never occurs to them that some of their hard-earned dollars are paying litigation costs. This is because most of the time the cases against cities, counties and the state are dealt with behind closed doors, shielded from public scrutiny.

In 2007 California CALA shed a little light on these hidden expenses and found that just three cities and four counties in California paid more than $276 million in verdicts, settlements and outside counsel in just two fiscal years. These costs did not even include litigation against school districts.

CALA just released a new report and the findings are staggering. CALA looked at verdicts, settlements and outside counsel for the counties of Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange , Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara and the cities of Anaheim, Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose. Of these nine counties and eight cities more than $500 million dollars was spent to deal with litigation. Half a billion dollars! And we have 480 cities and 58 counties in the state. The total cost to our cities and counties would be mind-boggling.

Class Action Insanity

The other day I received a notice of a class action settlement regarding Troyk vs. Farmers Group Inc. It seems like recently I get about one of these a month. This one caught my attention. I have not been with Farmers Insurance for some time and during the period in question I must have been with them for only a brief time.

The class representative in this case is claiming that monthly service charges collected for monthly billing and payment of premiums on Farmers Insurance Exchange auto policies in California and Nevada were illegal. So Farmers is settling the case and the settlement notices go out to current or former policy holders.

As a former policy holder I am entitled to a check for $37.50. Mr. or Mrs. Troyk is entitled to $5,000 for his or her costs, time and effort as acting as the class representative. And the law firm representing “my interests” is getting $5,400,000. This law firm is none other than Bill Lerach’s former firm, Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins. Did I mention that Bill Lerach is serving two years in a federal prison?

Tort Reform = Healthcare Reform

In the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes tackled the issue of tort reform and healthcare reform. It seems that ever since former DNC Chairman Howard Dean (a former doctor) stated that tort reform was not part of the bill because Congress did not want to have to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everyone else, people have been talking about this more and more.

How can you discuss a massive overhaul of our healthcare with out looking at one of the biggest drivers of cost in healthcare? Barnes points to a study that was done in the Massachusetts Medical Society where 83% of doctors say they practice defensive medicine. He also looked at medical malpractice insurance. If doctors have to pay $200,000 annually in malpractice insurance, you can be assured that patients will be paying more.

The Plain and Simple Truth…It’s About Jobs Stupid!

Just yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle carried an opinion piece by John Sullivan, the head of the Civil Justice Association of California talking about how lawsuits and the personal injury lawyers in California are threatening everyone’s job security.

It should not surprise anyone that the personal injury lawyers are trying to cash in on their agenda at both the national level and here in California. Whether it is in Congress, our own legislature, the courts and through public opinion, the personal injury bar is seeking to overturn any and all reforms that have been made over the past few years.

And it could not come at a more difficult time. California is facing the worst economy in decades and unemployment is at record levels. As Sullivan points out, the personal injury lawyers have given $33 million dollars over the past decade to political campaigns and they are looking to cash in.

Preclude Class Actions? Is It Too Logicial?

Let me first of all state I am not a lawyer. I will wait for the applause to settle down. Kidding.

I recently read an article titled, “AT&T Edits Contract to Preclude Class Actions.” It stated that AT&T has amended its terms of service to preclude consumers from participating in class actions, whether handled via litigation or arbitration. They also prohibit consumers from bringing class actions even in an arbitration setting.

It seemed too logical to just amend your terms of service and stick that into them. What a great way to rid our world of class actions once and for all. I mean binding arbitration has been in contracts forever and it seems to meet the various legal challenges. However, this has been challenged once and that was involving a former garbage truck driver for the Atlas Disposal Company. He was trying to sue and get a class over the issue of work breaks, but Atlas had both mandated artbitration and prohibited class actions.

California Voters Support Legal Reform

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) released a survey of California voters on their attitudes toward jobs and the economy. The responses clearly illustrate that Californians are very concerned about the economic future of their families and the state, and they believe lawsuits are part of the problem.

According to the survey, California’s voters want the legislature to enact legal reforms that will attract and retain businesses and create jobs.

This survey proves what most of us already know – now is not the time to place further economic strain on anyone, whether they be businesses, consumers or families. When our state has become such a hostile place to do business that other states are aggressively targeting California businesses to relocate, the time for change has come.

Private Attorneys Gone Wild

I know this sounds like a bad movie coming out of Cancun, but it is not.  It is right in our own backyard. In an article titled, "Private Lawyers Cost State Millions," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Attorney General’s Office is so understaffed that the state is having to outsource legal costs totaling more than $24 million.

They do this by signing contracts with private lawyers  because the Attorney General’s Office is too shorthanded to take the jobs. This tab that has been racked up goes back to January 2008 and much of it lies with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  Some of these private lawyers even command hourly rates that reach $450 an hour, which in some instances is nearly double that of in house lawyers.