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Whose Side Are You On, Mr. President?
January 3, 2003 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Whose Side Are You On, Mr. President? The former Dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, asks the question. I didn't know there was any question about this matter.
posted by Postroad (130 comments total)

 
The public should be wary of this new attempt to curtail consumer protection.

Yeah, because people really do deserve millions of dollars from companies because they gained weight eating hamburgers, or spilled coffee on themselves, or smoked so much they got lung cancer, or any of the other absurd things that people sue for these days.

Our legal system long ago ceased to be an institution of justice, and became instead a massive public lottery.

Companies need to be held accountable for their actions, and unethical or immoral decisions should be punished -- however, individuals need to be held personally accountable as well, and poor personal decisions shouldn't be rewarded with multimillion-dollar settlements.

"Emotional damage" should not be defined as "Trauma caused by your neighbor getting a six-million dollar settlement and you wanting a piece of the pie."
posted by oissubke at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2003


he sure is building a nice case for the dems in 2004.

add to his list of accomplishments:

scrapping rather than proposing amendments to or for a better plan than kyoto

scrapping EPA protections for clean air

giant tax breaks for the very wealthy

turning the entire worlds sympathy and support on 9-11 and shortly thereafter agains the US

providing zero leadership on the crisis in the middle east - while leave colin powell and anthony zini dangling on a thread and shrugging their shoulders at their bosses lack of leadership

turning the US into a quasi-police state


ummmmmm..... for starters.
posted by specialk420 at 7:42 AM on January 3, 2003


because they gained weight eating hamburgers, or spilled coffee on themselves, or smoked so much they got lung cancer, or any of the other absurd things that people sue for these days.

You're going to build your entire case for tort reform on the platform of McDonald's overly hot coffee? Troll.
posted by machaus at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2003


Hardly a troll, machaus. Perhaps you should reread Oissubke's post.
posted by trharlan at 7:50 AM on January 3, 2003


I am shocked -- shocked -- that Helen Thomas disagrees with the administration. Although Thomas cites a few examples where litigation led to a positive result, there are many more reasons why some believe tort reform would be a good thing for the country.

It's simplistic to argue (as Thomas does) that if you're in favor of tort reform, you're "on the side" of the evil corporation against the innocent, injured consumer. Tort reform attempts to reduce the number of frivolous cases, and to put a limit on the damages that a person can recover for non-economic injuries (i.e., "pain and suffering"), that tend to produce the most excessive jury verdicts by virtue of their subjectivity (there would be no cap on economic injuries).

And if you don't think there's a public cost to excessive jury awards, consider the situation in Las Vegas, Alabama, Mississippi, and other locations, where health crises have arisen because doctors are fleeing agressive medical malpractice lawyers and out-of-control jury verdicts.

But in Helen Thomas' world, things are black and white. If you have a criticism of the legal system, you're on the wrong "side."
posted by pardonyou? at 7:55 AM on January 3, 2003


Other than having been around for a long time, I've never understood why Helen Thomas has gotten any more respect then any other WHPC hack. Personally, I lump her together with such characters as Paul Harvey, as innocuous footnotes that others will write glowing obits about someday, but have little other relevance.

In this article, for example, she takes a strong position against tort reform and backs it up with awful examples, as if she was almost writing it sarcastically. She avoids little details like how tort law varies tremendously across the US, and argues that massive damage awards are good *because* they make bad old corporations pay attention and change their wicked ways.

If she really wanted to make an impact this way, she should have trumpeted this decision, by the Ohio Supreme Court. Why?

Imagine *in the future*, if "punitive damage" awards went to really, really punishing a company, instead of rewarding an individual and his lawyer? Let's say the court awards the money to a truly independent auditing firm to go over the companies books with a fine tooth comb? Or to continually scrutinize everything the company disposes of as waste?
posted by kablam at 7:59 AM on January 3, 2003


He's on the side of the public ... who, in a thousand ways, are paying the costs of an absurd legal system. Odd that Helen would be mentioning this when within the past couple of weeks we've seen Pennsylvania doctors threaten to walk out, and West Virginia doctors actually go on strike because malpractice insurance is now beyond anything even remotely reasonable.

What Helen should be asking is whose side are the Democrats on ... and since the trial lawyers are one of their single largest campaign contributors ... I don't think there's is any question about that.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:05 AM on January 3, 2003


Yeah, because people really do deserve millions of dollars from companies because they gained weight eating hamburgers, or spilled coffee on themselves, or smoked so much they got lung cancer, or any of the other absurd things that people sue for these days.

...but these are the only ones you ever hear about. How about the suits we don't hear about that bring about such things as increased safety and use of car seats, increased safety of children's toys and furniture, more stringent controls on pollution, more accountability from drug companies, stricter food-safety rules?
posted by tristeza at 8:07 AM on January 3, 2003


Once again, the people defending the club are not allowed in the door.

Most people I speak with like Bush because 'they like him', to say nothing of policy.

Dangerous is the voter that votes ideology, not policy.
posted by the fire you left me at 8:08 AM on January 3, 2003


This is a very serious issue, and needs to be addresed promptly. The centerpiece on the table would be asbestos litigation. A quick primer on how nuts the asbestos stuff has become, in case your not following it. Hundreds of companies have been bankrupt by litigation against them. Hundreds more are in line to become bk as well. These are companies that employ people, have innovative products, have paid huge claims already, etc. Haliburton for example, has over 250,000 claims against it. The sheer volume of claims is a strategy used by plaintiff attorneys to make it impossible for them to be handled individually. So the plantiff attorney finds 1 person really sick, then lumps on 20,000 people with that one, and gets a settlement. Is this the best deal for the truly sick person? Some other disgusting things; all the trials take place in 2 counties, one in mississippi, one in texas; in those counties attorneys have found a populace that is very anti-corporate. The mississippi country where most trials happen has more plantiffs than residents! Or how about the Haliburton trial, where a plantiff was awarded $107million for his lung damage, which the jury found "beyond a reasonable doubt" was from brakepads installed on his car in the 1960's, despite a lifetime of smoking after that. Moreover, Haliburton did not make the product - they were totally blindsided by buying a company which bought a company which bought a company which used to make pads. Its just one example, but its a high profile case which hilights the need for reform in my opinion.

I find it also interesting that since the GOP sweep in recent elections, the plantiffs have been running to settle these massive claims, fearing the door will be shut on these settlements. If they really felt they had solid cases, and the rewards were justified, i dont think it would be in their clients best interest to settle now. But then again, do lawyers really care about their clients anyways?
posted by H. Roark at 8:12 AM on January 3, 2003


Oissubke - "Emotional damage" should not be defined as "Trauma caused by your neighbor getting a six-million dollar settlement and you wanting a piece of the pie."
"
- I would agree, but I hardly think that is a representative, or even a real, example of Torte excess. I'd be interested in seeing a representative sampling (100, perhaps) of real torte case awards.

The Frist $250,000 proposal is about protecting corporate profitability. "Pain and suffering" awards awards ALSO go to legitimate victims of corporate malfeasance who have suffered quite intensely and horribly, for long periods of time. Citing the ridiculous examples of "Pain and suffering" award excesses without recognizing that awards go to real victims is.....disengenous

I would be more swayed by your argument if 1) you actually cited referenced studies and statistics. and 2) if you would please explain to me why torte reform shoulds be given legislative precedence over ACCOUNTING REFORM, especially given the fact that losses from corporate bankruptcies set a NEW RECORD last year (2002): $500 BILLION - which was DOUBLE THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S RECORD SETTING LOSSES. (about $250 billion in 2001) How much "pain and suffering" is caught up in the gutting of one's retirement account, I wonder?
posted by troutfishing at 8:14 AM on January 3, 2003


But, more to the point: surely someone - more steeped in this issue (torte reform - pro/contra) than I am - can cite some representative studies (from both left and right, even!) to give the word slinging some empirical meat.
posted by troutfishing at 8:19 AM on January 3, 2003


What Helen should be asking is whose side are the Democrats on ...

Right, because Democrat = lawyer.

Because, almost by definition, corporations have only the profit motive to guide their actions, the only way to punish a corporation is to fine it. You can't exactly throw a corporation in jail, and going after individuals within a company or shareholders is virtually impossible. As corporations grow more and more powerful, in relation to individuals, the only way to truly punish them is to fine them enough that they notice.

Otherwise it would be worth it for them to continue whatever practice landed them in court in the first place, plead guilty, and pay whatever capped penalty was required.

