Sunday, February 16, 2003

Sanctimonious trial lawyers

We have our own trial lawyer blogger at Instalawyer, Douglas C. Weinstein.

Of course he can't speak for the whole dirty business, although if you read it long enough you'd think that trial lawyers were the only friends you'll ever have. That might be true for him and some others, but not for the likes of the creeps shaking down tobacco and asbestos companies and who have now set their boundlessly greedy eyes upon fast food.

There is a theory that social goods should be provided by those who can do so at minimal social cost. Given that most of us don't have the means to crash test our cars, test our drugs, etc, such a theory would put the burden for providing such goods on their respective manufacturers. OK so far.

Now suppose we decide that a manufacturer has failed so egregiously that they deserve an economic "death penalty". That is, we determine that it's fair to liquidate their every last asset to pay off their victims. Then it would seem to me to be only equitable to insist that claims against the manufacturers be limited for each individual, if only to make sure that there is enough to compensate every aggrieved party. And it would seem that those who seek justice as the trial lawyers say they do would be first to insist on this lest other afflicted clients should be left empty-handed. Yet the very concept of a cap is anathema to trial lawyers.

Let's not forget the fees either. Surely the lawyers on both sides would have no problem with submitting to a detailed audit of their expenses and billing rates to assure that no one is making unconscionable profits. Such malfeasance comes out of the pockets of the victims, giving lie to the sanctimonious claims of justice-seeking from the trial lawyers. Surely abuse of such a public trust warrants severe disciplinary action including disbarment.

Weinstein talks around this by speaking of comparatively small cases, which to my knowledge no one is attempting to cap. Then again, he thinks it's cool for a $45K recovery in a suit over a broken ankle to be settled such that, net of expenses, the client would get $18K and the lawyer would get $15K.

He also cites a study that claims that '"tort reforms" do not produce lower insurance costs or rates.' Perhaps it didn't occur to him to mention that this report was produced by the Center for Justice and Democracy. From CJ&D's website:
The Center for Justice & Democracy is a non-profit, tax-exempt group, founded by consumer advocates, that is fighting to:

Raise public awareness about the value of our nation's civil justice system.

Inform the public about the dangers of "tort reform" and the stealth corporate campaign behind it.

Protect our right to civil jury trial and an independent judiciary for all Americans.
Hmm, doesn't sound too objective to me. And my opinion didn't improve when I saw the endorsement by Michael Moore. Might Mr. Weinstein have left out some information relevant to an informed evaluation here?

And let's not lose sight of the fact that Mr. Weinstein is not contending with insurance companies - he's opposing their lawyers. Are the lawyers on the corporate side doing something unethical in the course of doing their jobs for the insurance companies? If so, then let the legal profession police itself - we'll see if it does as well as, say, the medical profession. Ha - when was the last time you heard of a lawyer besides Bill Clinton getting disciplined, or any lawyer being hit for big malpractice damages?

No, I'm not a lawyer, in case that's not obvious enough yet. But I hope Mr. Weinstein doesn't throw his shoulder out patting himself on the back. He might not be able to find a doctor with malpractice insurance willing to take a chance on fixing it.

No comments: