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Showing posts with label postal service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label postal service. Show all posts

Monday, January 17, 2022

With DeJoy still at helm, U.S. Postal Service seems determined to demonstrate its own inutility

It looks like the U.S. Post Office is catching up on a backlog—and maybe trying to annihilate itself.

At home in Rhode Island, I was surprised this week when my cousin in Denver messaged me to report receipt of his birthday card from August.  Then my mother in Baltimore emailed to report receipt of a Halloween greeting from my daughter in Atlanta, as well as a Valentine's Day card—from February 2020.

Media reported this week that a Massachusetts widow just received the letter her husband had written to his mother from World War II Germany in 1945.  (NPR, WUSA 9.)

I was frustrated in recent weeks with inability to send a Christmas gift to a friend in New Zealand, given the Post Office's suspension of service to there, Australia, and elsewhere (furious reaction).  As if it's not already sufficiently outrageous that it costs $25 to $40 to send a small box.  The USPS blamed the suspension on covid-related shipping cancellations. 

I could be mistaken—I can't confirm this—but I thought that some years ago, the USPS eschewed ground shipping for all international mail (save hazards, animals, and the like), preserving only priority air.  No-hurry ground vanished, and rates spiked to their present levels.  So how can it be that shipping cancellations have caused service suspensions?

Planet Money recently tried to explain how Amazon manages "free shipping" thanks to scale.  I was utterly unconvinced.  No matter how much cost savings is realized by volume, negotiation, and incorporation into price, I find ordinary commodities such as my daily vitamins still cheaper on Amazon than my local big-box retailer, which should have some of those advantages, too.  Anyway, no one paid $40 to ship my $10 product in a bigger-than-medium box.  I smell corporate subsidies....

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Louis DeJoy persists in office as Postmaster General.  Supposedly making the Post Office run in the American market tradition seems to mean disregarding the needs of people in favor of the profit margins of corporations, if not diverting public revenues to pad the latter.

I have come to suspect that DeJoy's whole undertaking is to turn the Post Office into such a parody of itself that Americans, in their outrage, abolish the institution.  Corporations, in the sparse numbers to which our antitrust regulation seems blind, will be left to occupy the field and fix prices that effectively kill off the nuisance of personal correspondence for good.  Transportation channels will be left to commerce and commerce above all else.

I guess that is the American way.

Monday, December 27, 2021

After dog bites postman, $375k jury award fits between floor and ceiling of high-low settlement agreement

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In a dog-bites-postman case in Massachusetts, the Appeals Court in late October held that the parties' "high-low" settlement agreement was a "contract like any other" and did not bar the defendants' appeal.

The plaintiff-postman in the case was covering an unfamiliar route when he was bit in the wrist and thigh by German shepherd-golden retriever mix "Chewbacca." At trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $375,000 in damages. The defendants asked for a new trial, arguing that the jury was tainted by improper admission of information about the plaintiff's federal worker compensation benefits, in violation of the collateral source rule.

Before the jury verdict, on the last day of trial, the parties had struck a handwritten "high-low" settlement agreement.  They set a floor recovery of $150,000, if the jury verdict were anything less, and a ceiling of $1,000,000, if the jury verdict were anything more.

The plaintiff argued that the settlement agreement precluded appeal.  But it didn't say that.  Holding that the settlement agreement was to be construed as a "contract like any other," the Appeals Court found no language convincingly demonstrating defendants' waiver of appeals.  At the same time, the court held that the evidentiary admission in violation of the collateral source rule was harmless error, affirming the denial of new trial.

Regarding the high-low agreement, the court found "little law in Massachusetts."  More than 20 years ago, two New York attorneys described the agreements as "[a]n often underutilized and misunderstood litigation technique." At NYU in 2014, a research fellow examined the agreements' potential and limits in New York, Maryland, and Virginia; see also the ABA Journal in 2005.  An Illinois attorney wrote favorably about the "misunderstood" agreements in 2019, after a medmal plaintiff-baby's verdict was halved by a high-low from $101 million.  Virginia attorneys advised on drafting the agreements in 2007.

In a harder scholarly vein, research published in The Journal of Law & Economics in 2014 reported empirical research on high-low conditions and posited optimal conditions for their appearance.  Published soon thereafter, a Michigan law student argued that high-low agreements should be disclosed to juries.

The Massachusetts case is David v. Kelly, No. 20-P-706 (Mass. App. Ct. Oct. 25, 2021). Justice Mary Thomas Sullivan wrote the opinion of the court, which Justice Kenneth V. Desmond Jr. joined.  Justice Sabita Singh dissented as to the court's conclusion that the error on the collateral source rule was harmless rather than prejudicial.