Complaining that tort law is unfair because some people get wealthy is blaming the victim in the worst way.

H. Roark - So which two counties is it that you're talking about? Can you provide any documentation?
posted by bshort at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2003


Trial Lawyers. Money talks.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2003


Harris County, Texas
Holmes County, Mississippi

(Sorry if i am not providing more documentation, i appreciate it when others do. But alas, im one of the poor saps who has to work for a living, and dont have the time right now to dredge up documentation to assert my claims. Take 'um or leaveum, but im pretty sure they are accurate; its in my line of work. )
posted by H. Roark at 8:36 AM on January 3, 2003


Right, because Democrat = lawyer.

Close, actually. The correct equation is: Trial lawyer = Democrat

As corporations grow more and more powerful, in relation to individuals, the only way to truly punish them is to fine them enough that they notice.

Non-economic damages are not, and were never, intended to "punish" someone who commits a tort. Such damages are intended only to compensate the individual person for the damages he or she sustained. Punitive damages are for "punishment." There's no indication whether or to what extent punitives will be capped.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2003


Perhaps John Edwards says it best:

"At a time when Americans are demanding more corporate responsibility … the president has gone to North Carolina today to ask for less corporate responsibility, to make it easier on insurance companies, and to make it harder on victims."

Take a look at the results of "tort reform" in Texas and then come back and let's talk. It just doesn't work. Tort law is the ONLY equalizer we have for corporatism run amuck.
posted by nofundy at 8:41 AM on January 3, 2003


IMO, it would be better to limit class action lawsuits to a certain number of plaintiffs (say 25) than to set a cap on punitive damages.

The awards in these cases are set by the jury and the jury is drawn from the populace. I think everyone here is correct about some jury decisions being way out of line with whatever damage was actually done. But so what? Punitive damages, meant to punish the company for wrongdoing. The check has go go to someone. Maybe the punitive damages shouldn't go to the plaintiff. Maybe punitive damages over a set limit (say 3 million dollars) should go to paying down the national debt.

Is tort reform about limiting an individuals ability to game the system in seeking a huge, undeserved payout? Or is it about protecting corporations ability to pursue profit with no regard for our fellow citizens health and well being?
posted by chris0495 at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2003


an absurd legal system.

Why do you hate America so much?

God bless Helen Thomas, the only White House reporter who has balls.
posted by nofundy at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2003


I'll grant US conservatives the cap on "Pain and Suffering" awards if they grant me the "Corporate Death Penalty": Deal?
posted by troutfishing at 8:50 AM on January 3, 2003


Helen suggests that unlimited "pain and suffering" damages can serve as a deterrent to negligent conduct. I agree that the threat of potential liability in civil lawsuit can serve to deter a defendant's negligent conduct. The purpose of such damages, however, should be to compensate the victims of negligence.

In all states, a plaintiff is generally entitled to recover compensatory damages from a negligent defendant. Compensatory damages can include both economic (i.e. lost income, medical bills, damaged property, etc.) and non-economic (pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.) damages. Depending upon the nature of the case and the applicable law, a plaintiff may also be entitled to an award of punitive damages.

In addressing the issue of a plaintiff's compensatory damages (assuming the defendant has already been determined to be liable), the jury should focus upon the plaintiff's alleged losses and not the defendant's conduct. If punitive damages are available, then the jury may generally look at the defendant's conduct to determine what amount of damages may "punish" the defendant. Punitive damages are generally much more difficult to recover than compensatory damages. The defendant's conduct must be more than merely negligent; rather, it must rise to a level of outrageousness that warrants punishment -- much like a crime. (This standard varies from state to state.) For example, a person struck by a drunk driver might be able to recover punitive damages, but one who is struck by a driver who ran a stop sign might not.

Although Helen portrays the plaintiffs' bar as noble fighters for American consumers, they are as self-interested as any other group of professionals. Every lawyer knows that the real money in a big personal injury case lies in non-economic damages, such as "pain and suffering." Trial lawyers want to preserve their ability to win huge verdicts without the burden of having to prove punitive damages.
posted by Durwood at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2003


Tort Reform: Big Money Lies:

From Americans for Insurance Reform Mission Statement:

What precipitates these crises is always the same. Insurers make their money from investment income. During years of high interest rates and/or excellent insurer profits, insurance companies engage in fierce competition for premiums dollars to invest for maximum return. More specifically, insurers engage in underpricing and insure very poor risks just to get premium dollars to invest. But when investment income decreases because interest rates drop, the stock market plummets and/or cumulative price cuts make profits become unbearably low, the industry responds by sharply increasing premiums and reducing coverage, creating a "liability insurance crisis."

Each time rates begin to skyrocket, the insurance industry tries to cover up its mismanaged underwriting by blaming lawyers and the legal system. Under this theory, one would have to believe that jury verdicts or trial lawyers have timed their "aggression" to precisely coincide with the insurance industry’s economic cycle, so that the aggression impacts just when the market turns hard. In other words, one would have to accept the notion that they were aggressive in the mid 1970s, then non-aggressive for a decade, then aggressive in the mid-1980s, non-aggressive for 17 years and are now aggressive again. This is ludicrous.


Table losses, unstable rates (PDF)

Premium Deceit: The failure of "Tort Teform" to cut Insurance Prices (PDF)

NPR Morning Edition Story 12/18/02
Doctors, Lawyers Tussle over Texas Malpractice Caps
posted by y2karl at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2003


Wow. I am astonished to see so many people eager to help the insurance companies. Believe it or not, there are two sides to this issue. I've practiced law long enough (on both sides) to see a few slimy plaintiffs lawyers and a lot of slimy insurance adjusters.

Some approaches to tort reform have merit, but most are thinly veiled attempts by corporations to enrich themselves. Kablam, you are on the right path. H. Roark, you're not. Halliburton was either fantastically stupid not to realize that buying a company with asbestos claims was risky, or they are counting on their buddies in the administration to bail them out, ideally by screwing over injured workers.
posted by kcmoryan at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2003


Tort reform? Egads! If we enact meaningful tort reform, how will the trial lawyers sue this country to greatness?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2003


Perhaps John Edwards says it best:

You wouldn't happen to be referring to John Edwards, the trial lawyer, would you?
posted by pardonyou? at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2003


Charleston Gazette September 17, 2001
Key to providing lower rates lies within the insurance industry courtesy Center For Justice And Democracy
posted by y2karl at 9:06 AM on January 3, 2003


or spilled coffee on themselves

The reason that woman got such an enormous settlement from McDonald's is because they were able to prove that McD's knew their coffee was too hot and were still serving it at that temperature. Granted, the settlement was ridiculous.

I agree this country has become way too litigious and people do not take personal reponsibility. I know someone personally, and am disgusted by this, that is suing a major pharmacy chain for 5 million because she tripped over some packaging tape that was left in the aisle. Granted, she fell flat on her face and broke her nose, but one of the first lessons my mother taught me was to LOOK WHERE YOU ARE WALKING!!!

West Virginia doctors actually go on strike because malpractice insurance is now beyond anything even remotely reasonable.

This makes me chuckle considering the insanity that the general public has to deal with regarding health insurance issues and the medical community in general. Medical malpractice suits, however, are a different animal altogether than corporate irresonsibility suits.
posted by archimago at 9:06 AM on January 3, 2003


Hey! Y2Karl and Kcmoryan ride to the rescue with facts, logic and Linked studies!
posted by troutfishing at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2003


Archimago - don't get too worked up about your acquaintance. The amount sued for - the prayer - is just a number pulled out of thin air, and has nothing to do, really with the value of the case. Some states have eliminated such numbers.
posted by kcmoryan at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2003


kcmoryan, there is ample basis for arguing that current asbestos litigation is little more than a gigantic fraud with a catastrophic effect on society. It's bringing down dozens of companies -- some with only a tangential relationship with asbsestos -- to enrich plaintiffs lawyers and individuals whose only claim is the possibility that they might, someday, get sick. Does society really want to bankrupt entire industries to pay for damages that may never occur?
posted by pardonyou? at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2003


If this is about trial lawyers enriching themselves, why not just limit the amount that the lawyers can take from the settlement/judgement?
posted by tolkhan at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2003


Debunking Urban Legends About the Civil Justice System

FACT SHEET: MCDONALD'S SCALDING COFFEE CASE

FACT SHEET: What is Frivolous?
posted by y2karl at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2003


The reason that woman got such an enormous settlement from McDonald's is because they were able to prove that McD's knew their coffee was too hot and were still serving it at that temperature. Granted, the settlement was ridiculous.

