There is a myth out there that has been perpetuated and promoted for years by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the health care industry, the Republican Party and now the tea party groups, that all that ails this country is primarily caused by the “trial lawyers.” They want to pin the tag on the “trial lawyers” as being, as George W. Bush would say, “evil doers” as if the equivalent of the “Scarlet Letter.” Well, I am one of those “trial lawyers” and I wear that label as a badge of honor.
For nearly 43 years I have represented folks who have lost arms and legs, been brain damaged, and killed by manufacturers of defective products, drunk drivers and negligent doctors and hospitals. The only way these people can be compensated in our legal system is with a cash payment, usually made by the insurance companies who provide coverage for the manufacturers, drivers and health care professionals.
For years, the “trial lawyers” have been blamed for rising costs of about every product on the market, auto insurance premiums, health care, and now it is our fault for the health care legislation recently enacted by Congress. Time and space does not permit me to refute these outlandish and unfounded claims, but if any representative of the chamber of commerce feels so compelled, I would welcome a public debate with her or him on the merits of their claims.
My profession is continuously blamed for filing frivolous lawsuits and always point to the case of the elderly lady who was severely burned by McDonald’s scorching coffee as she sat in her car, which was not moving. She took the lid off the cup and it spilled into her lap resulting in third-degree burns to her vaginal area requiring extensive surgery and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
What you don’t hear is that, before this case, McDonald’s had settled hundreds of these cases with payments in the millions of dollars. What they don’t tell you is that when an officer of McDonald’s took the witness stand he was asked if, as a result of all the people who had been injured, would McDonald’s lower the temperature of their coffee. His answer was an unequivocal, “no.” And you wonder why a jury awarded this lady several million dollars?
What the chamber and its ditto heads don’t tell you is that the “trial lawyers” spend much of their time trying to resolve cases without the necessity of filing lawsuits and having to spend thousands of dollars prosecuting their clients’ cases. We are most often forced to file lawsuits before the insurance companies will even consider talking about settlement of the cases. This means that litigation costs will be very expensive and justice will be delayed.
An example of which I speak is a case I am presently handling. A newborn baby was given an IV solution of magnesium sulphate, instead of a benign solution of dextrose and water. The baby’s life was in danger so he had to be transported to a regional hospital. The cost to the parents was enormous, and the child is still recovering. The hospital admitted it was at fault, but will not settle. They will not settle because their insurance carrier has advised me that they do not discuss settlement until after suit is filed.
This means that thousands of dollars will have to be spent because the defense will want to take depositions and perhaps force me to hire expert witnesses, all of which could be avoided by sitting down at a table and negotiating an amicable settlement for this child and his parents. Frivolous lawsuit? No, this is a frivolous defense which will be paid for by the insurance company. Now if the premium goes up, or the cost of health care goes up, just who is responsible in this instance? It seems rather obvious that it is not this trial lawyer.
My profession, like any other, has its share of bad apples, but the vast majority of us only care about our clients and doing our job to make their life better or as good as possible. We do not exactly represent evil people, but generally very good people who are victims of bad and sometimes evil acts of others. If I am to be chastised for this kind of work, then so be it, but I would hope that I and others who try to help others less fortunate, could occasionally be praised as often as we are damned.
— Jerry K. Levy, a Lawrence attorney, is a past president of the Kansas Association of Justice and the Kansas chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, as well as a founding member of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.