U.S lawyers' lucrative litigation binge


Originally published in The Indianapolis Star - Other Views section

Bill and Hillary Clinton feel we have too many medical specialists and in their health care plan have mandated that we reduce their number by forcing 55 percent of all medical students to enter a primary care specialty.

The Clintons appear to have adopted the currently fashionable but questionable wisdom that suggests overspecialization in medicine is one of the great "problems" in health care requiring "reform." If, however, one is stricken with a brain tumor, one could hardly expect the family doctor to remove it: and isn't it nice to know there is no shortage of neurosurgeons around to take care of this rather sticky problem, or the long waiting lists that exists in countries utilizing a socialized approach to medicine.

One cannot also help but recoil At the draconian approach of mandating that 55 percent of all medical students enter primary :are whether they want to or not. It hardly reconciles with the American tradition of freedom and choice.

Clintons never mention

On the other hand, oddly enough the Clintons never mention anything about reducing the number of lawyers in this country. There are, after all, 800.000 licensed lawyers in America, one for every 300 Americans, and 200,000 more than there are doctors.

Eighty percent of all the lawyers in the world live In the United States. The lawyer-engineer ratio in America is 20-1, while in Japan it is 1-20. The direct costs of our court system represent 2.5 percent if the U.S. gross national product, five times higher than Great Brittan and seven times higher than Japan.

There are roughly 18 million lawsuits filed every year in this country, and countless more that, through lawyer involvement are settled out of court. The average annual salary for law partners cross the country is $168,000, more than the roughly $150,000 earned on average by doctors who must undergo a far more lengthy and rigorous period of training.

Lawyers are involved in every aspect of your life: when you buy a house, get divorced, and most importantly when you die. You never escape the long arm of the lawyer. Nonetheless, the Clintons never mention anything about reducing their number, and in this heady era of reform, one wonders why.-Could it be the president perceives the smooth running of American society as being more dependent on lawyers than physicians'? It would seem so.

No one would deny the important contributions to society made by many lawyers. Still, one cannot also deny that one highly questionable activity has come to occupy the considerable talents and energies of so many of our best legal minds " litigation. The tendency on the part of some trial lawyers to actively seek out law-suits, often frivolous and against defendants with deep pockets. When considering the size of settlements sought. honest questions cannot help but be raised.

To put it bluntly, it appears that some of our nation's trial lawyers have become consumed not with compensating individuals justly for their injuries, but rather with making them rich. To be certain that no needy American is left out of this bonanza, personal injury lawyers have saturated us with advertisements: our government has heaped upon us every increasing regulation, creating more and more litigatable situations.

All the while. the mass media have supplied us with an endless stream of news stories about settlements lawyers have obtained that any sensible person could only regard as obscene.

Here is a sampling of recent lawsuits and settlements announced in the news over the past few months.

  • A 878.000 settlement for a woman involved in an accident with a Domino's Pizza delivery car who was able to leave the emergency room the same day.

  • A $1.5 million lawsuit for a 350-pound woman who suffered emotional pain because a movie theater did not have a scat large enough for her to sit.

  • A lawsuit for $1.875 million for a man who suffered a superficial bite to his arm by a dolphin at Ocean World.

  • A $650 million lawsuit filed against 18 tobacco companies by the family of a non-smoking barber who recently died of lung cancer allegedly caused by second-hand smoke from his customers.

Place on sabbatical

Viewing this small list of astounding sums ambitiously sought by lawyers on behalf of their clients, it is hard not to believe that propriety, civility and even morality have been placed on sabbatical by our legal system.

Litigation, which had in days gone by been used Judiciously to address honest grievances, has mushroomed into a highly lucrative and corrupted Industry unique to the United States and relegated to serving two principal goals: first, to make people who have been injured or have had their feelings hurt become Instant millionaires: second, to make millionaires out of their lawyers as well.

Amidst the riot of outrageous claims and settlements meted out like free tickets to the circus, It is hard to fathom any other legitimate purpose.

All of this raises one question for the Clintons: Which is more in need of reform, our health care system or our legal system?

Moss is a Jasper Physician


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