Not really. The general logic, as I understand it, is that a winning plaintiff is "made whole" again. Restored to his or her state before the loss. But there's no way to do that for noneconomic losses, so you pay them an amount such that they'd be willing to endure that noneconomic loss (less any fraction for their own negligence in the matter). This is why a limit on noneconomic losses, unless it's high enough that it never comes into play, is a bad thing -- people will not be made whole.

How much would you have to be paid to have your genitals cooked and then debrided?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2003


you wouldn't happen to be referring to John Edwards, the trial lawyer, would you?

Funny how "trial lawyer" in the present political climate is considered worse than "corrupt career politician guilty of insider trading, supporter of corporate corruption, regressive taxation and tax-evasion"
posted by matteo at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2003


Great links, y2karl. I was going to find some along the same lines, but you beat me to it, and probably from better sources. It is disheartening for me to see how many physicians have bought into the erroneous theory that tort reform will lower malpractice premiums, and equally disheartening to see that the AMA has put support for issues that are good for all of medicine, especially patients (like the patients' bill of rights and better access to health care for all Americans) on the back burner and gone back to its historical concern with protecting physicians' incomes. That is why I never joined in the first place.
posted by TedW at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2003


If this is about trial lawyers enriching themselves, why not just limit the amount that the lawyers can take from the settlement/judgement?

I'm afraid that the trial lawyers oppose that, too.
posted by Durwood at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2003


Pardonyou?, your link didn't work, but I'll agree with you that recovery for anticipatory damages is an interesting and challenging issue. But I have two points:

1) Anybody at Halliburton who was involved with the decision to buy a company with known asbestos exposure was either stupid or hoping for some kind of deus ex machina (my original point), and,

2) The asbestos companies earned their demise through a horrible cover-up, and most of the injuries alleged and proven have been actual, not anticipatory.
posted by kcmoryan at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2003


um, y2karl, linking to the website of the American Trial Lawyers Association isn't terribly helpful. That's kind of like linking to the Republican Party platform in a debate about politics. The ATLA not only takes one side -- it is one side.

Not only that, but it's "What is Frivolous" fact sheet is stupid. I can't tell you how many lawsuits I worked on in which the claim was clearly baseless, but the defendant paid thousands of dollars rather than face the expense and hassle of going through the litigation process.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2003


sorry, kcmoryan, I don't know why that link didn't work. Try this. And, no disrespect, but I have to disagree that "most of the injuries alleged and proven have been actual, not anticipatory."

Funny(?) story: As a young associate, I was called upon to sit in some depositions of plaintiffs (all employees at a particular foundry in Saginaw, Michigan) who were suing the whole gamut of asbestos manufacturers (probably 20 companies in total). Every single plaintiff had gone to the same doctor, who had invariably diagnosed asbsestosis in every plaintiff. The plaintiffs were taken to the doctor by bus, chartered by their union. The average time of the exam was under five minutes per employee. Almost all of these employees were healthy as an ox. It makes you a bit cynical.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:31 AM on January 3, 2003


From The Mc Donald's Coffee Case and other Fictions

The “McDonald’s coffee” case. We have all heard it: a woman spills McDonald's coffee, sues and gets $3 million. Here are the facts of this widely misreported and misunderstood case:

Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, was sitting in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car having purchased a cup of McDonald’s coffee. After the car stopped, she tried to hold the cup securely between her knees while removing the lid. However, the cup tipped over, pouring scalding hot coffee onto her. She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years. Morgan, The Recorder, September 30, 1994. Despite these extensive injuries, she offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000. However, McDonald’s refused to settle. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages -- reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20 percent at fault -- and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. (To put this in perspective, McDonald's revenue from coffee sales alone is in excess of $1.3 million a day.) The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000. Subsequently, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement. According to Stella Liebeck’s attorney, S. Reed Morgan, the jury heard the following evidence in the case:

By corporate specifications, McDonald's sells its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit;

Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns (the skin is burned away down to the muscle/fatty-tissue layer) in two to seven seconds;

Third-degree burns do not heal without skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability of the victim for many months, and in some cases, years;

The chairman of the department of mechanical engineering and bio-mechanical engineering at the University of Texas testified that this risk of harm is unacceptable, as did a widely recognized expert on burns, the editor in chief of the leading scholarly publication in the specialty, the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation;

McDonald's admitted that it has known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years -- the risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits, to no avail;

From 1982 to 1992, McDonald's coffee burned more than 700 people, many receiving severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs, and buttocks;

Not only men and women, but also children and infants, have been burned by McDonald's scalding hot coffee, in some instances due to inadvertent spillage by McDonald's employees;

At least one woman had coffee dropped in her lap through the service window, causing third-degree burns to her inner thighs and other sensitive areas, which resulted in disability for years;

Witnesses for McDonald's admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald's required temperature;

McDonald's admitted that it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk and could offer no explanation as to why it did not;

McDonald's witnesses testified that it did not intend to turn down the heat -- As one witness put it: “No, there is no current plan to change the procedure that we're using in that regard right now;”

McDonald's admitted that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk;

Liebeck's treating physician testified that her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.

Morgan, The Recorder, September 30, 1994. Moreover, the Shriner’s Burn Institute in Cincinnati had published warnings to the franchise food industry that its members were unnecessarily causing serious scald burns by serving beverages above 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

In refusing to grant a new trial in the case, Judge Robert Scott called McDonald's behavior “callous.” Moreover, “the day after the verdict, the news media documented that coffee at the McDonald's in Albuquerque [where Liebeck was burned] is now sold at 158 degrees. This will cause third-degree burns in about 60 seconds, rather than in two to seven seconds [so that], the margin of safety has been increased as a direct consequence of this verdict.” Id.

posted by y2karl at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2003


"If this is about trial lawyers enriching themselves, why not just limit the amount that the lawyers can take from the settlement/judgement?"(posted by tolkhan at 9:17 AM PST on January 3) - Sounds darned Un-American to me. Obscene Profit? - that's as American as apple pie. What is this, Russia? must. crush. sensible idea. before it spreads. must. call trial lawyers association. must initiate defensive litigation. must...
posted by troutfishing at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2003


Pardonyou?, is the Overlawyered.com website, to which you linked earlier, much more objective than ATLA? And is it wrong to link to a website that argues a side of an issue, particularly where they list facts? Isn't the adversarial process part of our system of justice? Just asking.
posted by kcmoryan at 9:35 AM on January 3, 2003


Yeah, because people really do deserve millions of dollars from companies because they... spilled coffee on themselves

She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years.

And offered to settle for $20,000, which McDonald's refused.

--remember this when oissubke trots out this particular lie.
posted by y2karl at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2003


Thanks, Pardonyou?, for the link. Like I said, there are some slimey people on both sides. About your foundry plaintiffs - did your client pay them millions each?
posted by kcmoryan at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2003


There definitely needs to be tort reform, the system sucks and certain members of the legal profession are bleeding it dry with greed.

That being said, this proposal is basically about corporate greed trumping lawyer greed. Either way the average citizen is going to be screwed. Democrat = greed; Republican = greed.

And in the future, Postroad, (not that I have much hope) don't just post a single trollish article that you disagree with, do some work and find some interesting articles on tort reform if you want to make a good post about it.
posted by cell divide at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2003


Pardonyou?, is the Overlawyered.com website, to which you linked earlier, much more objective than ATLA?

Um, yes it is. The ATLA is the association of (plaintiffs) trial lawyers. They have an enormous financial interest in opposing any kind of tort reform. The ATLA is also one of the most influential lobbying groups in the country. Overlawyered.com, on the other hand, is run by one guy who isn't even a lawyer. His only dog in the hunt is whatever notoriety he gets from running the site (and writing books), and whatever money he gets from donations. I'd say he's just a wee bit more objective.

And sorry, but I really wouldn't characterize the ATLA's "fact sheets" as being only about "facts" (crappy formatting from the original):

But there=s certainly no debate for corporate defendants and their lobbyists B they don=t like getting caught when they harm people.

The civil justice system works. Only wrongdoer defendants are punished B despite the excuses guilty defendants give their shareholders for paying plaintiffs. (AWe just settled to avoid court costs@ is the battle cry of the guilty. Why pay a settlement if you can get the case dismissed and pay nothing?)

Corporate Defendants Decry 'Frivolous' Lawsuits But They're Really Saying That They Just Don't Like Getting Caught.

