Jon Dougherty's The Commoner

Daily rants on the illogic of the political Left.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

U.S. industry all lawyered up

© 2004 By Jon E. Dougherty
December 22, 2004

Most Americans find lawyers despicably predatory, ethically challenged and full of ill-gotten gains, according to nationwide surveys.

In one 2002 survey commissioned by Columbia Law School, lawyers did fare better than politicians in terms of honesty. But that's not saying much, considering the high number of lawmakers who are, well, lawyers.

How did the legal industry lose its respectability?

Some people say the beginning of the end came when lawyers were allowed to start advertising. After years of watching them pitch clients on television like used car salesmen, I can agree this wasn't a particularly good idea.

Some people say the beginning of the end came with the proliferation of all of those TV "judge shows," which encourage everyone to flood the courts with asinine, meaningless complaints.

Whatever the cause, what is less mysterious is the fact that lawsuits of all kinds are on the rise. They have been for years, and the increase is having a disastrous effect on corporations, the medical industry, and the personal finances of working men and women:

* Fast food chains like McDonalds are under legal assault by lawyers who seem to be preying on obese clients, portraying them as helpless victims who were driven to overeating by gun-toting restaurant owners who subsequently forced them to supersize everything;
Auto insurance rates are climbing because of injury lawsuits filed by people who obviously don't know the word "accident" implies an act that occurred because it couldn't be detected beforehand and, hence, stopped;

* Pharmaceutical companies are simultaneously ripped by consumers for being slow to develop new drugs and treatments for existing illnesses, and sued by many of those same consumers if 1 out of 500,000 of them happens to have a bad medicine-related experience;

* Hospital and medical exam costs, as well as treatments, procedures and doctor's visits, are all spiraling out of control because it costs some doctors half their annual salary just to buy malpractice insurance;

* Even biotech firms are also being sued more frequently because, say some analysts, big class-action law firms who scored big with other high-profile suits are seeing their profits wane – so in other words, increasing suits is a "business decision."

I agree paying $10 for a Tylenol is obscene, but so is suing a doctor because you don't like the way your stitches healed.

I agree in holding irresponsible corporations to account, but if you're too clumsy to hold onto your own hot coffee that's your problem—not Ronald McDonald's.

The legal industry, through its "by hook or crook" marketing mentality, has managed to convince a sizeable segment of our population and judicial system that life is supposed to be a no-risk venture, and that as Americans we are entitled – entitled, mind you – to not be inconvenienced, injured, bothered, hurried, uncoordinated, or stupid.

In the end, the legal leeches have convinced us it is proper to blame others for our faults, missteps and mistakes, and that we have a right to be paid for our misfortune.

Our corporations, small businesses and professionals—the foundations of our free-market society—are under assault as never before. They're being made to pay for our overindulgences, poor decisions, wrong choices and accidents, and frankly, the well's running dry.

Fact is American consumers and workers are really the ones paying the bills. Every new lawsuit-imposed cost wrongly foisted upon our corporations and businesses is eventually passed on to those of us at the bottom of the rung. I know of a case where a worker pays out half his bi-weekly paycheck for health insurance, and I'm sure he's not alone.

Like it or not, it's time this Republican Congress and administration impose some sort of tort reform on a legal system unable to reform itself—before that system ruins the last vestige of our economic productivity. Otherwise the legal industry will continue to bilk tobacco companies, automobile makers, and fast food chains for our poor lifestyle choices and for failing to make flawless machines.

No legitimate court of law or judge should find it is the fault of the manufacturer if a mechanically challenged doofus who is free to buy a chain saw cuts off his appendages. If companies are made to pay for our ignorance, where is their incentive to find new medicines, develop new surgical procedures, or make a better widget?

Jon E. Dougherty is author of "Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border," and a correspondent for


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