July 2010 Archives

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A tort reform advocate's dream, my article in Forbes.com

By Michael Fumento

It's a tort reform advocate's dream - meaning a defendant's worst nightmare.

As I write in my Forbes.com article "California Trial Lawyers Find A Geezer Goldmine," the class action suit was based entirely on wording so tortuous that the nine members of the Supreme Court would have 10 different interpretations. An earlier case in the same state was tossed out because of that wording. Yet this defendant was slammed with a massive $671 million penalty, vastly beyond its ability to pay. And punitive damages are still pending. And the decision caused the defendant's stock value to plummet 75%.

"Thar's gold in them thar nursing homes!"

Oh, and just one other thing. The very size of the verdict effectively prevents an appeal. But besides all that . . .

This is the inner layer of hell in which Skilled Healthcare California LLC finds itself. The nation's 10th largest nursing care provider, it has 14,000 workers in California alone, making it one of the largest employers in a state with the third-worst jobless rate in America.

They won't be better off because of this decision, and may well be much worse off.

What horrors did the company inflict on those poor seniors to deserve the highly penalty awarded by any court this year? Convert them to Soylent Green? Actually no showing of harm was required - a blessing for the plaintiffs' attorneys because the California Nursing Home Directory has received over a thousand complaints but none regarding Skilled Healthcare.

This is the most amazingly awful court decision I have ever written about - which is saying a lot.

July 29, 2010 09:33 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Regulation

The phony "Toyota deaths database." My article in Forbes magazine

By Michael Fumento

In the Toyota witch hunt, nothing has been more damning than those deaths we're told Toyota sudden acceleration "allegedly caused" or, depending on whom you read, DID cause.

As I note in my just-published Forbes magazine article, "93 and Counting," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration insists on the term "allegedly." But U.S. News & World Report blog-post headline proclaimed: "NHTSA: 89 Deaths Caused by Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles." The Los Angeles Times stated in a headline that sudden acceleration "led to" the deaths. A New York Post headline earlier declared that faulty Toyotas "have killed" 52 people. A CBS News Web headline (over an Associated Press story) similarly said the acceleration car fault "has killed" 89.

Toyota doesn't look so bad after all!

In any case, the NHTSA "complaint database," available on its website to anyone (yes, including the mainstream media), is hooey. So I found when I actually looked at the complaints. (Now there's a novel idea!) Anybody can enter anything. An entry filed by someone named "Damnable Liar" from Holy Toledo! Ohio claimed his car accelerated to the moon because of a child seat problem. That was mine. But the ones citing 99 deaths in one vehicle? Not mine.

Three of the alleged fatal accidents never took place, which DID take sleuthing on my part. So did finding that, after the frenzy began, seven entries comprising ten deaths originally blamed on other aspects of the cars were refiled as unintended acceleration.

But at a glance you can see many simply deduce that since investigators found no cause other than driver error, then the accelerator must be responsible. Or they make the illogical deduction that since the brakes weren't applied, it was sudden acceleration. And so on.

And then there was the lady whose son, while sloshed and after smoking dope, killed his best friend in a Toyota Scion. After entering a NHTSA complaint blaming her boy's accident on sudden acceleration she entered seven more Scion complaints comprising 12 deaths that she'd merely pulled out of news reports and labeled as sudden acceleration. She's covering for her son.

Yes, THESE are the "alleged" or "Toyota-caused" deaths we keep hearing about!

July 21, 2010 11:23 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

No, NHTSA didn't blame all Toyota's troubles on driver error

By Michael Fumento

I can't count how many people sent me items about how NHTSA says the whole Toyota Tempest has now been determined by the government to have been driver error. Hallelujah! Case closed!

Wrong.

The ruckus began with a Wall Street Journal pieces with the unfortunately ambiguous titles: "Crash Data Suggest Driver Error in Toyota Accidents" and "Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers."

It stated:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren't engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said. The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.

Of course they found that. I wrote about the mistaken pedal issue months ago. It's been know about since the 1980s and especially plagues the elderly.

More important was the Journal's quote from scientist with the National Academy of Sciences, which has been studying the problem. "'In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect' in electronic throttle-control systems."

And they never will. Even though that's the pet theory of the media and trial lawyers, there's nothing wrong with Toyota's electronic throttles.

