Punitive Damages on Review at USSC

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Phillip Morris v. Williams, a tobacco case from Oregon where a jury awarded $79 million to the plaintiff. The issue on appeal is whether juries can award punitive damages for harm to third parties not involved in the lawsuit, and places the Rehnquist Court’s BMW v. Gore analysis in the crosshairs (partially, at least).
The Rehnquist Court frequently slashed punitive damages awards based on a three-pronged analysis: (1) the degree of reprehensibility of the conduct; (2) the ratio between punitive and compensatory damages; and (3) a comparison of the amount of punitive damages to any civil or criminal penalties that could be imposed for comparable misconduct.

Deepak Gupta at the Consumer Law & Policy Blog has more, along with links to the oral argument transcript and reactions from media and the blogosphere.

ConsumerAffairs.com: “Hotel Key Cards: Identity Theft Risk or Not?”

Hotel key cards are a bit of an enigma, it seems. Though Snopes.com and Computerworld both put considerable effort into debunking the idea that hotel key cards hold more than just innocuous information about hotel guests, the idea persists. And, potentially, with good reason.

At least one California detective found a veritable treature trove of personal information on a card from a major hotel, including name, length of stay, and credit card number. In other words, more than enough to make it easy for someone to steal your identity.So it isn’t clear whether or not hotel cards do or do not hold risky personal information, but it does seem worthwhile to take some basic precautions. For starters, keep careful track of your key card during your stay, and take it with you when you leave the hotel, then shred it.

Hatin’ on Arbitration

Arbitration is the devil. Seriously. A retired judge who served as an arbitrator for the popular National Arbitration Forum described his experience:

“Thus I learned how Godless bloodsucking banks have converted apparently neutral arbitration forums into collection agencies to exact the last drop of blood from desperate consumers.”

When you agree to arbitrate—as nearly everyone who has signed a contract does—you agree to give up roughly 90% of the rights you would have in a real court. You cannot appeal the decision except to a panel of arbitrators from the same company. You have no right to the rules of evidence. All hearsay is potentially admissible.

The system is designed to be friendly to those who know how to navigate it. For the rest, it is an impenetrable thicket of incomprehensible rules and regulations not for the faint of heart. Or for those hoping to prevail on their claims.

Pioneer Press: “For Drinkers Who Think (Ahead)”

An entrepreneurial spirit in the Twin Cities, Brian Peters, has started a chauffer service for drinkers, solving the primary problem with going out in the city: getting the car home. Drink and Drive Intelligently brings a second car, drives the customer’s car home, and leaves everyone safe and sound.

And–for the drivers, at least–the company has a solution to another age-old problem:

Another advantage of driving drinkers home in their own cars? They sometimes vomit. “I just drop them off and say, ‘Hey, good luck with that,’” said Blaske.

Freakonomics Blog: “This Is the Sound of Chinks Appearing in Armor”

Real estate listing services will, from now on, be required to treat listings from discount brokers the same as those from traditional (read: high-priced) agents. This is good news for consumers on both sides. Sellers using discount agents will get equal booking, and buyers will have an easier time finding homes where the list price is not inflated by traditional realtors’ fees.

In plain English, this could mean that home prices trend slightly downward as traditional agents are forced to compete with discount agents.

BoingBoing: “China Unblocks Wikipedia, Even Though it Won’t Censor”

Following up on this post, it looks like China has unblocked Wikipedia, although it still seems to be trying to block individual pages. Chinese users are still having difficulty viewing the Tianenmen Square page, for example.

Still, this is a positive step. I wonder if Google and Yahoo! will now reconsider their policies. It’s also a shocking indicator of just how powerful information has become, if China feels it just can’t afford to entirely block Wikipedia.

Winona Daily News: “An $830,500 Difference: City Ordered to Pay $903,000 for Land it Originally Thought Worth $72,500″

When the city of Winona decided to take Rich Mikrut’s access to his truck-to-train transfer station, they offered him a measly $72,500. Mikrut was forced to use residential roads (probably not so easy when your business is giant shipping containers), and was buying up nearby properties to build his own driveway. Rather than settle for the $72.5k, Mikrut took the city to court and was awarded $903,000 for the city’s taking.

Article no longer available at WinonaDailyNews.com

Cleaning Up Maryland’s Eviction Mess

I’m having fun searching for “landlord” on YouTube lately. There are a ton of great videos of terrible landlords. Cameras are a terrific tool to use in a landlord-tenant dispute.

This video, however, shows what happens when a liberal eviction law is in place. In Maryland, a landlord may evict a tenant for even one day of late rent. Minnesota, thankfully, is not quite so strict, and requires notice, at least, before an eviction can be filed.

cdtv.net: “New Web Tool Helps Consumers Uncover Generic Drug Alternatives”

Uncovering the generic alternatives to discuss with a physician can be a problem, which now has a solution — a new interactive web service from DrugDigest.org called Check for Savings.

Looks like a great way to help takers of prescription drugs and their doctors, arrive at money-saving treatment options.

Dan The Mortgage Man – Credit Scores 101

Skip to 2:00 for the lowdown on credit scores, how they affect your life, and how you can keep them high.

#1 tip: Pay your bills. Pay them within 30 days of the due date, and even if you can’t pay the full amount due, pay something!

FYI, You can find out your FICO score at Fico.com. It’s free with the 30-day trial, but make sure to cancel on time if you want to avoid the $89.95 annual cost.