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• Aug. 9, 2006 – Our Tort System is Broken and Needs Fixed.
Posted in Commentary
August 09, 2006
Lawsuits Make Us Less Safe
The laws that govern how and when a civil suit can be brought for payment of money for “Damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving strict liability, but not involving breach of contract,” is the most abused of any of our laws. Personal injury awards have become so outrageous that companies have been bankrupted by them. And, contrary to common belief these law suits are not making the products we buy safer or better. What the lawsuits are doing is keeping new products off the market and even dampening research into new products and drugs.
One example is the flu vaccine; when millions of people are vaccinated there is just bound to be a few who for some unknown reason die. Nothing is full proof and everyone has a unique body chemistry based on life style and genetic inheritances. There is simply no way to guard against all the millions of things that can go wrong when millions of people are treated. But due to lawsuits companies are reluctant to produce the vaccine. Now only a handful of companies make it and we are even forced to get our needed supply every year from overseas companies.
If the Bird Flu pandemic does happen millions of American will die because they could not get the needed vaccination. Our government is not announcing this of course but common sense and a bit of reading between the lines tells the story. A vaccine can not be produced until and unless the virus mutates and is passed from human to human. Scientist tell us this is such a virulent virus that the spread of the flu will be very fast. The vaccine that is available from the few companies ready to produce it simply will not be able to meet the demand. And beside that what is available will be prohibitively expensive. This shortage would not have happen if drug companies hadn’t been scared back into only producing tried and true drugs because of abusive lawsuits.
Our government has been getting annual flu vaccines mainly from European countries. Tort laws are much more stringent in Europe. People have to pay ALL court cost for both parties if they loose the suit. This has a considerable dampening effect on false claims. Whereas in the United States there is no penalty at all for a false or frivolous suit. Usually there aren’t even any lawyers fees because the lawyers take the cases on a percentage basis. That is, if you win the suit the lawyer will get his lion’s share of the award off the top, then court costs are paid and what is left is given the “victim”. Our former Senator Edwards made his millions as a tort lawyer. I just try not to hiss when he stands up and tells us how very much he is concerned for people’s health and welfare.
This is not to say there are not many legitimate suits that should most certainly be filed against negligent companies who knew their product was harmful. The tobacco suits come to mind. At first I was very skeptical of these suits because I felt smoking was an individuals choice and the tobacco company didn’t after all twist any ones arm. Then with investigation it was found that they knew tobacco was highly addictive. And knowing this they actually targeted certain groups to promote smoking knowing they would then have a steady supply of customers into the future. Furthermore, the CEO’s of all the major tobacco companies perjured themselves before Congress when asked if they had done studies and knew that their product was addictive. The fact is there are still tens of millions of people still smoking and millions more start smoking every day.
However the loses to the public far out number the good done. Consider just a few of the products companies have developed then decided not to market for fear of lawsuits.
* Monsanto once developed a substitute for asbestos — a new fire-resistant form of insulation that might save thousands of lives
* Fear of being sued reduced the number of American companies researching contraceptives from 13 to two
* .After scientifically groundless lawsuits against breast-implant makers bankrupted Dow Corning, Japanese silicone makers stopped producing a pain-reducing silicone coating for hypodermic needles.
* Union Carbide has invented a small portable kidney dialysis machine. It would make life much easier for people with kidney disease, but Union Carbide won’t sell it. With legal sharks circling, the risk of expensive lawsuits outweighs the possible profit.
* Bendectin would probably cure your morning sickness. For 27 years doctors prescribed the drug to 33 million women because it was so good at stopping nausea and vomiting. But you can’t buy Bendectin today because lawyers kept suing the manufacturer, Merrell Dow, claiming the drug caused birth defects.
Studies did not show that Bendectin caused birth defects, and Merrell Dow won most of the lawsuits. But after spending $100 million in legal fees and awards, the company gave up selling the drug. Bendectin has never been effectively replaced, and morning sickness is now a major contributor to dehydration during pregnancy.
* Eli Lilly developed a mercury-based preservative called Thimerosal that was used in many children’s vaccines. Plaintiffs’ lawyers jumped on scaremongers’ claims that mercury causes autism in children.
* Even when new vaccines are discovered, drug companies are sometimes afraid to sell them. The FDA has approved a vaccine against Lyme disease. Want some? Forget about it. No company wants to take the risk. There is no cure for Lyme Disease.
What can be done to curb the incidence of lawsuits? Well we have a very workable model right in front of us with the tot system used in the European Countries. Fewer lawsuits and more useful and even life saving products are the benefits of these sensible laws. Yes, there is a chance that a product or drug will actually cause and injury or death and the company will not be held responsible. But, would you rather have your child get the Bird Flu vaccine if there is a pandemic or would you rather hold out for the possibility that a drug company will go free with a faulty product? All of life is a chance and we simply can not guard everyone and everything from harm all the time.
After writing this article I was doing my daily surfing of the news and found another article on the misused toot system. In today WSJ.
How Earthjustice and other green groups abuse the legal system.
BY BRUCE L. BENSON
Wednesday, August 9, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
The following quotes from the article tells the story of how these environmental groups work :
“environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council …….They use “citizen suits” to reap rich rewards for themselves with little positive impact on the environment” but “ most of these suits are brought by environmental organizations, not individuals, and most of the filings don’t end in a court decision; they end in settlements.” because companies do better to pay than to waste millions fighting the suit and in the mean time bring on bad publicity. Also the Environmental groups know well in what to sue “most citizen suits appear to be filed under the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). These laws make prosecutions easy because they require companies to keep detailed records of their activities; in other words, evidence of technical violations is provided by the companies themselves!”
Damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving strict liability, but not involving breach of contract, for which a civil suit can be brought.