Dems avoid tort reform as campaign cash piles up 

Depict a substance-abusing floozy on television and some people take it very personally.

This week, Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against E-Trade for $100 million because the company’s “talking baby” Super Bowl ad included an infant character named “Lindsay” (or Lindsey) who is described as a “milkaholic.”

This is not just a desperate attempt by a washed-out actress to obtain a free, never-ending supply of cocaine. Rather, it’s part of a widespread American problem: litigiousness and lawsuit abuse.

This winter’s edition of Judicial Hellholes, a newsletter of the American Tort Reform Association, identifies states and jurisdictions where opportunistic trial lawyers can most easily bring “deep pockets” into court on an uneven playing field and put their snouts into the bloodstream of the local and national economies. If you cannot look like Lohan, at least you can sue like her.

In Florida, for example, you can drive drunk, crash your car and then sue the automaker for its insufficiently crash-worthy design. The jury cannot even be told that you were responsible for the crash.

In New Jersey, Denny’s has been taken to court in a fraud class action suit on behalf of anyone who has ever consumed one of their high-sodium meals.

In New Mexico, an appellate court last year abandoned a long-respected tort axiom — the “baseball rule” — by allowing lawsuits from spectators hit by foul balls and home runs.

New York City taxpayers shell out a half-billion dollars each year in personal-injury lawsuits — 20 times what they paid out just 30 years ago. Among the cases last year: a girl who fell into an open manhole because she was texting while walking and a drunk subway rider who stumbled onto the tracks.

There’s no reason why this situation should persist, except that the nation’s top trial lawyers continue to grease the skids in Washington, D.C., and state capitals, piling up money for Democratic politicians who in turn hinder the cause of lawsuit reform. A recent Examiner analysis of contributions from employees of the top 15 plaintiffs’ firms found that less than 2 percent of nearly $1.3 million they donated went to Republicans.

That’s why President Barack Obama and Democrats seek to prevent state-level legal reforms in their health care bill. It’s not just that the bill lacks tort reform provisions, it punishes states that adopt them by withholding federal money.

But those legal reforms are necessary. Otherwise, the natural conclusion is the world portrayed in “Kings of Tort,” the recent book by Alan Lange and former federal prosecutor Tom Dawson. The book describes how former tort baron and current federal prisoner Dickie Scruggs sued his way into a fortune and then began purchasing an entire state’s judiciary. Years before he was caught bribing two Mississippi judges, Scruggs had described as “magic jurisdictions” those places where verdict money was used to stack benches and juries.

“[M]agic jurisdiction,” Scruggs said in a brazen public speech, “[is] where the judiciary is elected with verdict money. It’s almost impossible to get a fair trial if you’re a defendant in some of these places. The plaintiff lawyer walks in there and writes the number on the blackboard, and the first juror meets the last one coming out the door with that amount of money.”

With the billions he won in various courts and settlements, Scruggs gained such influence in the judiciary that he proved popular self-governance cannot survive more people like him.

As Obama seeks out the last few votes he needs for the current health care bill, bear in mind that it will prevent a solution to this problem.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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