Of course, I'm not saying y2karl shouldn't have linked to it -- I'm just cautioning people who wouldn't know better that the official sounding "American Trial Lawyers Association" is really just the organization of plaintiffs' lawyers.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:45 AM on January 3, 2003


By the way, "'We just settled to avoid court costs' is the battle cry of the guilty. Why pay a settlement if you can get the case dismissed and pay nothing?" is utter and complete bullshit. As a practical matter you can't get any case dismissed before summary judgment, and judges are not inclined to grant summary judgment before the plaintiff has had an opportunity to do complete discovery (depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents). In simple employment cases the costs of discovery and drafting and arguing a summary judgment motion routinely exceed $50,000. Any rational corporate defendant would thus be willing to pay, say, $30,000 to settle the case at the beginning (before it incurs those costs), even if it thought the case was totally meritless and would eventually be dismissed.

Something to think about.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2003


The law of large numbers! There will always be cases that support either side's argument. No one should make up their mind on this issue based on a few cases. Let's say that 3% of all lawsuits are frivolous. 250 million people in america over twenty years, I'll guess and say that there's been 100,000 lawsuits a year. This would be 2 million lawsuits over the last twenty years. If 3% were completely baseless then a "tort reformer" would have 60,000 cases to cite. By the 50th case, most people (meaning able to read and write, employed, over age 30) would be ready to banish all trial lawyers from the holy land of America forever. Send'em to France!, they'd say.

It might be known, it might not: I'm a liberal. Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh would hate me and call me unamerican. That being said, I have to admit that there are a lot of bullshit lawsuits that are filed and that too many of these bs suits go to trial. It is not clear that a whole lot of bs lawsuits actually end up costing innocent companies money in the form of jury awards. Other than sue, what else can a wronged consumer do when he or she wants justice?
posted by chris0495 at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2003


"I'm just cautioning people who wouldn't know better that the official sounding "American Trial Lawyers Association" is really just the organization of plaintiffs' lawyers." -- Fair enough, pardonyou. But that said, everything I could find about the McDonald's case on the web tied in pretty well with the facts as reported by the ATLA.
posted by nickmark at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2003


--remember this when oissubke trots out this particular lie.

or any other misinformed--in regards to the McDonald's case--person: no slur intended.
posted by y2karl at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2003


Any rational corporate defendant would thus be willing to pay, say, $30,000 to settle the case at the beginning (before it incurs those costs), even if it thought the case was totally meritless and would eventually be dismissed.

She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years. Morgan, The Recorder, September 30, 1994. Despite these extensive injuries, she offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000. However, McDonald’s refused to settle.
posted by y2karl at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2003


Actually, nickmark, I don't disagree that the McDonald's case was more complicated than simply "everyone knows coffee is hot." I would certainly never use that as the perfect example of frivolous lawsuits, having personally seen so many cases more frivolous than that (including the lady who argued her air bag had only "partially inflated" during an accident. An air bag inflates and deflates faster than the blink of an eye -- it's impossible for a human being to perceive whether an air bag fully or partially inflated. Furthermore, air bags are "inflated" by a controlled explosion from a gas canister -- it's not like pumping with a bike pump. There is no such thing as "partial inflation" -- either it inflates or it doesn't).
posted by pardonyou? at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2003


While were on the McDonalds topic, how about the hindu lawsuit over the beef in fries...

What i want to know is why any self-respecting hindu would step into a McDonalds in the first place?
posted by H. Roark at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2003


Trial lawyers may be anathema to large corporations but to their clients they are a godsend. Better a trial lawyer than a soulless corporate whore.
posted by nofundy at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2003


oh, and y2Karl, there is a very good reason to not settle before trial; the precedent. If you think the nature of the suit is nuts (and i can see how McDonalds could view the coffee thing as nuts), the money spent on a trial is worth it to prevent the legal precedent. no?
posted by H. Roark at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2003


Well, y2karl, I did say "rational" -- and I meant rational from a business standpoint. There are other considerations that might cause a defendant not to settle, even though it will cost it more money. Usually that choice is made where there's a "principle" or "policy" at stake, and the company doesn't want to set a precedent. I suspect that's what happened with McDonald's -- it didn't want to send the message that it was willing to settle for coffee burns.

Again, as I said above, I don't think the McDonald's case was frivolous. I do think the $7 million verdict was excessive (there is a degree of negligence attributable to the plaintiff, too), but I'm a lot more comfortable with the reduction to $400K and subsequent settlement.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:07 AM on January 3, 2003


another citation:
Liability premiums did not drop after "tort reform" enacted ...
courtesy The Foundation For Taxpayer & Cionsumer Rights
posted by y2karl at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2003


Consumer, to be sure
posted by y2karl at 10:11 AM on January 3, 2003


cell divide, once again you make me think you're my cerebral twin. This is ultimately an issue of two amazingly greedy entities (trial lawyers and insurance companies) butting heads. Most defendants in these kind of personal injury/malpractice cases see, at most, a fraction of the settlement- the courts often reduce them way beyond the initial figure. The lawyers, meanwhile, rack up sweet fees.

Clearly, though, something needs to happen, and it needs to start with regulating the insurance agencies. My father, a former surgeon in PA, was effectively forced into early retirement when his malpractice premium shot up into the six-figure range this year (yeah, you're reading that right). His situation is, sadly, not uncommon.
posted by mkultra at 10:12 AM on January 3, 2003


What i want to know is why any self-respecting hindu would step into a McDonalds in the first place?

Because they have restaurants in India? And because they have advertised their fries as being "Cooked in 100% vegetable oil".

It's not just Hindus but also Vegetarians and Vegans who have been mislead that this was a meat free product, which (surprise!) it is now after the lawsuit.

Personally I don't support the removing of consumer protections via tort reform if there are no other strong consumer protections. Bush et. al. have already shown their willingness to trash consumer protections in their destruction of the Clean Air act and in the suppression of Asbestos warnings from the EPA. Not to mention the haphazard FDA approvals for drugs and medical devices. My point is if we can't trust the government to protect consumers, and we can't trust corporations to do the same then why cripple the only real weapon consumers have to protect themselves?

This being said I do support some very minor reforms to help stem the use of lawsuits as a method of first strike. I think there should be an arbitration stage available if not required before these lawsuits hit the legal system.

I also support some caps on awards but really these caps should be proportional to both the extent of the damage and the size and wealth of the company. $250,000 is a ridiculously low amount for many companies who spend far more than that on their legal departments quarterly. With the awards being capped that low there is virtually no reason for a company right or wrong to EVER SETTLE. Punitive damages are just that PUNISHMENT. For many companies $250,000 wouldn't have any effect whatsoever.
posted by aaronscool at 10:17 AM on January 3, 2003


If you think the nature of the suit is nuts (and i can see how McDonalds could view the coffee thing as nuts), the money spent on a trial is worth it to prevent the legal precedent. no?


From 1982 to 1992, McDonald's coffee burned more than 700 people, many receiving severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs, and buttocks;

Not only men and women, but also children and infants, ha[d] been burned by McDonald's scalding hot coffee, in some instances due to inadvertent spillage by McDonald's employees;

At least one woman had coffee dropped in her lap through the service window, causing third-degree burns to her inner thighs and other sensitive areas, which resulted in disability for years;

Witnesses for McDonald's admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald's required temperature;

McDonald's admitted that it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk and could offer no explanation as to why it did not;

posted by y2karl at 10:18 AM on January 3, 2003


No
posted by y2karl at 10:20 AM on January 3, 2003


How much would you have to be paid to have your genitals cooked and then debrided?

I stand corrected. I thought the amount she received was like 3 times as much as she got. It still is a lot of money, but I think the judgement was fair. McD's knew they were burning people and didn't do anything about it.

Incidentally, if any producers of Fear Factor are reading, can we count on the cooking and debriding of one's own genitals to make it into the next season?
posted by archimago at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2003


these caps should be proportional to both the extent of the damage and the size and wealth of the company.

If the McDonald's woman had been burned by coffee from her local mom and pop coffee shop, I'd be willing to bet she would have been happy to get her medical expenses paid for and maybe a few grand for pain and suffering.