But consider this statistic:

In the first half of last year, about 100 people reported sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas. In the first half of this year, it was about 5,000. Do you think that's all "driver error," much less all those people stomping the wrong pedal all of the sudden?

Stay tuned!

July 15, 2010 06:27 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

Note to Mel Gibson: One day facial hair like this may come back to haunt you

By Michael Fumento

"Come on! Is this the face of a woman beater?
July 13, 2010 12:40 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fun

Volunteer help wanted for short but fun job regarding The Toyota Terror

By Michael Fumento

I need a volunteer to scroll through a section of NHTSA complaints to come up with about 100 truly bizarre ones.

I'll send the file in Excel format, which can be read in Excel, Apple's spreadsheets, or in Open Office which is free. I'll give more guidance on what I'm looking for. But I promise you, you'll find this a real eye opener! It's a jungle in there! And this is for a very important purpose.

July 13, 2010 10:16 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fumento

"Cell Phone Fear in San Francisco," my article in Forbes.com

By Michael Fumento

The king is dead. More accurately, Larry King is hanging up his suspenders after 25 years on TV interviewing essentially everybody who was anybody. His secret? A studio that "felt less like a hot seat than a warm bath," as one critic put it. But by letting his guests spout off unchallenged, leaving the impression they were telling the truth, he has occasionally caused lasting damage.

It's easy to see why Larry finally decided to step down...

So we saw just recently in San Francisco's decision requiring retailers to prominently post cellphone radiation emission levels, tantamount to warning labels. In a 10-1 decision that the mayor has said he'll sign into law, the board of supervisors is making the city the first U.S. jurisdiction to label cellphones in any way.

The board expressly stated its desire to get the rest of the nation to follow suit. And it all started when a guest on King's show in 1993 announced he was suing a cellphone maker for giving his wife a fatal brain tumor. The media ran with the story, cellphone makers’ stocks plummeted, and all over America phones, however briefly, clicked off.

Wait until you read in my Forbes.com investigative report WHAT that guest said that set off the hysteria and how specifically San Fran came to its decision. If you don't audibly groan, I'll double your money back.

No incidentally, much of the article came from my January report "Celling Fear: The Cell Phone Fear that Refuses to Die."

July 7, 2010 10:00 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Cancer

Automakers' new problems - vampires and bears

By Michael Fumento

Toyota complaints keep pouring in to the National Highway Safety Administration, and some are pretty darned bizarre. But most are less so than a Colorado woman's woman's claim that a vampire attacked her Chevy Blazer.

Subaru killed my mommy!

The 58-year-old woman, whom police said appeared to be drug- and alcohol-free said smashed her SUV into a canal while escaping from one of the undead. "Authorities told KKCO-TV that the driver claimed she spotted the bloodsucker while driving on a dirt road outside Fruita, Colo., on Sunday - so she threw the car into reverse in an attempt to escape" and rolled into a ditch.

No word yet on whether DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will propose making as mandatory equipment on all new cars both crucifixes and containers for holding fresh garlic. And mind, ye cynics, we know events transpired as she said because nobody would ever lie about why they got in an accident.

In a more "grizzly" accident, the driver of a 2006 Subaru Impreza submitted multiple complaints to NHTSA stating:

I HIT A BEAR AT 55MPH WITH THE CRUISE CONTROL ON. THE BEAR LEAPED OFF THE BANK IN DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE VEHICLE. THE CRASH THAT RESULTED IN THE BEAR BEING KILLED INSTANTLY, ABOUT 600 LBS. OF BEAR. THE CAR CAME TO AN INSTANT HALT WITH THE FRONT END BEING PUSHED BACK, LIGHTS,GRILLE,FENDER, HOOD, ECT. NO AIR BAGS DEPLOYED. AFTER CALLING SUBARU OF AMERICA, I WAS ADVISED TO LET MY INSURANCE HANDLE IT, BUT AFTER MUCH ARGUMENT WAS ASSIGNED A CASE NUMBER OF 1020805 BY SUBARU. THIS IS NOT A INSURANCE PROBLEM, THIS IS SUBARU PROBLEM.

Actually, it sounds like the party with the biggest problem was the poor bear. Aside from that, the air bag failure is cause for concern but the focus on the cruise control and blaming Suburu generally would seem . . . well, actually would seem pretty typical these days.

But I cheated; actually the accident was reported in 2007. Right about when the bear that played "Gentle Ben" went missing . . .

July 6, 2010 05:06 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota