Here is another tidbit from the tort-reformers. A Republican internet site called FlashReport published by a young man who started a ‘College Republican Club’ at his community college, joined the ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ (a "conservative youth" organization), served as State President of the California Republican Assembly, and as Vice Chairman, South, of the California Republican Party, invited the author and the attached ‘article’ to appear on its website. It purports to do so as "part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary" to the public. The article, entitled"Reforming Lawsuit Abuse Can Help Rebuild California" is written by someone named Marko Mlikotin, the "Northern California Regional Director for California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse". Now, I have no interest in either of these gentlemen’s party affiliations, nor do I criticize their political choices. I comment only on their political perspective and agenda; this is not an effort to bring ‘original, thoughtful commentary to the public’.
The author whines about California’s $24 billion budget deficit. He complains about ballot measures, tax increases and budget cuts and says that the state must make it easier for state employers to be more profitable and create jobs. I agree with him. Does he stop here and give us some sensible solutions to California’s problems? Of course not! His solution is the same as Shakespeare’s, ‘let’s kill all the lawyers’! The author claims that California is "one of the most litigious states in the country"; lawsuits, he says, cost Californians more than $32 billion dollars per year or $3300 per year per family of four. He cites no source for his statistics, but, for the sake of this post, I’ll concede them. Eliminate the lawsuits, he suggests, and you will address the budget problem because the money could be used to create jobs, purchase products, and generate tax revenues.
Remarkably, after reporting his unsubstantiated numbers (which, again, I have conceded, for the sake of this post) he leaps to the conclusion that this creates the problem of "lawsuit abuse". He says the ‘issue’ is largely ignored by elected officials and today’s candidates (thankfully). After all, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (you know them, the ‘anti-consumer’, inventor of the phrases "lawsuit abuse" and "tort reform"), ranks California as the fifth worst legal climate in the country. The author cites his own organization’s surveys about economic injury and paints an ominous picture of the future ( apparently, 98% of those polled-his own organization’s poll- think lawsuits hurt the economy-I suppose this depends on how you bend the questions and who you ask). Then, he uses another of the Chamber’s favorite coined phrases! He says that business and government are "victims of frivolous lawsuits". Cities and counties must hire attorneys and fund court settlements rather than provide public services, he says. He demands that the state’s elected leaders reform "lawsuit abuse" and states that all citizens lose unless we control and out of control legal system by cutting the fat associated with "frivolous lawsuits" (He likes those ‘Chamber phrases’). If we do this, we will :"strengthen our flat lined economy". He wants a legal system "that facilitates justice, not greed".
How is it "abuse" to file a lawsuit and win it? If the case is "frivolous", it will be thrown out of court, or, at least, it should lose, shouldn’t it? I have practiced law for 32 years; InjuryBoard members know that judges are very willing to dismiss, prematurely, any lawsuit that they do not believe belongs in their courtroom. And, most InjuryBoard members make their livings on contingency fees ( they only collect if they win), they make nothing by filing ‘frivolous’ or ‘abusive’ lawsuits. There is, simply, no incentive for them to do so.
Calling something "abuse" or "frivolous" doesn’t make it so. If the cases that produce $32 billion in litigation results were "frivolous", why were they successful? The answer, of course, is that serious lawsuits are successful, not frivolous ones. Show us statistics that the majority of litigation in California is not meritorious, not worthy of filing, or not worthy of the verdicts achieved. We don’t want to hear about one mis-reported, unusual case; we want to see a real trend! Then, maybe, we’ll take you seriously.
Instead, the author insults our (and your California public’s) intelligence, cites unsubstantiated statistics, then reduces serious litigation to ‘abuse’ or ‘frivolous’. It is not ‘greedy’ to attempt to use our court system to address wrongs; it is our constitutionally mandated right. It is how a civil society addresses wrong doers and wrong-doing. It is greedy to invent concepts like ‘tort reform’ and the other cute phrases (like ‘lawsuit abuse’) to suggest a need for it. Tort reform gives wrong-doers a free pass to commit atrocities. If given a free pass, history suggests that doctors will practice less careful medicine, drug companies and other manufacturers will make more dangerous drugs and products, roads and bridges will be less safe, financial advisors will take advantage of their clients (less regulation created Bernie Madoff). Everyone will be less safe, but hey, who cares, we fixed the economy, right?
Here are some questions for the young Republicans: (Each one begs another.) What happened to Republicans who support personal responsibility? [Does anything make a wrong-doer more personally responsible than a lawsuit/verdict?] What happened to constitutional Republicans who support less government? [Should the legislative branch control the judicial branch?] What happened to Republicans who wanted private industry to pay their share and reduce reliance on public funds/assistance? [Should a private insurance company appropriately compensate a person their insured severely injured or should that person go on government assistance?] Do Republicans really oppose bailouts? [Then, why are they so willing to bailout insurance companies on the backs of the least fortunate of our society, the seriously injured and disabled?]
Lawsuit Financial has a mission, just like you do. It is, as stated by you, the same mission: Lawsuit Financial wants a ‘legal system that facilitates justice, not greed’. If the system were not already stacked in the favor of corporate interests and insurance companies, there would be no need for our service, lawsuit funding. A person would be able to right a wrong, simply and fairly, without the need for interim lawsuit financial support.
The vast majority of greed in the legal system exists on the side of the tort-reformers. Chambers, insurance companies, ‘lawsuit abuse’ organizations and other big-business interests try to prevent access to civil justice and slam the courthouse doors on society’s victims. A system that ‘facilitates justice’ allows all citizens access to a fair and non-political courthouse and a chance to right wrongs. Over recent years, politics have been allowed to creep into the courtroom and this phenomenon has affected all of our rights in a very negative way. We must turn back from this legalized courtroom seizure and return to a justice-based court system, before it is too late. I invite the author and publisher to join me and InjuryBoard in this effort.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.