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A woman has sued Google Maps for providing her walking directions that led her into a busy traffic intersection where she was hit by a car and seriously injured. On the surface, this sounds like one of those ‘wacky’ lawsuits that the tort reform crowd likes to use to criticize our system of justice. I will withhold opinion on whether the lawsuit makes sense or not, I am not familiar with Google Maps and I don’t know the intersection in Utah where this accident occurred. Maybe Google has liability, maybe it doesn’t. I do offer this: the system has checks and balances that permit a judge to dismiss a lawsuit if it has no merit.

You read that correctly: The system has checks and balances that permit a judge to summarily dismiss a case if it has no merit. Judges exercises this discretion, freely. Now, anyone can file a lawsuit; after all, we don’t know what is being alleged until suit is filed. Filing fees are a profit center for the court the case is filed in; if someone wants to waste a filing fee on a ‘frivolous’ case, he/she can do so. The more important question, after the case is filed, is whether the litigation has enough merit to sustain itself in front of an experienced trial judge with an overcrowded docket.

The Google case occurred in Utah at a busy, perhaps confusing, intersection. But no one made this woman enter the intersection on foot; she chose to do that. If Google Maps left her no choice and she has to get to her chosen destination, maybe there is liability. That is for her lawyer to prove and the judge to determine. That is true of every case filed in American courts; this one is no different. What is different about this case is that it sounds ‘funny’ and the tort reform crowd in America will have a field day with it. Mark my words.

Did you ever think to ask, why do these critics of our civil justice system care about ‘frivolous’ cases? Tort reform proposals (proposals that limit access to our civil justice system) usually take the form of a low cap on damages. These tort reformers, or "Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse", or critics of "jackpot justice" or those who rally against "frivolous lawsuits" are not really seeking to stop the filing of what George W. Bush once called "junk lawsuits". They can’t stop those filings; once again, we don’t know what’s in a lawsuit until a lawyer files it. What these groups are really after is a way to limit recovery in serious lawsuits. If they can make you think that the civil justice system is a ‘joke’, maybe you won’t realize that they are taking your constitutional rights away. After all, we, any of us, are just one tragic life event away from being the person suing for a death in the family or a serious, disabling injury. No, the vast majority of lawsuits are not "funny".

So, why do these "Citizen" groups rally against "lawsuit abuse", you ask? The answer is simple: M-O-N-E-Y. Because these groups are not really "citizens" at all; they are corporate interest representatives and lobbyists. They rally against lawsuits because they represent corporations who are trying to limit the amounts that you can recover in a serious lawsuit about serious injuries or problems that are caused by negligent corporations or are the responsibility of insurance companies. The low cap damages limits they lobby for are usually $250,000 and why would anyone need a low ‘cap’ on damages in ‘frivolous’ cases?

If you have lost your family breadwinner in an accident or to a defective drug or product that could have been made safer, is $250,000 enough compensation? If you are paralyzed for life? If you have suffered disabling injuries that prevent you from ever working again, is $250,000 enough? What if you have disfiguring scars or burns? How much does lifetime medical cost?

Corporations, their executives and employees make serious mistakes for which the legal system holds them accountable, unless there is tort reform. If a drug causes cancer or heart disease or bone loss or other serious side effects and the company knew of this danger but failed to warn the public, it is responsible for serious damages (except in Michigan, where tort reform has resulted in complete immunity to the drug manufacturers). What do these serious events have to do with ‘funny’ lawsuits? Everything!

You see, corporations want to be able to make products that kill and seriously injure people without incurring any penalty or serious consequence. They don’t want to pay for their mistakes; that is who these "Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse" people are. If these corporations are not held responsible to the fullest extent of the law, where is the accountability? Where is the deterrent to future conduct? They want a free pass; they want corporate welfare. And the taxpayer will be left with the bill in the form of public assistance or disability benefits. Is that what you want?

Tort reformist strategy is to parade out "funny sounding’ lawsuits, like the Google lawsuit, and make suggestions that the legal system is broken and that lawyers are to blame for society’s woes. Do lawyers make dangerous and defective products or drugs, then try to cover up the defects and limit their exposure? Do lawyers provide alcohol to intoxicated people who, they know, are about to get behind the wheel of a car? Do lawyers provide a product or service (insurance) that penalizes you for using it exactly the way you are supposed to? Do lawyers take your money for a product or service (insurance) only to fight with you, delay and deny you, when you decide to make use of it? Do lawyers make products that harm the environment? Do lawyers build rigs in the ocean, without adequate safety devices, damaging our precious natural resources? No. All lawyers try to do is try to hold all of these companies accountable to you, the people, by using the tools of our civil justice system. And, by disguising themselves as "Citizens Against", these corporations and corporate interest groups are using ‘funny’ sounding lawsuits in an attempt to avoid having to suffer the consequence of serious ones. If real people are suffering with real injuries and/or death, why shouldn’t the corporations who caused them be held accountable?

So, you will be hearing a lot about the woman who sued Google and how this is an example of why we needs controls on our legal system. Do not ignore the tort reform idiots; instead, rally against them. Speak out against these types of restrictions on our system of justice. If a candidate for office takes money from corporations and speaks out in favor of restricting lawsuits, speak out against him and cast your vote for the other guy.

