Did you hear the one about the repeat drunken driver in Florida who killed a family in an accident, then sued them for pain and suffering? Or the one about the parents who sued their son's school after he was kicked out of an honors class for cheating? Or the woman whose car was repossessed, prompting her to sue for $5 million for the gas she had put in the tank?
Or how about the man who sued Anheuser-Busch after one of the company's longneck bottles was used as a weapon against him in a bar fight? Or how about the attorney who files 70 percent of the disability access lawsuits in the Eastern District of California, who sued a small business over a nearby parking lot it doesn't even own or lease?
Those lawsuits were all filed in 2012, and all deservedly made the Institute for Legal Reform's annual list of the worst 10 lawsuits of the year. There are many other crazy lawsuits that did not make the list. For example, the home-invasion robber in California who sued his 90-year-old victim after shooting him in the face. It turns out that when the elderly gentleman shot back, he did so "negligently" and it resulted in the dissolution of the poor burglar's marriage. Cases like these and others illustrate the need to reform our civil courts.
The trial lawyers' lobby, embodied in the American Association for Justice, would have you believe that the cause of lawsuit reform is a corporate-driven attempt to prevent legitimately injured victims from receiving just recompense. Writing in the December issue of Trial Magazine, AAJ President Mary Alice McLarty refers to her organization's resistance to reforms as "an important battle against corporations that seek immunity."
Yet members of the plaintiffs' bar keep bringing abusive lawsuits like the ones listed above. They also bring massive class-action suits that result in huge paydays for themselves, and often nothing but worthless coupons for the people who might have suffered some actual wrongs. Such a case against Volkswagen this year was dismissed as "meritless," and its plaintiff class received nothing, yet the attorneys who brought the suit were still able to walk away with $500,000 in court-awarded legal fees.
America's civil courts are being used as slot machines in far too many states and far too many areas of the law. At one end, extortionate and often bogus slip-and-fall lawsuits put the screws to small-business owners, who face the stress and legal costs of defending everything they've earned. At the other end, nuisance shareholder lawsuits are filed with the sole purpose of holding major big-business deals hostage until the lawyers can be bought off with settlements. In between, slick John Edwards-like lawyers sweet-talk juries into awarding sums completely disproportionate with the harm suffered. AAJ seeks to preserve these defects in the system because they make its members wealthy, even as they create an enormous hidden cost to American consumers.
Facing the Obama administration's obstinate support for organized labor at all costs, state legislatures across the nation have wisely taken up right-to-work and public pension reform laws. It's time they paid more attention to the abusive lawsuit industry as well, whose drain on the economy creates yet another funding stream for Obama and the Democrats. Little or nothing will be done at the federal level by a president who owes the trial lawyers so much.