As I mentioned above with my acquaintance and the slip and fall case, the lawyer is pushing for 5 million knowing that she will probably get at most 1. I have another friend who was clocked on the head by a box at Home Depot that fell off a shelf and was only awarded 30K. And after the lawyer took his, it really wasn't worth all the hassle.
posted by archimago at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2003


From Truths and Myths About Malpractice, part of an advocacy site, to be sure:

Dr. William Ira Bennett, editor of the Harvard Medical School Health Letter

Malpractice is often denounced, especially by doctors, as an atrocity visited on them by the legal system. Public discussion of malpractice is clouded by the belief that malpractice suits are a vulgar effort to capitalize on misfortune. But the malpractice system can by dispassionately analyzed as though it were a form of medical testing, a way to find out whether something unhealthy is happening, and to correct it. The irony is that the system wouldn't exist if doctors weren't experts. If lay people were competent to assess a physician's competence and diligence, there would be no need for malpractice litigation. Good doctors would get the patients, and bad doctors would go out of business. But because the principle of caveat emptor breaks down when the buyer can't reasonably be expected to know what to look out for, the market cannot be relied on to signal physicians when they are incompetent or careless. The court, then, serves, as a substitute for the marketplace, imposing financial penalties _ the equivalent of income that would have been lost if patients know how to avoid a poor doctor in the first place. But, piling paradox on irony, the court must call on the judgment of lay people to decide whether the expert has done a reasonable job. (W. Bennett, "The Pluses of Malpractice Suits," The New York Times Magazine, July 24, 1988.)



upon review:
archimago--what part of she offered to settle for $20,000 don't you get?
posted by y2karl at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2003


If the McDonald's woman had been burned by coffee from her local mom and pop coffee shop, I'd be willing to bet she would have been happy to get her medical expenses paid for and maybe a few grand for pain and suffering.

I agree. But the point is exactly that. Her medical expenses and that few grand would probably amount to a few months profit at your local mom and pop coffee joint. Beyond that $250,000 would most assuredly put said mom and pop joint out of business for good. BUT that same $250,000 would amount to a fraction of a day's profits from McD's and would have the net effect of you paying your late movie rental fine.
posted by aaronscool at 10:41 AM on January 3, 2003


There are lots of sham law suits, but many don't even get to the discovery phase, and the vast majority don't get to a jury. "Tort reform" is a euphemism for ignorant and/or manipulated and/or malevolent politicians seeking to screw the little guy. And I say this as an attorney who has paid the rent for the last decade first defending, then pursuing big corporations and/or insurance companies.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2003


Torte reform

that's where you re-frost the top of the chocolate cake with your finger after sneaking a taste, right? (/levity -- and i'm an attorney!)
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2003


y2karl: Oh, I don't know. She certainly could have turned around and sued for the same 20,000. I see a pretty big jump from 20,000 to several million. But math was never my strong area.
posted by archimago at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2003


I have another friend who was clocked on the head by a box at Home Depot that fell off a shelf and was only awarded 30K.

archimago, was this a Boston case? i saw an identical case as an intern, a 40-pound box accidentally dropped from 20 feet by a Home Despot employee. i thought the plaintiff got a higher award, though...
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2003


While were on the McDonalds topic, how about the hindu lawsuit over the beef in fries...

This whole thing started in the mid 90's when McDonalds started to claim that their French fries were 100% vegetarian entrée. They claimed the fries were cooked in 100% vegetable oil, which was a lie. McDonalds had (it no longer does) been using a mixture of vegetable oil and 6% beef tallow. A lot of vegetarians got pissed, and rightfully so, at McDonalds false advertising.

The ball started rolling after Brij Sharma, a software engineer for Boeing, read an article in the India Times called "Where's the Beef? It's in your french fries". Brij, a devout Janain and a vegan, as his religion strictly forbids eating any animals. Brij got pissed and a called an Hindu lawyer in LA, and the two of them filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of vegetarians everywhere.

Oh, and in India, angry mobs ransacked and destroyed several McDonalds establishments and demanded McDonalds leave the country. This really sucked for McDonalds because, at the time, they had been planning to triple the number of their restaurants in India.

And you too would know this if you read Fast Food Nation.
posted by SweetJesus at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2003


serafina, it was in NY state, actually. Westchester county.
posted by archimago at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2003


Archimago: New Rochelle or Yonkers? And which aisle? I'm about to leave the Yonkers store in a few minutes; should I leave my bicycle helmet on in the store?
posted by ParisParamus at 10:54 AM on January 3, 2003


I'm pretty sure it was New Rochelle because she was living in Larchmont at the time. Home Depot is notorious for being sued for dumping things on people's heads though. Whenever I go in there I always keep one eye to the sky.
posted by archimago at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2003


that was the juries award, archimago--McDonald's refused to settle. Read above as to the extent of her injuries. The case as cartoon and caricature was great fodder for Jay Leno. The facts, however, were something else.

A personal disclosure; my father was a GP and surgeon practicing in a small town in Idaho. He was sued for $500,000--a huge sum in 1960--in a malpractice case involving an etopic pregnancy, which was not an easy thing to correctly diagnose at the time. He won his case.

My mother was a nurse.

You can not imagine the horror stories I heard at the dinner table regarding hospital caused iatrogenic infections and medical incompetence they'd witnessed over the years.

The idea of ever being hospitalized terrified both my parents more than anything else.
posted by y2karl at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2003


Wouldn't a simple solution to this mess be prison sentences for corporate executives who are responsible for harming consumers?
Yeah, like that's going to happen.
posted by 2sheets at 11:11 AM on January 3, 2003


nofundy: Better a trial lawyer than a soulless corporate whore.

You couldn't state your philosophy more clearly. I respectfully disagree.

"Corporate whores" have given me a job. They have manufactured the car I drive, and the computer I am using. They pay for my health insurance, and invent and bring to market medicines that heal me when I am ill. They bring to market the food I eat, and the clothes I wear. And these corporate whores, through their invention, determination, and perseverance, have enabled millions of Americans to have a life, just like mine-- where we leave our workplaces and head to our homes and our loved ones, for whom we can provide and accompany for a nutritious meal inside a heated dining room. And thanks to these corporations, I can choose to stay in and watch two hundred channels of television, go to one of dozens of movies, drink one of hundreds of available beers, or call it a night and retire to a comfortable and supportive mattress with a warm, soft blanket.

Peter Angelos, Richard Scruggs, and their ilk produce nothing. They have invented nothing, they produce no goods or services except to rob shareholders of outrageous sums of money. The trial lawyers bankrupt corporations, destroying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in shareholder value. They destroy, via jackpot justice, the ideals of personal responsibility. When the corporations aren't bankrupted, The trial lawyers create an externality, where the "victims" of the tobacco companies are forced to pay for their victimhood via higher cigarette prices.

Our legal system creates massive frictional costs and enriches the legal profession at the expense of those who produce.

And before you accuse me of hating America, I will tell you that I most certainly do not. However, in the America that I love, the rewards go to those who earn them through invention and determination, not codified theft.
posted by trharlan at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2003


Wouldn't a simple solution to this mess be prison sentences for corporate executives who are responsible for harming consumers?

This is my point exactly. I'm all for more strict tort reform if there is a system in place to ensure that corporations are punished for harm and damage done to consumers. At the moment the only real recourse is the legal system.
posted by aaronscool at 11:19 AM on January 3, 2003


However, in the America that I love, the rewards go to those who earn them through invention and determination, not codified theft.

One word: Enron
posted by y2karl at 11:23 AM on January 3, 2003


Wouldn't a simple solution to this mess be prison sentences for corporate executives who are responsible for harming consumers?

Sure, if you want companies to stop developing new products. Almost all products can "harm consumers" in some fashion. What level of intent would you require?

"Tort reform" is a euphemism for ignorant and/or manipulated and/or malevolent politicians seeking to screw the little guy."

ParisParamus, your advocacy position notwithstanding, I doubt that you really, truly believe that simplistic platitude. I understand that some disagree with the merits of tort reform, but reducing the argument to good/evil, angel/devil is just lame. Isn't it possible that some politicians really and truly perceive that tort verdicts are doing more damage than good? Or maybe you're right -- it's a bunch of evil politicians, lurking in the shadows, licking their chops, asking themselves: "You, know, I really want to screw the little guy! What can I do?"
posted by pardonyou? at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2003


From the iatrogenic link above, more than one word:

In 2000, a presidential task force labelled medical errors a "national problem of epidemic proportions." Members estimated that the "cost associated with these errors in lost income, disability, and health care costs is as much as $29 billion annually." That same year the Institute of Medicine released an historic report, "To err is human: building a safer health system." The report's authors concluded that 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year as a result of errors during hospitalization. They noted that "even when using the lower estimate, deaths due to medical errors exceed the number attributable to the 8th-leading cause of death."
posted by y2karl at 11:26 AM on January 3, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe' How much would you have to be paid to have your genitals cooked and then debrided?