A corporation is not a "citizen". It cannot pain and suffer. It cannot be paralyzed. It cannot suffer an amputation. It cannot suffer a debilitating and devastating injury. It cannot feel; it cannot love. Is it any wonder that it doesn’t care about anything but profits and money?. Where is honesty and integrity? Where is corporate responsibility? Where is corporate accountability? It is not human, and that, my friends, is the problem. Where is the humanity?

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

19 Comments

  1. The point about the ever rising court filing fees and that these cases do cost money is so true. You simply don't take or work on cases that are worthless. Or you aren't in business for very long.

  2. Gravatar for William Eadie

    I use the same argument all the time: if a lawsuit is truly frivolous, it gets thrown out. We already have the tools in place to "reform" junk lawsuits, and they already work. People sometimes haven't even considered that. Moreover, it often costs the losing party more than just their own fees, since baseless lawsuits can lead to paying the other party's fees!

    All tort deform does is try to reduce legitimate lawsuits. Of course, that was the point all along. That, and de-funding trial attorneys to weaken Democratic fund-raising efforts.

  3. Gravatar for Chuck

    How on earth would you NOT label this a frivolous lawsuit? Where has common sense gone?

    Under what circumstances would this suit have merit? I can't think of any extra facts that would justify it.

    Sometimes you just need to call it what it is, frivolous and stop defending it. There arent very many of these (tort deformers spend all day looking for that 1 lawsuit) but can't be anything but frivolous.

  4. Gravatar for Chuck

    "If Google Maps left her no choice and she has to get to her chosen destination, maybe there is liability."

    Mark... quit being a lawyer and think for a minute.. you aren't doing trial lawyers any favors by defending this.

    This better not settle. I hope this goes to trial in front of a jury, since there aren't any of those anymore. I'm surprised the lawyer hasn't already been sanctioned for this.

  5. Chuck: I didn't nor do I "defend" the lawsuit. I, sensibly, withhold opinion, until all of the facts are known. There are many cases that the "lawsuit abuse" crowd wrongly called "frivolous", simply because the cases were 'funny sounding', distorting the facts and the outcome to suit their purposes. I stand by what I said; a judge will sort out the issues, and if the case is "frivolous", he will dismiss it and assess costs against the lawyer who brought it. That is how the system works and it works very well.

  6. Gravatar for Christy R

    When I first read this in the news, my first thought was "you must be kidding." This is definitely a frivolous lawsuit. But, then I had to remind myself of the two things. One, I don't know all the facts, so who am I to pre-judge, and two, that is what a judge and jury is for. I remember thinking the same initial thoughts on the McDonald's coffee case until I heard the facts and was corrected. We must remember that the news does not always give us the complete story and all the facts. Sometimes they don't know; sometimes they write what they think they heard or wanted to hear. I know of several cases, a couple personal, where the press did not print what was said and it distorted the story. One word can change everything; even someone's future. So, maybe this case is frivolous, but maybe it is not. Let's wait and see when the ALL the facts are known.

  7. Gravatar for William Eadie

    Mark's overriding point is the key one: courts are great at kicking out frivolous lawsuits; there is no "crisis" to solve via tort deform.

  8. And tort reform, as it is usually proposed, with caps on damages, does nothing to curb "abuse" or "frivolity". Judges take care of those things by dismissing cases and assessing costs. That is the point. Tort reform only restricts access and amounts in serious cases with serious issues and serious injuries to real victims. That's why I call "tort reform" the "big lie".

  9. Gravatar for Chuck

    I know that Mark. However, unlike the McDonald's coffee case which had the foremost burn expert in the world as a testifying expert witness for the plaintiffs there is no fact pattern out there to justify this.

    At any rate, what really facilitates tort deform, as we all know, are those case broking worthless self serving wanabe-lawyers who rarely if ever try cases but who advertise on billboards and on TV.

    1977 was a BAD year for the profession.

  10. Gravatar for Christy R

    Chuck, I know what this case appears to be on the surface. In that regards, it is not unlike the McDonald's case. I know what I thought initially; I know what others thought, too. This case has not gone to trial so we don't know that there won't be experts testifying. Maybe there won't be any justification, but we don't know that yet. I think it is too early to rush to judgment on a case you know nothing about except for what you read. If this case is what it seems to be, a judge will take care of it.

    This kind of situation is not what the tort reformers are trying to regulate. They are trying to cap serious cases with serious injuries and only implying (and lying) that the problem is so-called frivolous cases. Maybe you would think differently if you were in an accident and could not longer walk, maybe lost a limb and could not work. Would you want a cap on that devastation?

    To criticize lawyers as self-serving and marketeers is a little unjust, in my opinion and I am NOT a lawyer. I am sure there are "bad" lawyers, just like there are "bad" accountants, doctors, financial advisors, and so on. But,just because they advertise, does not mean they are worthless or bad. There is a reason businesses advertise, market, and network. It's called growing your business and EVERY industry does it.

    I ask just one thing - wait to see how this case plays out. It may never get to trial, but if it does, we must put the case in the hands of the system.

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