The Examiner's "Balancing the Scales" editorial series focuses on abuses of civil law because state and federal courts are clogged with hundreds of thousands of lawsuits that cost the nation an estimated $250 billion a year.
In an Oct. 24 editorial ("Abusive lawsuits erode American values"), we offered several illustrations of a common theme in frivolous lawsuits: plaintiffs who assume some ordinary risk of everyday life, such as being injured while sledding or being hit by a foul ball at a baseball game. But when they're injured, they try to shift responsibility to a defendant with deep pockets.
Our editorial had barely hit the street when Ken Suggs slapped leather and fired back. We published his comment in the Oct. 31 Threads section. Since Suggs is president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, his comments merit a response.
Suggs charges us with "ridiculous hyperbole." Why, barely a month earlier, he notes, we ourselves reported on the failure of Zylon body armor, which is worn by police officers, military personnel and even the president.
In 2003, one police officer was seriously wounded and another killed when the Zylon vests they were wearing failed to stop bullets. Subsequent testing ordered by the Justice Department found that Zylon deteriorates over time and loses its effectiveness as armor.
Several lawsuits alleged that the manufacturer of Zylon knew this two years earlier, but failed to divulge it. The lawsuits, along with the Justice Department's action, led to a nationwide recall of the vests.
Suggs cites these as worthy lawsuits and accuses The Examiner of being "so quick to mock and so vicious to attack" the trial lawyers who perform these beneficent services. On the contrary, our admiration knows no words. Civil lawsuits have a legitimate place in our legal system, and this is as fine an example as any.
From his premise of useful lawsuits, however, Suggs leaps head over ears to his glittering conclusion: "The civil justice system is the embodiment of American values such as responsibility, fairness and a level playing field."
Well. Maybe Suggs will write back and talk about "fairness" relating to the mountain of fraudulent silicosis claims recently uncovered by a federal court in Texas. Trial lawyers teamed up with unethical doctors and fly-by-night X-ray screeners to generate thousands of fake diagnoses that were, as Judge Janis Graham Jack put it, "manufactured for money."
Or perhaps Suggs will touch on the question of "responsibility" regarding plaintiffs who eat too much, get fat and file lawsuits holding fast-food restaurant responsible for their own gluttony.
Or how about a line or two about the "level playing fields" in magic jurisdictions like Madison County, Ill.? Surely Suggs knows that term. One of his colleagues, class-action wizard Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, of Mississippi, describes magic jurisdictions to a T:
The trial lawyers have established relationships with the judges that are elected; they're state court judges; they're popul[ists]. They've got large populations of voters who are in on the deal; they're getting their [piece] in many cases. And so, it's a political force in their jurisdiction, and it's almost impossible to get a fair trial if you're a defendant in some of these places....
The cases are not won in the courtroom. They're won on the back roads long before the case goes to trial. Any lawyer fresh out of law school can walk in there and win the case, so it doesn't matter what the evidence or the law is.
When Suggs and ATLA acknowledge and address plaintiff lawyers' systematic gaming and wholesale abuse of the civil justice system, we'll gladly join hands with him and sing Kumbayah. Until that happy day arrives, let's put the hay down where the goats can get at it.
Trial lawyers file many thousands of lawsuits every year that are patently bogus. They are based on hollow claims of victimization and are driven primarily by greed — the greed of plaintiffs hopeful of hitting a lottery, and most particularly the greed of lawyers who pocket enormous windfalls in contingency fees.
Suggs and the organization he heads are not yet the smallest part of a solution. They are indeed a big part of the problem.