Best MeFi question ever.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:35 AM on January 3, 2003


Oh, and in India, angry mobs ransacked and destroyed several McDonalds establishments and demanded McDonalds leave the country. This really sucked for McDonalds because, at the time, they had been planning to triple the number of their restaurants in India.

Best argument yet for tort law. In countries without adequate tort law to correct injustice, this is the "logical" recourse of consumers.

in the America that I love, the rewards go to those who earn them through invention and determination, not codified theft

First, thanks for your civil response. I appreciate that.
2nd: That's precisely the kind of America I so desperately wished we actually did live in. Unfortunately we do not live in a meritocracy but rather a corporate oligarchy where being born with a trust fund is worth considerably more than being born with immense talent.
posted by nofundy at 11:36 AM on January 3, 2003


y2karl has really hit the nail on the head here. Over time, insurance companies pay out just about every dollar in premiums they collect. They make their profit by investing the "float." For example, you pay your auto insurance premiums for 10 years and then have an accident that costs about the same as your last 10 years' premiums. But for 10 years the insurance company has held your money, the float, interest free and uses it to invest in stocks, bonds and real estate. The billions they earn on these investments are their only profits. When times are good in the market, insurance companies enroll poor risks - bad doctors, bad drivers - because they can still make money off the float. Since the stock market has been down for three consecutive years, the insurance companies now need to make up for their poor risks and investment losses by raising premiums.

As y2's tables show, medical malpractice awards, inflation adjusted, have not really changed much over the last 30 years. But this year malpractice premiums have doubled in some places. Is this sudden "crisis" because of frivolous lawsuits? The insurance lobbyists would like you to think so and divert the blame from their poor investment decisions. As the data show, every time the market goes down, there is a crisis and premiums go up.
posted by JackFlash at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2003


heeheeeeeeeeeeee...

Sorry, I'm still laughing from H.Roark calling Harris County, Texas (home of Houston), "very anti-corporate."

Good stuff.
posted by conquistador at 12:25 PM on January 3, 2003


Thanks, Pardonyou?, for the link. Like I said, there are some slimey people on both sides. About your foundry plaintiffs - did your client pay them millions each?

Actually, I'm not sure. My involvement was tangential, and I left the firm before the cases were over. I do know that the client has since declared bankruptcy, as has a client that I represented in employment matters for many years that had the misfortune of purchasing another company that had manufactured asbestos-containing products decades before. While you were quick to criticize Halliburton for doing the same, I can tell you that in the situation with which I'm familiar, the purchase was made before the explosion in claims, so they underestimated the value of those claims (they thought they had sufficient insurance to cover the claims -- they actually had less than half the necessary amount). Of course, the real problem is the domino effect -- every time one of the manufacturers declares bankruptcy, that eliminates that manufacturer from the "pool," raising the liability for the remaining "solvent" manufacturers.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:30 PM on January 3, 2003


The report's authors concluded that 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year as a result of errors during hospitalization.

Well, yeah, okay. But how many of those deaths were going to happen inside the next week anyway?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:30 PM on January 3, 2003


except to rob shareholders of outrageous sums of money

you mean like Ken Lay and his nice buddies did?

destroying jobs

like those compassionate CEO's who dodge and avoid corporate taxes and export jobs to the Third World in order to obtain cheap, exploitable labor, right?

you have a strange affection for today's robber barons, trharlan. also, your love letter to them is very moving, but it's not that they give away all those nice things for free, I'm afraid. Todays' megacorporations don't exactly shine with a Golden Utopian glow, if you check out the news every once in a while

but of course I always forget the new equation:
trial lawyer = Democrat = terrorist
posted by matteo at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2003


When John Edwards announced, my immediate question was "So: how are the Bushies going to try to dirty him?"

I never imagined my answer would come so quickly: by manufacturing an agenda out of thin air to create a climate in which to demonize him. Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:10 PM on January 3, 2003


Thanks to y2karl and JackFlash, for pointing to bond rates (investment income) as the real determinant of medical malpractice rates...

Oh, and regarding damages... All I've got to say is that if I'm paralyzed for life due to a doctor's incompetence or a health plan representative's ignorance, I sure hope I'm awarded more than $250,000. And yes I do mean non-economic damages.

They may both be greedy, but I think it's fair to say that trial lawyers' interests coincide with regular citizens' interests more often than corporations'. Just look at the motives of all three.
posted by micropublishery at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2003


Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.

OK, you're wrong. Bush announced his inention to pursue this legislation over six months ago.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2003


Just look at the motives of all three.

The trial lawyer's motive is to maximize the payment to his client, whether through settlement or a verdict, since he gets a percentage of that recovery. So the trial lawyer is looking out for #1 (himself), and #2 (his client). For the most part trial lawyers don't care whether or how their lawsuit affects society as a whole -- they care about their case (see for example the priest scandal, which was kept quiet in part because plaintiffs and plaintiffs' lawyers were willing to enter into confidential settlements).

On the other hand you have corporations. They have the incentive of developing and making products that are safe and desireable. They get nowhere by alienating society at large. And don't forget that corporations are also known as "job producers."

So whose interests coincide more with the "regular" citizen? Corporations.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:39 PM on January 3, 2003


Damn those facts for not fitting my theories! Damn them to hell!

Maybe I can get a job writing for Time magazine.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2003


They have the incentive of developing and making products that are safe and desireable. They get nowhere by alienating society at large.

A very rosy, idealized free-market view, and there are plenty of contrary anecdotes. Many is the time that a corporation has decided in advance that it's less expensive to manufacture an unsafe product and pay the claims than to produce a safe product in the first place. Ford, if I've got my facts right this time, has had a few smoking guns of this kind found in its files.

And don't forget that corporations are also known as "job producers."

You're living in the 20th century. Now they're called "job exporters".
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2003


Ford, if I've got my facts right this time, has had a few smoking guns of this kind found in its files.

You do, particularly the Pinto.

My point wasn't that it never happens that a corporation chooses to make an unsafe product to save costs -- it certainly does. It was that generally speaking, a corporation has to have its interests align with its customers (and, in the case of retail corporations -- which are the ones we're discussing --the customers are the "regular citizens" to which micropublishery referred). Said another way, the interests of the customers must drive the corporation's interests, or the corporation won't survive.

And while there certainly has been some exporting of jobs, total employment continues to rise in the U.S., and almost everyone in this country receives a paycheck from a (evil) corporation.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2003


The report's authors concluded that 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year as a result of errors during hospitalization.

Well, yeah, okay. But how many of those deaths were going to happen inside the next week anyway?

From the figures cited, 846 to 1884, according to my little calculator.

Traffic fatalities per week are around 770, by the way.
posted by y2karl at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2003


It was that generally speaking, a corporation has to have its interests align with its customers (and, in the case of retail corporations -- which are the ones we're discussing --the customers are the "regular citizens" to which micropublishery referred).

Bullpucky.

A corporation's interests lie solely in producing profit and growth for itself and its shareholders. This is job numero uno for any public corporation. Part of the method of doing this is to in theory provide products and services that will compete with others for the public dollar. This means that Company A needs to provide a product or service that is relative to Company B or C (if it gets that far). Nowhere in this equation does the health and well being of either companies employees or its customers need to be a factor of the equation.

Yes you can make the argument that a company cannot come out with a product that will seriously hurt or kill all of its customers and thus lose all its customers in the process. This does not stop companies from making or marketing products that will hurt or kill only a portion of its customers or products that don't do immediate harm and allow for new customers to be made available before the full damage of the product is done.

Corporations can and will do plenty of damage if left to their own free will. (see the late 19th century for evidence).
posted by aaronscool at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2003


The legal system in the U.S. is broken, quite possibly beyond repair. Bush's efforts here will simply redistribute the shards.

Interesting thread, all.
posted by rushmc at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2003


A corporation's interests lie solely in producing profit and growth for itself and its shareholders. This is job numero uno for any public corporation.

If that were all there was to the story it wouldn't be so bad, but in the present climate it's much worse than that: the trend in the last decade or so has been towards executives who maximize extremely short-term returns, or even just the temporary appearence of value, with skimming of that value, real or fabricated, taking place at every possible turn.

I think the free market system works only as long as management and shareholders work to their own advantage by working to the company's advantage. But nowadays, they work to their own advantage to the company's cost. Companies are no longer things to be grown, cultivated and nurtured for the enrichment of all; they're assets to exploited, manipulated and squeezed for every dime, and the wreckage left for somebody else to deal with. Success in business today consists largely of not being the one left holding the bag.

