by Albert Paschall
What's the distinction between trial lawyers? Mine's a shark and yours is a blowfish waiting to get eaten.
Any discussion of the civil justice system automatically turns to the practices of trial lawyers, their tactics, motives and earnings.
Reviled by consumers, author John Grisham and of course, chambers of commerce, trial lawyers are painted as a bunch of bottom fishers out to gouge Americans down to their last dollars.
Until they want to sue somebody.
What is the value of the father of two young children who lost the use of his legs because some teenage moron was texting at 70 MPH when he hit him? How much compensation do you get when you are unconscious, electrocuted while picking out some green beans in a supermarket? If you are taken to the emergency room with a reaction to a medication that urges in its TV commercials to get there quick if it works for more than 4 hours and you undergo a painful operation, what is it worth?
In Pennsylvania it is whatever a jury gives you. Chances are your trial lawyer is going to get a big chunk of that settlement and if you choose the right one you might not have to put any front money.
But the bad rap goes to the 800-number attorneys. The ones on TV who exploit generational suffering trying to rack up the multi-million dollar settlements. The legends about their limos and Gulf Stream travels don't help. The pennies on the dollar settlements that their victims often get after fees, ancillary charges and travel expenses are sometimes disgraceful. While the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly known as the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association) boasts about the size of its political action committee and that between 2000-2003 only 25 cases in this state resulted in awards of over a million dollars, it does not talk about the insurance companies that simply swam away from the sharks and settled out of court.
Nowhere is this truer in Pennsylvania than in the medical professions. Physicians have been tortured for years by the triple debacles of frivolous suits, potentially damaging publicity and outrageous costs for medical malpractice insurance. It's reached a point where physicians are moving practices out of the state and trying to recruit young ones is like trying to offer them a diving trip into a tank full of hungry sharks.
The cycle of confusion that is liability law in this state is not going away. There might be solutions out there but before we can get them someday we're all going to have to take a hard look: in the mirror.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Dianne Ryan Paschall is former publisher of The Main Line Times. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania.
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