We have reached the top five civil justice stories of 2023. This is Part II of Legal Examiner’s annual compilation of the 10 most important civil cases of 2023, created by Virginia Beach, VA attorney-author Richard N. (Rick) Shapiro and his research assistants, a year-end compilation tradition provided for Legal Examiner since 2012. In Part I, we counted down from 10 through 6, and in this second installment, we count down the top five.
Number 5 – Supreme Court Rules Families May Sue Nursing Homes For “No Notice” Transfers or Discharges Under Federal Law
Why It Made Our List: What appeared to be a simple nursing home abuse lawsuit resulted in a significant civil rights expansion when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed families may sue nursing home facilities for violations of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) and specifically its prohibitions on discharges or transfers without notice to the family and for unnecessary physical and chemical restraints.
Gorgi Talevski’s family placed him in an Indiana nursing home due to the progression of his dementia. On admission, he could talk, walk, feed himself, socialize, and recognize his family. Within one year, his condition had deteriorated so badly he had lost the ability to communicate and was unable to feed himself. Why?
His family discovered the nursing home was giving him six powerful psychotropic medications and filed a formal complaint with the state. Shortly after the complaint was filed, the nursing home twice transferred Talevski to a psychiatric hospital 90 minutes away, where he was kept for several days at a time. These transfers were done without any notice to his family members.
The Supreme Court held that families have the right to sue for violations of the FNHRA, and the decision also serves to ensure that citizens can sue for civil rights violations under a host of related laws, such as Title IX and Title VI, that impose nondiscrimination requirements on recipients of federal funding. Interestingly, the 7-2 majority of justices included both conservative and liberal justices.
Number 4 – Numerous Celebrity Sex Abuse Suits Filed Just Inside NY Law’s Extension Deadline
Why It Made Our List: The #MeToo movement began in October 2017 as a social media campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace. The movement gained significant momentum when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” This tweet went viral, and it encouraged people to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault using the hashtag #MeToo.
The movement has since become a global phenomenon, sparking meaningful conversations about sexual harassment and assault and leading to increased awareness and changes in various industries and workplaces.
The ripple effect of “me too” also resulted in changes in the laws of many states, including New York, where the statute of limitations on civil abuse and harassment claims, no matter how old, was temporarily lifted and extended. The Adult Survivors Act took effect on November 24, 2022, and expired on November 24, 2023. That expiration date brought with it a flurry of last-minute high-profile sexual abuse lawsuits being filed, including suits against:
- Eric Adams, New York City mayor
- Andrew Cuomo, former New York governor
- Sean “Diddy” Combs, music mogul
- Axl Rose, musician
- Terry Richardson, fashion photographer
- Jamie Foxx, actor
- Jimmy Iovine, music producer
- Bill Cosby, actor
Number 3 – DOJ Sues Google Over Digital Advertising Dominance
Why It Made Our List: There is no doubt that Google reigns supreme when it comes to search engine traffic. It is estimated that there are more than 8 billion Google searches every single day, capturing more than 90 percent of the global search market. According to a lawsuit filed in January by the Justice Department and 15 states, Google has abused that dominance, creating a monopoly in online advertising that hurts advertisers, consumers, and even the U.S. government.
For example, Google signs contracts for default settings favoring Google’s search engine with the distributors of most phones and computers. The concern is that these contracts make it impossible or exceedingly difficult for new entrants who might compete with Google to get their new services in front of users.
According to the lawsuit, for the past 15 years, Google has engaged in such anti-competitive behavior that has stifled any rival technologies. The company is also accused of manipulating the mechanics of online ad auctions, leaving publishers and advertisers no choice but to use its tools. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “Google has engaged in exclusionary conduct” that has “severely weakened,” if not destroyed, competition in the ad tech industry.
Number 2 – Drug Companies and Pharmacies Reach $17.3 Billion Settlement with 24 States Over Opioid Crisis
Why It Made Our List: The federal government estimates that from 1999-2021, almost 645,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids. Today, more than three million people in the United States have had or currently suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD). There are more than 500,000 in this country addicted to heroin. Millions of families have been impacted in one way or another by the opioid crisis – a crisis brought on by the greed of drug companies, the overprescribing physicians, and the final purveyors of many opioids: the chain pharmacies.