Sometime during the last couple of boom cycles, corporations ceased to be living, growing and valued members of the American polity, and became assets to be manipulated for short-term gain. Customer relations is considered purely a matter of marketing and spin, not a matter of earning trust over decades of sound and honest business.

"Investment" is a fading memory. When was the last time you even heard the word "dividend" used in the present tense? There's only speculation now, and it it's going to ruin us. Speculation is the death of value.

Pardon me, I do digress.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:41 PM on January 3, 2003


The legal system in the U.S. is broken, quite possibly beyond repair. Bush's efforts here will simply redistribute the shards.

A little perspective please, people. In my job as a criminal defense paralegal, I observe that the legal system in the U.S. is quite healthy, actually. There are certainly abuses that go on and mistakes that are made, courts are overworked and understaffed. I think we have a ways to go before all citizens are truly equal before the law regardless of economic status, but on balance and compared to any other society in the world (or in the history of the world) the U.S. system is pretty damn impressive.
posted by Ty Webb at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2003


And don't forget that corporations are also known as "job producers."

You're living in the 20th century. Now they're called "job exporters".


They won't be called that in the future. Not anymore. Cause it'll be harder to figure that out:

The Bush administration, under fire for its handling of the economy, has quietly killed off a Labor Department program that tracked mass layoffs by U.S. companies.
posted by matteo at 4:53 PM on January 3, 2003


Pardonyou?, I will concede that there are some businesses (almost always privately-held, small companies) that exist because the owners enjoy the work, want to make a modest living, want to keep their family and friends employed, etc. Cheers to them.

But publicly-held corporations exist only to make profits. That much is obvious. Sometimes they're with us (and we even identify with their brand so much that we pay to advertise for them! Remember Coke apparel?). But exchanging money usually revolves around an adversarial relationship. Thankfully ours are mostly peaceful in the US. They want my money, not my esteem. I want my money and their stuff. The free market is a pricing system that works very well. It has nothing to do with establishing a just, sustainable, or desirable society.

Happy New Year, everybody.
posted by micropublishery at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2003


Corporate whores have given me a job. They have manufactured the car I drive, and the computer I am using. They pay for my health insurance, and invent and bring to market medicines that heal me when I am ill. They bring to market the food I eat, and the clothes I wear. And these corporate whores, through their invention, determination, and perseverance, have enabled millions of Americans to have a life, just like mine

corporate whores have stuffed me in a cube. they have engineered obsolescence into the car i drive. (i recently broke a lens on the taillight and water entered. there are 3 bulbs contained in a specially designed one-time-fused one piece socket which costs over $200), soon they will control the computers they sell me. they fork over ridiculous amounts for healthcare insurance to further enrich thier brethren, and require me to match a little more every contract, and invent medicines to cure non-existant ills and claim ludicrous benefits and charge rapacious prices for them while they give it away elsewhere. they bring to market the poisoned, chemical ridden excuse for food i eat, and exploit children to make the clothes i wear after marking them up 4000% over cost. and these corporate whores, through thier greed and unstoppable desire to control have enslaved millions of americans in a state of ignorant mesmerization, etc etc etc. what a roped dope you are.
posted by quonsar at 5:10 PM on January 3, 2003


Corporate whores have given me a job.

"Given" you a job? Didn't you earn it through your education, experience and application? Don't you earn it every day through the good work you do? Why are you so convinced that the flow of goodness is from them to you? Aren't they at just as fortunate to have you for an employee as you are to be employed by them?

They have manufactured the car I drive, and the computer I am using.

For which you gave them money: the fruit of your labor and some irreplaceable hours of your life. Hardly an unmixed blessing, a mere transaction.

They pay for my health insurance,

No, you pay for your health insurance -- every penny they put into it is a penny they can't give out in payroll. It is compensation, not a gift.

and invent and bring to market medicines that heal me when I am ill.

They're pretty good at making people ill as well -- sometimes whole communities at a stroke. And they don't make these medicines out of charity. They also do things like dump contaminated or banned medicines on third world companies -- often bribing their governments to look the other way while they do it.

They bring to market the food I eat, and the clothes I wear.

Food produced by agribusiness which wields the government like club to pound family farms into oblivion. Clothes increasingly made by children earning 1/4th of a subsistence wage under conditions indistinguishable from slavery, very far from America.

And these corporate whores, through their invention, determination, and perseverance, have enabled millions of Americans to have a life, just like mine

Those Americans created their lives through individual and collective brilliance and initiative. Corporations merely harness them, either as talent or as markets.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2003


In my job as a criminal defense paralegal, I observe that the legal system in the U.S. is quite healthy, actually.

YMMV, but I don't know a single person myself who agrees with your assessment. Nothing happens in anything remotely like a timely fashion (what should take days takes weeks, what should take weeks takes months, etc.--and more often than not, justice delayed is justice denied), the system operates almost entirely on money now (if you have it, the system will work for you; if you don't, you lose, probably 9 times out of 10), and the dispensation of "justice" is increasingly close to random.

What is your definition of "healthy?" The fact that criminal defense attorneys can make an excellent living off of the system? I have higher expectations of it than that. It's literally gotten so bad that I would prefer a coin toss or a duel to settle a dispute. At least it wouldn't take years to resolve, and it would be a lot cheaper.
posted by rushmc at 6:39 PM on January 3, 2003


Nice rebuttal, George.
posted by rushmc at 6:40 PM on January 3, 2003


Rush - Ty works in criminal court, where a speedy trial is a liability and the right to one is almost always waived, whether the defendant is free on bail or not. Time helps produce better defenses, gives juries a chance to develop reasonable doubt, or just delays the inevitable. I agree with you that delays harm the system but not that delays harm impoverished criminal defendants.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2003


and invent and bring to market medicines that heal me when I am ill.

On the taxpayer's dime more often than not:

April 5, 1998, Alice Dembner and the Boston Globe Spotlight Team, Public handouts enrich drug makers, scientists, First of three parts. From this link you can find the other stories in this series. Unfortunately, the Boston Globe did not publish the entire series on the web. A print only section from April 5, 1998, titled "Private Profits from Public Funds," has this quote:
"The Globe looked at 50 top-selling drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the past five years: 35 new drugs, which are bestsellers among those the FDA deemed most important or most unique, and 15 "orphan" drugs targeting rare diseases. Thirty-three of the 35 new drugs and 12 of the 15 orphans received money from the National Institutes of Health or the FDA to help in discovery, development, or testing."

posted by y2karl at 7:16 PM on January 3, 2003


and more often than not, justice delayed is justice denied

You mean like the seventeen not guilty men freed from Illinois's death row?

And where do you get this criminal defense lawyers make an excellent living--you mean, the Public Defenders who represent most poor defendants?

boy, talk about kneejerk opinions...
posted by y2karl at 7:32 PM on January 3, 2003


Any ideas as to what the proportion between NIH money and drug company money spent on R&D for those drugs was?

For all of the bitching about the US drug development system, not only has no one come up with anything better, but no one has come up with anything that really comes close.
posted by jaek at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2003


The upshot of it is this: of course corporations are not uniformly evil. Nor are they uniformly good. They need to follow rules, like all of civil society: like the rest of us. When they don't, immense harm is done; and without regulation, many of them quite manifestly won't.

But the Bush government declines to regulate them, as did his father.

So we as citizens, in our own defense, have to police them ourselves. And the only tool we have to do that is the courts, and the lawyers. As the limits, and the enforcement of limits, on corporate activities evaporate, the only thing left is the threat and the reality of lawsuits.

Now Bush wants to remove that last protection as well.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:39 PM on January 3, 2003


Yes, there are whores on both sides; definitely. Personally, I've come to HATE being an attorney and the insincerity, the whoredom of other attorneys is demoralizing and depressing.

So, show me specific tort reforms, and I'll consider them. I'm also going to stop practicing law, asap.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:46 PM on January 3, 2003


Any ideas as to what the proportion between NIH money and drug company money spent on R&D for those drugs was?

From the Boston Globe story linked:

45 of 50 top-selling drugs got government subsidies totaling nearly $175 million. The single largest public investment was $45.9 million for the cancer drug Proleukin. The drugs selected for study were the bestsellers among those the Food and Drug Administration deemed most important or unique. The Globe studied 35 new drugs and 15 ''orphan'' drugs, for rare diseases, approved by the FDA since 1992.

