First, Kill All The (Tort) Lawyers
Shakespeare may have had the right idea, at least when it comes to tort lawyers. You know the ones. They have slick TV ads implying that everyone is entitled to money because they've been wronged by someone/something/someplace, that it's not your fault that you were too stupid to read the directions before immolating yourself and burning your house to the ground. It appears that the message that is taught to the populace over the years has changed from taking responsibility for your own actions to finding someone else to blame instead. At least that's what the tort lawyers want you believe. They've made the stereotype of the ambulance-chasing lawyer become all too true. It is because of this that tort reform has become more important than ever.
Because without it business, medicine, recreation, or just plain living will become damn near impossible.
There was a movie some time back titled Cherry 2000. It was a comedic sci-fi picture that gave a brief glimpse of a possible future America where dating was negotiated by lawyers. The details were worked out to the nth degree, including such mundane things as holding hands, kissing, or an arm around a shoulder at a movie would be allowed, and to what extent. If a relationship developed beyond that, the lawyers would then negotiate such things as sexual relations including the type, frequency, location of said sexual acts. Observers would be present to make sure that both parties lived up to the contract. When I first saw that bit in the movie I thought it was hilarious. But now I wonder if it might actually come to pass. If it does, then we as a society are doomed. And rightfully so.
The American public has already felt some ill effects, and it will only get worse.
-- Some school and public playgrounds have had jungle gyms, slides, seesaws, and swings removed because of liability lawsuits or the fear of them. In some cases playgrounds have been closed outright because the municipalities didn't want to be sued in case little Johnny fell down or little Susie scraped a knee.
--Does anyone remember this one? A woman purchased a cup of hot
coffee at a McDonald's drive-thru. After paying for the coffee and taking the cup of hot
coffee from the employee working at the drive-thru window, she placed the cup of hot
coffee between her legs, then drove off. When she then stopped at the exit of the McDonald's, the action of her moving her foot from the accelerator to the brake squeezed the cup of hot
coffee between her legs. The extra pressure on the cup caused the plastic lid to pop off and spew hot
coffee over the inside of her thighs, scalding her and causing first degree burns. She sued the McDonald's franchise and won because they hadn't warned her often enough that their hot coffee was hot
Update: See below about the real
McDonald's Coffee incident.
-- In some states physicians are leaving practices or moving them because malpractice insurance rates are so high. In Mississippi, for example, lawyers pressing malpractice suits have put so much pressure on the medical profession that physicians are voting with their feet or changing to less demanding professions, leaving many people there with less medical care. In Nevada, obstetricians are becoming an endangered species as more of them drop their OB practices or relocating them due to high malpractice insurance premiums. A friend of mine from my high school days dropped obstetrics from her OB/GYN practice because the only ones making any money from it were her insurance company and her lawyer.
-- A side effect of malpractice suits with large damage awards, even those suits based on junk science, has been to increase the cost of health care. Physicians now order extra tests to verify a diagnosis. This is not to double check the diagnosis so much as to gather exculpatory evidence for any malpractice suits that might be filed.
-- Small business are being forced to pay for the clean up of polluted waste sites even though the U.S. government admits they had nothing to do with the improper disposal of wastes. In one case, a number of auto repair shops, garages, and auto dealers in southern New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts are being billed for the clean up of a toxic waste site owned by a hazardous waste disposal firm. The various small businesses involved had contracted with the waste hauler in southern New Hampshire to properly dispose of used motor oil, coolant, ATF, and other fluids collected from their maintenance and repair operations. The waste hauler was licensed to haul and dispose of the waste. Little did the client businesses know that the hauler was dumping the waste into open, unlined pits rather than recycling or processing the waste as had been contracted. To quote Weirs Times columnist Publius, "There have been efforts made to correct the way in which the removal of designated Superfund sites is financed.....but the basic problem remains. The E.P.A. has eliminated the concept of fault from consideration in assessing fines and penalties. The federal bureaucrats are robbing even small business people who may face bankruptcy in cases where they readily admit that they have done nothing wrong, and have met every requirement of law and regulation in disposing of their waste."
Who is responsible for this mess? One guess, boys and girls.
Two other points Publius makes that ring true, at least to me. The first:
"While it is true that the Clinton/Gore administration was more of a Lawyer's Government than any other thus far in American history, the removal of the concept of fault from consideration in lawsuits from torts to ACLU allegations of abusive Christmas decorations has been an ongoing process for decades. This single element is enabling members of the trial bar to suck up an ever growing share of the wealth of the U.S.A. on the flimsiest of pretexts even when buttressed only by junk science as has been the case with breast implants."
Dow Chemical was bankrupted due to a lawsuit about the health problems associated with the use of silicone breast implants. Incomplete data was massaged to prove that breast implants caused a host of health problems, though there was no comprehensive clinical study performed to prove the allegation. Studies done after the fact proved that there was an increase in certain autoimmune diseases or weakened immune systems amongst some women that had implants, but the increase was shown to be due to a risky lifestyle. Women with similar lifestyles but without
breast implants showed the same increase of these same autoimmune diseases and immune system deficiencies. So it wasn't the breast implants that caused the problems, but rather the unhealthy lifestyle of the women affected. Of course this didn't affect the billions in damage payments made by Dow and the millions collected by the lawyers.
The second point:
"There was a time when attorneys at law were professionals who were available to advise and represent citizens who claimed to have been injured by the wrongful actions of another person or entity. Today TV viewers face a deluge from often shady characters from who they wouldn't buy a used car."
How many businesses in this country have had to pay large sums for injuries real or faked, not because they were at fault, but because they had deep pockets the lawyers thought worth picking? How many times have lawyers filed suit in shotgun fashion, naming anybody or any company even remotely connected to an allegedly defective product or service? I recall an instance where a trucking firm was forced to pay a claim in a defective and injurious product lawsuit even though the firm had done nothing more than haul the product from the factory to a distribution warehouse. The firm had nothing to do with the design, manufacture, promotion, or sale of the product in question. The firm had no financial ties to the manufacturer. The only thing the trucking firm was guilty of was taking on a contract to haul a product from point A to point B.
With the actions of September 11th in mind, trial lawyers must be drooling at the prospect of millions and millions in dollars in fees collected through class action suits as the result of terrorist acts committed against the U.S., its businesses, and its citizens. The fact that the actions of September 11th can be considered an act of war hasn't stopped many of these lawyers from filing suits against the airlines, the FAA, the New York Port Authority (owners the World Trade Center), the airports where the hijackers had boarded the aircraft, and a number of other entities and companies. Other than tying up the courts for decades, what purposes will these suits serve other than to enrich these bottom feeders?
Hmm. Could it be there might be a solution here? Is it possible, just possible, we could sic these lawyers on Al Qaeda? Could we solve two problems at the same time by allowing these two forces to wipe each other out?
On the other hand, they might just end up joining forces and then we'd all be doomed..... *sigh*
Update: A comment posted by Vegard Valberg about the McDonald's Hot Coffee incident pointed me to a website that blew away the veil of an urban legend. My understanding of the incident was quite flawed and this website cleared that up. Usually I check my facts, but in this case I screwed up. Rather than post the entire thing, I'll just post the link
and let you read it for yourself. Thanks for setting me straight, Vegard!