Attorneys general across the country have filed multiple lawsuits against drug manufacturers and pharmacies that they say contributed to this crisis. In June, a $17.3 billion settlement was reached between Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, a unit of AbbVie, CVS, Walgreens, and 24 states.
Participating states included North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Last year, Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson announced a $26 billion settlement in the multiple lawsuits filed against those companies.
The statistics of how the opioid epidemic has impacted families throughout the United States are staggering, but has society learned anything from this gargantuan public health crisis? That answer is elusive.
The Top Civil Justice Story of 2023
Number 1 – John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, and the New York Times Sue OpenAI/ChatGPT
Why It Made Our List: There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has generated a lot of controversy. Hollywood scriptwriters sounded the alarm in 2023, seeking contractual assurances that AI would not be used in various forms of originally created entertainment. Even one of the inventors of AI technology sounded the alarm earlier this year about what he feels are the potential dangers the technology poses.
Ethical questions abound. Does this technology create content, or is the content actually created using plagiarized material first fed into large language models (LLMs)? That’s the question being asked in a 2023 lawsuit filed by John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, and other prominent authors in the Authors Guild.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs say OpenAI “copied Plaintiffs’ works wholesale, without permission or consideration … then fed Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works into their ‘large language models’ or ‘LLMs,’ algorithms designed to output human-seeming text responses to users’ prompts and queries.”
It appears clear that copywritten works are being fed into the LLMs. How will damages be calculated if the authors do prevail? No one knows; this is uncharted territory, and one of several author lawsuits this year accuses companies that have created AI tools of committing copyright infringement. In July, two other authors filed a similar lawsuit against OpenAI, and Getty Images sued Stability AI in February, accusing the company of copying 12 million of Getty’s images for training data. Two class-action lawsuits have also been filed – one against Stability AI, Devian Art, and MidJourney over copyright infringement of images and the second against Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI.
In late December 2023, the New York Times sued OpenAI/ChatGPT and Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI. The NYT asserts that while the companies copied information from many sources to build their systems, they give New York Times content “particular emphasis” and “seek to free-ride on the Times’s massive investment” in its in-depth investigations, reviews, how-to-guides, and more “by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment.”
The suit mentions material on Microsoft’s Bing Chat that was misidentified as being wholly NYT content when it was only partly NYT content. Monetary negotiations between the parties failed prior to the suit. The NYT lawsuit does not contain a monetary claim but says that OpenAI, valued at $80 billion, and its partner Microsoft, valued at $2.8 trillion, should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages.”
Rick Shapiro has practiced personal injury law for over 30 years in Virginia, North Carolina, and throughout the Southeastern United States. He is a Board-Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (ABA Accredited) and has litigated injury cases throughout the eastern United States, including wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad, and medical negligence claims. During his three-decade career, Shapiro has won client appeals before the VA Supreme Court, VA Court of Appeals, NC Supreme Court, SC Supreme Court, WV Supreme Court, TN Supreme Court, and three times before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, underscoring Shapiro’s trial achievements. In addition, he and his law firm have won settlements/verdicts in excess of $100 million. His success in and out of the courtroom is a big reason why he was named 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” in railroad law in U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers publication (Norfolk, VA area), and he has been named a “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer” by those peer-reviewed organizations for multiple years. Rick was also named a “Leader in the Law, Class of 2022” by Virginia Lawyers Weekly (total of 33 statewide honorees consisting of lawyers and judges across Virginia). And in September 2023, Rick was selected as a recipient of the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) 2023 President’s Award. Although many nominations were submitted from across the country, Rick was just one of eight attorneys chosen by the prestigious National Board which certifies civil trial attorneys across the U.S. Rick was also recently named to Virginia Lawyers Weekly 2024 Virginia’s Go To Lawyers Medical Malpractice. The attorneys awarded this honor are nominated by their colleagues and chosen by a panel from the publication.