The average net profit margin of the companies making those drugs was 14 percent in 1997, more than double the 6 percent average for industrial companies in the Standard & Poor's 500.

NIH spent at least $1 billion on drug and vaccine development in fiscal 1996, but took in only $27 million in royalties from all products. By funding the early stages of research and testing, NIH assumes great risk while reaping few financial rewards.

posted by y2karl at 8:42 PM on January 3, 2003


I agree with you that delays harm the system but not that delays harm impoverished criminal defendants.

What about cases in which these defendants are too impoverished to post bail and must remain imprisoned, their lives on hold and in tatters, until their case eventually goes to trial?
posted by rushmc at 10:54 PM on January 3, 2003


You mean like the seventeen not guilty men freed from Illinois's death row?

You cite that as an example of justice? Funny, I would point to it as an example of the failure of the system, not one of its successes. Those lives are, for all intents and purposes, ruined.

And where do you get this criminal defense lawyers make an excellent living--you mean, the Public Defenders who represent most poor defendants?

Yes, we all know that public defenders represent the majority of the population of defense attorneys.
posted by rushmc at 10:57 PM on January 3, 2003


I'm also going to stop practicing law, asap.

Is that sarcasm?
posted by rushmc at 10:59 PM on January 3, 2003


OK, my final offer: a $500,000 cap on "Pain and suffering" (with a higher limit for certain exceptional cases) - in exchange for the "Corporate Death Penalty".
posted by troutfishing at 11:01 PM on January 3, 2003


I read your comment too hastily and misunderstood your point, rushmc--not that I know if I agree with you. I'm not happy with my current poundage and hence eating less--which makes me cranky if I haven't eaten recently, which was the case when I wrote the last.
posted by y2karl at 11:30 PM on January 3, 2003


On a side note--if any of you attorneys knows anything about the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, I have some questions and am willing to barter or maybe even pay in extremis--so let's talk turkey. Email's on my page.
posted by y2karl at 11:38 PM on January 3, 2003


OK, my final offer: a $500,000 cap on "Pain and suffering" (with a higher limit for certain exceptional cases) - in exchange for the "Corporate Death Penalty".

Personally I'd want a little be more and a little bit less than both.

For pain and suffering one has to ask how much money would you need to see you through the rest of your life if you were no longer able to work. Is this $250,000? $500,000? $1 million? I don't think anyone can adequately guess what you might earn in a lifetime if you remained healthy and able.

Second what purpose does a corporate death penalty server the greater community? Corporations are not good nor evil inherently they play by the rules that are setup for them. People on the other hand should not be shielded by corporations for decisions they consciously make that are illegal or immoral. This is where corporate law gets touchy...

Don't hate the player, hate the game.
posted by aaronscool at 11:55 PM on January 3, 2003


Here is an interesting take on the history of the corporation in america. One quote: Then came a legal event that would not be understood for decades (and remains baffling even today), an event that would change the course of American history. In Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, a dispute over a railbed route, the US Supreme Court deemed that a private corporation was a "natural person" under the US Constitution and therefore entitled to protection under the Bill of Rights. Suddenly, corporations enjoyed all the rights and sovereignty previously enjoyed only by the people, including the right to free speech.
posted by TedW at 5:24 AM on January 4, 2003


...Just poking my head in to thank y2karl for being so diligent about rebutting the endless crap that people sling about the McDonald's coffee case...
posted by s.e.b. at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2003


I'd also like to thank y2karl for his work today. You've put up an amazing amount of good, solid information adn you've done everybody here a service. Thanks a lot.
posted by crazy finger at 1:34 PM on January 4, 2003


yeah, I'm with crazy finger, thanks y2karl
posted by matteo at 1:50 PM on January 4, 2003


Y2Karl - thanks from me, too.

Aaronscool - who is the player? The corporation is NOT a "person". A corporation is a legal, social construct.....therefore, the player is "us" (loosely speaking). By the way, the corporate system was integral to the creation of fascism in the 20th century (hanging assertion - look it up if you are disturbed/annoyed/intrigued under "Union Banking corporation, Thyssen, Prescott Bush")

I do hate the game!

THE GAME:

I would suggest that, currently, corporations under US law enjoy rights far more extensive than those granted to actual living US citizens. For example:

I was not aware that I had the ability to split myself, like some horror film creature, into separate, distinct entities such as 1) the corporation as a legal construct and 2) it's employees, managers and agents WHO ARE GENERALLY PROTECTED FROM CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE CORPORATION. Wow. Think of it. I could spin off (from 'myself') a legal entity, "The Troutfishing Corporation", and then serve as it's CEO. Then I could commit very lucrative CRIMES on a MASSIVE SCALE! I could contract to dispose of PCB's and Dioxin, dump them in a river somewhere, and yet remain LEGALLY IMMUNE! (way cool).

And it gets better. I could hire lobbyists to patrol the hallways in Congress larding out money to politicians who support my line that "Dioxin isn't really all that toxic". AND WRITE IT OFF ON MY TAXES. Neat! And when people notice the cancer cluster around the Troutfishing Co.'s illegal dump, and start to investigate, and if Troutfishing Corporation is ever brought to court for this crime, then I can hire the best (and most expensive) lawyers in the business for it's defense. And this too Troutfishing Co. can WRITE OFF ON IT'S TAXES. So sensible!

And as the (human) CEO of the deathless Troutfishing Co., I could - with a yearly budget the size of many a developing word company (Troutfishing co., you see, has prospered greatly from it's dioxin dumping) - begin a long term covert propaganda campaign through PR firms in Alexandria, VA., to create fake citizen's groups which run constant ads on NPR arguing for the weakening of laws on toxic waste disposal (on the grounds that tough laws hurt the economy): So that my children - who have gone to the finest schools (funded by toxic waste dumping dollars) can join Troutfishing Co. (as junior CEO's) in a sunny, benevolent future world which is friendly to rational waste management.


"OOPS! Troutfishing Co. isn't doing so well...one of the 500 or so lawsuits against the corporation has come through for the plaintffs. Stocks are WAY DOWN (from 95 and 1/4 to 3 and a half). What a shame. Hmmmm....I'm going to have to talk to some people I know about doing something about these damn corporate liability laws..."

"But no matter! I cashed my stock options at 85, MONTHS before the court verdict (thanks for that heads up, Barney...), and I tucked away a hundred million in CEO bonuses. Not to mention my "golden parachute" ($500,000 a year plus benefits for life, or to acrue to my widow should I die)....what, the employee pension plans are down to 5% of their high value? Fools. Just goes to show, there's a sucker born every...."

"Hey! I've got a great new idea. I'll make BILLIONS! I'll call it "SalmonCo"! first, I'll have some people I know in government start a war...they want to anyway. Then there's this pipeline they'll need for all that oil..."

Anyway, this is a rant, but I'm sure you get the picture.
posted by troutfishing at 9:26 PM on January 4, 2003


So troutfishing...uh you sort of stated my point in a long winded sort of way. Corporations should not be used as legal shields for the PEOPLE that run them. Unfortunately this is the way the GAME is setup at the moment.

What I was saying additionally is that corporations have no morals, nor conscience. They are a legal and social construct that abides by the rules that we place on them. Having a "Corporate Death Penalty" will do little to fix the problem of corporate criminal behavior as the PEOPLE who run the companies will still be mostly immune from prosecution and liability. Also since it's the PEOPLE who run and control the corporations changing them or their behavior will change the directions and actions of the company.

The "Player" in my example were the corporations. The "Game" is the rules by which corporations are allowed to operate.
posted by aaronscool at 11:25 PM on January 4, 2003


rushmc,
as I said in my earlier post, the U.S. system isn't perfect. It's just better than any other system in the world, or in the world's history. Your statements indicate that you don't grasp this.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:37 PM on January 5, 2003


It's not even as good as it was 10 years ago.
posted by rushmc at 7:26 PM on January 5, 2003


Which is, again, beside the point. But I'd be interested to know how you came to your conclusion. If our system is indeed worse than it was 10 years ago, but still much better than it was 50 years ago (as it inarguably is), is that progress?
posted by Ty Webb at 9:07 AM on January 6, 2003


Aaronscool - I think a corporate death penalty would actually have quite an effect - though perhaps not an entirely good one (wealth destruction/damage of pension funds, for example) - but if I grant your point (and I may indeed convert to your position), how far along the corporate authority/decision making chain should liability for corporate lawbreaking extend? And should shareholders ever be held responsible in any way?
posted by troutfishing at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2003


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