18 January 2007

I'll Sue!

This morning I have received two presents, the first is a light blanket of snow that has shut down the local schools (meaning I didn't have to get the kids off to school this morning) and the second was an Email of the TRUE Stella Awards.

The Stella Awards is a free subscription, and there is a sister publication called This Is True which is also free but offers a Premium subscription as well. Much to my shame I'm not a Premium subscriber, but I do have the Get Out Of Hell Free card, so that's got to be good for something.

Standard disclaimer here, I have no financial arrangement with Randy Cassingham, author of both Stella Awards and This Is True mailings. I just really like the stories.

The Stella Awards, for those of you not familiar with them, are true accounts of outrageous lawsuits filed in courts by people seeking to escape the consequences of their own actions or to get money they don't deserve. It is named for the woman that successfully sued McDonald's because the coffee cup didn't warn her that the contents were hot, so it may not be a good idea to wedge it between your thighs and pull the top off of it to put in the cream and sugar.

The reason I bring them up is because of a comment included in this issue from a man in the Netherlands who worries that this type of insanity will make it across the pond. He asks "Who wants to live in such a society?"

Good question. I know I don't. But today's society is extremely litigious, and the practice of paying off out of court to avoid the legal costs just encourages those who simply want a payday or to shake down large corporations. Lawyer turned talk radio host Neal Boortz has what I agree is the answer, loser pays. He talks about it a bit here.

Basically the way it works is that if you lose a case you pay all legal expenses, including lawyers fees, for both sides. The idea is that the cost of losing a lawsuit would curb the out of control shakedown type lawsuits. It may even get rid of the ambulance chasers that advertise on TV that they can get you money even if your injuries are your fault. That's called a windfall in my book, a real two for one deal.

Some (mostly ambulance chasing lawyers) will argue that this sort of system would prevent people from getting their day in court, that it would discourage those who would file suit for compensation from "big money" corporations. I say, exactly, that's the point. But it would not prevent you from filing any lawsuits you like, it would just penalize you severely for bringing a suit that has no merit. Attorneys would have to advise their clients against lawsuits if they had no chance of winning, most of which are currently settled out of court to prevent large legal bills.

One of the opponents brought up Kelo VS New London, pointing out that the people who brought suit would have been liable for legal fees for the whole thing. To which I say, they were losing their houses anyway, they had plenty of reason to fight it, nothing more to lose and everything to gain. My heart goes out to those people, I think that the city of New London was evil to condemn their property and that the courts decided wrongly in their case. They had every chance of winning, and in my opinion should have done so, and any lawyer would have told them the same thing. They are already stuck for legal fees, and they are still losing their houses. The only positive thing that I can see about the outcome is that many states are taking a good hard look at their own eminent domain legislation, which is all to the good.

On a related note, BB&T bank will refuse to deal with you if you plan to build anything on land seized through eminent domain. Now if only we could get them on the right side of the firearms issue. But I digress.

If the defendants were relieved of the burden of the cost of nuisance lawsuits, these lawsuits would dry up. However, if there were legitimate complaints, the award would be more because the legal fees would not come out of the settlement. Win-win, as far as I'm concerned. Except for the attorneys, of course, but they have nothing to complain about since they would get their fees. This may also bring the abuse of class action lawsuits under control as well.

By the way, if you are involved in a class action lawsuit, you are stupid. Half the money goes to the lawyers, the other half gets distributed among the plaintiffs. Most of these multi-million dollar settlements have a million or more plaintiffs, so after the attorneys get their multi-million dollar fees you might be lucky to see a couple of hundred bucks. Just saying. And I moderate my comments, so save me the trouble of deleting your hate mail, stupid.

The best thing about the loser pays system is that it would free up the courts to deal with real issues that get put on back burners due to courts being overcrowded. Just as with other issues, this solution is not perfect. I just think it's better.

There are not currently any bills to this effect in any legislature that I am aware of, either state or federal.

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