Up until recently, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit in California ran a risk if he or she settled with only one of the people or companies that caused his or her injuries and but not others at the same time. An old rule derived from the Common Law created the danger that if a plaintiff settled with and released one defendant, that release would prevent her from recovering for economic damages (like medical expenses, lost wages, future medical care costs) from the other defendants. The rule was known as the “release rule.” That old “release rule” has just been overturned by the California Supreme Court. In Ming-Ho Leung v. Verdugo Hills Hospital, the Supreme Court decided that the release rule is unjust and inequitable, and for that reason, it will no longer be followed in California. In Ming-Ho Leung, the injured person was a baby who suffered a serious brain injury. The Supreme Court determined that the child’s settlement with one of the defendants did not preclude him from recovering from the other defendant.
Recently, some journalists have condemned trial lawyers for the downfall of Blitz USA, the maker of plastic gasoline containers. Blitz recently went into bankruptcy. Criticism has been lodged by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal and by John Stossel on Fox News. These critics charge that trial lawyers are injuring the economy and causing the loss of jobs at Blitz, finding no fault on the part of Blitz in causing serious burn injuries to those who have used their gas containers. Here’s what is interesting. To cut costs, Blitz decided not to put flame arrestors in their gas cans. A flame arrestor is a piece of wire mesh which costs less than 1 dollar. It is a safety device which prevents flashback of flames into a fuel container which can result in a sudden explosion and shooting flames from burning gas. Dan Rather has reported that the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) investigated the containers after a 6 year old girl was killed when one of the gas containers exploded. The ATF's testing revealed that the gas cans exploded during 13 of the 17 tests, and flames shot out over four feet.