Vail Daily letter: Tort reform needed |

Vail Daily letter: Tort reform needed

Joe McHugh
Vail, CO, Colorado

Re: Valley Voices of Thursday, Sept. 3, by Keith Spero: Mr. Spero fairly discloses his understandable bias arising from his career as a tort lawyer, but absolves himself of any serious bias driven by the prospect of monetary gain.

So much for absolution.

For my part, I am not a lawyer, have never been sued under tort law, but I do have two trial lawyers in my family.

While much of Mr. Speroa€™s letter constitutes a fair and accurate description of the history and purpose of tort legal procedures, the a€œlaw of large numbers,a€ the tragedy of serious injuries, etc., he cana€™t resist firing a few, very biased and inaccurate broadsides at the insurance industry and others clamoring for much needed a€œtort reform.a€

First: The need for tort reform is not confined to medical claims. The need pervades every facet of daily life.

Second: Insurance companies derive revenue from both premium income and investment income. Occasionally, the a€œfinancial markets tank,a€ as mentioned by Mr. Spero, but those events are not the trigger for a€œblame it on the trial lawyersa€ and a€œscreams for tort reform.a€

The cries for tort reform are triggered by a long and ongoing stream of scandalous court decisions granting outrageous awards to plaintiffs for alleged real damages and often multiplied many times by a€œpunitive damages.a€

Third: Campaigns for tort reform are not intended to place a€œroadblocks an injured person has to overcome.a€ Legitimate plaintiffs should continue to recover just and equitable compensation for their documented and proven injuries and illnesses.

Fourth: Tort reform is not needed or intended to a€œpunish the innocent and protect the negligent party so that an insurance company can make more money.a€ It is needed because the various state and national bar associations and the various sub-groups of plaintiffsa€™ bar associations cannot, or will not, do anything to rein in the arguably criminal segment of their membership and disbar them.

Fifth: Mr. Spero says that the tort system should not be a€œwrecked by those a€¦ who are acting out of financial greed.a€ The potential wreckers of the system are those within the tort bar who act out of financial greed by paying plaintiffs to join and enlarge class action suits; soliciting plaintiffs for class action suits who have no illness or injury, but who might have been exposed to some allegedly harmful substance at some time which might have injured legitimate plaintiffs; withholding evidence from the court which disproves their claims; and bribing judges to rule in their favor.

Recent cases, disclosed in the news when discovered, are rife with these scandalous practices engaged in by disreputable tort lawyers purely for their personal financial gain.

For example, think of the discredited faulty breast implant claims and settlements; the illegitimate asbestos claims and settlements; the tobacco settlements; the absurd and outrageous McDonalda€™s a€œhot coffeea€ suit; and numerous others.

Undoubtedly there were and are some legitimate plaintiffs in each of those highly publicized litigations whose legitimacy is clouded by the scandalous and often illegal practices by the lowest common denominator of the legal profession. Some of those practitioners have been charged and convicted and are serving jail time. Many more should and, hopefully, will be.

Think, also, about the cost of the now countless number of printed warnings applied to virtually every product and service we buy which caution the buyer / user about the risks involved in using that product or service. Heaven forbid we should have to use some common sense! Those warnings are driven by the plaintiffs tort bar and drive up the cost of everything. Many defendants find it cheaper to settle the cases rather than spend huge sums to defend them. The disreputable tort lawyers know that and play the game to their advantage.

Notwithstanding Mr. Speroa€™s assertions to the contrary, there is no shadow of a doubt that high malpractice insurance premiums drive needless medical tests and are driving many doctors out of business. Surely, there are incompetent doctors inflicting harm on trusting patients and they should be charged and tried and their patients appropriately compensated. The American Medical Association has a regrettable history of failing to identify and bar such doctors from medical practice and that should also be addressed. Established tort law practices and procedures are not threatened by proposed tort reform. The ones who are threatened are the greedy, disreputable and dishonest tort lawyers who are vigorously defended by the tort bar just as the AMA refuses to route out the incompetent medical practitioners.

Sixth: Last, but not least, Mr. Speroa€™s suggestion that in a tort action, a€œyour lawyer works on a contingency and gets paid only if he wins.a€ The key, operative words in that statement are a€œhe wins.a€ The lawyer might win, but not necessarily the plaintiff. Now, Ia€™ll make a biased statement of my own: Beware of any lawyer who works on a contingency fee basis. His-her No. 1 client interest is himself or herself, not that of the plaintiff.

Joe McHugh

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