The Litigious Society 

Elizabeth Shelton, 21, filed a lawsuit in Houston in December against the truck driver that she accidentally rear-ended in a 2007 crash, while she was intoxicated, and in which her boyfriend was killed. Though she was convicted of manslaughter, she is now suing for $20,000 damage to her Lexus SUV and for "pain and suffering," basing her claim on the fact that the blameless driver she hit was uninsured. In all, her lawsuit names 16 defendants, including insurance companies and banks. Shelton is the daughter of a state court judge.

In November, Michigan state circuit court judge Robert Colombo Jr. almost single-handedly quashed thousands of apparently bogus lawsuits for asbestos-related injuries by exposing the principal examining doctor as unqualified. Dr. Michael Kelly had diagnosed injuries on 7,323 patients' x-rays over 15 years (earning $500 per screening), which in one sampling was 58 times the abnormality-detection rate of independent radiologists. Judge Colombo found that Kelly is neither a radiologist nor a pulmonologist, had failed the certification test for reading x-rays, and performed lung-function tests improperly 90 percent of the time. On the day Judge Colombo commenced the investigation of Dr. Kelly, plaintiffs' attorneys, realizing they had been busted, promptly withdrew all of their lawsuits except one.

Poor Babies! Two customers who lined up for the 5 a.m. November "Black Friday" opening at the Long Island, N.Y., Wal-Mart (in which a worker was crushed to death) filed lawsuits against the store because of the crowd's unruliness. Fritz Mesadieu, 51, and son Jonathan, 19, said they got neck and back pain from the surge of customers and that their medical and legal expenses amounted to at least $2 million.

More than 130 lawsuits were filed in November and December by inmates at a state prison in Beaumont, Texas, who claimed to suffer psychological trauma because prison officials failed to prepare them well for Hurricane Ike, which hit the city in September.

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