In the News
With Democrats in control, trial lobby makes headway
"The trial bar, on the defensive when Republicans ran Congress, is moving to make up lost ground on a variety of fronts now that Democrats are in charge, including through a bill-by-bill campaign to keep federal agencies from overriding tougher state consumer protection laws. The bar's main lobbying group, the American Association of Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, has already had some successes this year in its effort to block what's referred to as federal regulatory preemption. The ascension of Democrats in Congress, who receive more than 90 percent of AAJ's political donations, could reverse fortunes for the trial bar, which has spent recent years fighting off efforts backed by business groups to cap damage payments, change medical malpractice rules and pass an asbestos reform bill that would limit plaintiff awards. Since the midterm elections, AAJ has been able to be 'much more proactive,' said Linda Lipsen, who directs lobbying for the group." The Hill, December 13, 2007. READ MORE »
The Pursuit of Justice, or Money?
"'If I don't bring the lead paint industry to its knees in three years, I will give them my boat.' So declared Ronald L. Motley to The Dallas Morning News in the fall of 1999 - and why not? In addition to being the owner of a very large yacht, Mr. Motley is also one of the country's pre-eminent plaintiffs' lawyers, the titular head of the 70-lawyer firm Motley Rice, based in Charleston, S.C. At the time of that interview, he was on top of the world. He had just spearheaded the drive against the tobacco industry, resulting in a $246 billion settlement with the 50 states. His fees ran into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. 'Retire?' he scoffed in that same interview. 'There are too many corporate crooks out there manufacturing dangerous products and injuring kids as a result.' He vowed to use his tobacco winnings to go after more bad guys, like those evildoers populating the lead paint industry. And that he has. In the wake of the Merck-Vioxx column I wrote a few weeks ago - in which I took the position that plaintiffs' lawyers aren't always on the side of the angels - I was deluged with e-mail messages from readers who said, in effect, 'Oh yes they are!' And up to a point, I would agree: who can argue with the billions of dollars the plaintiffs' bar extracted from the big banks that enabled Enron? (I can't help noting, however, that the lead lawyer in the Enron lawsuits, William S. Lerach, will soon be in prison, having pleaded guilty to a felony directly related to the way he used to practice law.) But for every Enron, there are cases where lawyers abuse the legal system. In these cases, litigation can look more like an income-redistribution racket than a search for justice." The New York Times, December 8, 2007. READ MORE »
Why America Must Boost R & D, Cut Litigation
"Governor Romney pushed a lot of the right buttons when he spoke before an enthusiastic Wall Street crowd at the New York Athletic Club on Monday. In addition to touching on the need for a coherent energy program, a strong defense against the terrorist jihad, reducing corporate taxes, enhancing our country's competitiveness against Asian economies, combating overregulation, and strengthening education, Mr. Romney said: 'U.S. corporations spend more on litigation than they do on R&D.' Many in the sold-out room wondered: Is that possibly true? If so, what are the implications, and what to do about it? Most inquiries into our litigation burden start with a study conducted annually by the actuarial firm Towers Perrin. The survey for 2005 (the latest available) shows that tort costs in America amounted to $261 billion in that year, or $880 for every man, woman, and child in the country. The study points out that, since 1950, the growth in tort expenses has outpaced that of the economy by an average of 2% to 3% a year. Moreover, the study's author, Russ Sutter, points out that 'tort costs per capita have risen by a factor of more than nine between 1950 and 2005.' Expenditures to fight or settle malpractice and other litigation fall heavily on the shoulders of U.S. corporations, of course, because, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, that's where the money is." The New York Sun, December 13, 2007. READ MORE »
Mississippi's Tort King
"'It just boggles the mind,' said one Mississippi trial lawyer quoted in the Los Angeles Times about the indictment of tort lawyer Richard 'Dickie' Scruggs last week on charges of backing the attempted bribery of a state judge. 'Here is a man who has had an enormous amount of success, who reached a level very few attorneys, if any, have reached. Why would he risk everything over a legal dispute over attorneys' fees?' Why indeed? Mr. Scruggs, a prime mover in the $246 billion tobacco settlement with the states, is arguably the most formidable plaintiffs lawyer in history. Why risk a long prison term just to add more millions to a fortune already too vast to spend in one lifetime? While it is too early to tell -- and Mr. Scruggs deserves a presumption of innocence -- hints at possible motives are by no means lacking. [...] If Mr. Scruggs has felt invincible, it might be because of the way he's been lionized in the press. The New York Times two years ago reported with epic credulity about how Mr. Scruggs 'did not see the insurance battle as a personal gold mine. He said he was prepared to take as little as 1% of any settlement or jury award -- far less than the typical contingency fee of one-third or more.' David Rossmiller, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who's reported intensively on Mr. Scruggs's legal troubles at his Insurance Coverage Blog, had a less star struck view when interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. He said the indictment may prompt admirers to begin re-evaluating 'how this amazingly successful man got to be so amazingly successful.' The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), December 15, 2007. READ MORE »
Maryland Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Todd Lamb authored an op-ed about lawsuit abuse during the holiday season, which appeared in The Washington Times. The op-ed argues that with the help of creative personal injury lawyers, even our cherished holiday traditions are threatened by lawsuit abuse. Lamb asserts, "When our charities are losing volunteers and we're afraid to host parties or give gifts to our neighbors because of potential lawsuits, that is a clear sign that our legal system is out of control." READ MORE »
Florida Stop Lawsuit Abuse publicized the results of a survey it recently fielded among 500 small business owners in Florida. Survey results highlight the very real impact of lawsuit abuse on Florida's small businesses and demonstrate that small business owners want protection through greater liability reforms in Florida. At press conferences in Orlando and Delray Beach, FSLA Executive Director Carlos Muhletaler noted, "Small business is the backbone of Florida, and this issue affects every Floridian as a consumer." Muhletaler added, "Even though they [the lawsuits] get thrown out of court, it's costing them money. The consumer is paying for that in the long run." The survey was covered in The Orlando Sentinel, The South Florida Business Journal, The Charlotte Business Journal, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Orlando Business Journal, Jacksonville Business Journal, Bizjournals.com, and MSN Money. In addition, Muhletaler appeared on The Dick Farrel Show, WPBR 1390-AM, which aired in Palm Beach County and Broward County. READ MORE »
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse was featured in numerous articles in response to the American Tort Reform Association's 2007 Judicial Hellholes Report, which listed West Virginia in 4th place. While trial lawyer groups tried to denounce the report, WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen reminds West Virginians of the economic implications of lawsuit abuse. "This year's Hellhole report validates the widely held view by employers that West Virginia is open for lawsuits," he said. "Many other respected observers of state legal systems have concluded that lawsuit abuse drives job out of our state. The real issue is fairness." Cohen's call for legal reform appeared in The West Virginia Record. Read More »
60,000:The number of jobs lost in Cook County, IL from 2001-2006 as companies hesitate to locate or expand in the litigation-friendly jurisdiction. "Judicial Hellholes 2007," American Tort Reform Association, December 17, 2007.
1 in 3: Number of small businesses owners who report that liability threats lead to increased costs of doing business, higher prices, fewer products and services, and limited business growth. "Survey of Small Business Owners," Florida Stop Lawsuit Abuse, December 2007.