A bubbe maisse is a Yiddish expression for a grandmother’s tale. In the electronic era we call them urban legends. And the American Tort “Reform” Association, a business group dedicated to making sure consumers can’t seek fair damages for harm that was caused to them, has issued its annual “Judicial Hellholes” report to help create some more such legends.
The report claims to identify the “worst” jurisdictions for lawsuits, which is to say, the worst for them and not for the consumer. In actuality, it is a small catalogue of rants, quotes and stories, many of which they put out each year in order to garner attention for their cause.
But this is the important part: There is nothing in the “report” that approaches empircal evidence. They simply canvass big business for the places they would least likely to get sued, or cherry-pick some decisions that they don’t like.
There is some whining about “trial lawyer money” influencing judges, but no indication as to how much money was spent by the Fortune 500.
I briefly noted last year’s report, quoting the Center for Justice and Democracy when they called the report “dishonest.” Adam Liptak, writing about it last year in the New York Times (The Worst Courts for Businesses? It’s a Matter of Opinion), noted that:
It is, for starters, a collection of anecdotes based largely on newspaper accounts. It has no apparent methodology. There is no way to tell why South Florida is the top hellhole while West Virginia is hellhole No. 4.
So I went breezing past the anecdotes in this year’s report to see if they responded to the criticism that it was completely subjective. Try as I might, I could not find any discussion of methodology. I know, you’re not surprised.
Also missing from the reports, since they like anecdotes so much, are the stories of tort “reformers” who found found themselves screwed or humiliated by their own prior advocacy, when they were injured.
And so, without further ado, since ATRA loves anecdotes so much, I’ll share a few of my own:
Dr. Dave Stewart is a California anesthesiologist. He supported tort “reform.” Then his 72 year old mother died after knee surgery from an undiagnosed bowel obstruction. When the family tried to hire a lawyer, they were turned down by two dozen different medical malpractice attorneys.
Tort “Reform”, Trent Lott, and Changing Fortunes: Aside from Trent Lott, it deals with Frank Cornelius —
In 1975, I helped persuade the Indiana Legislature to pass what was acclaimed as a pioneering reform of the medical malpractice laws: a $500,000 cap on damage awards, and elimination of all damages for pain and suffering. I argued successfully that such limits would reduce health care costs and encourage physicians to stay in Indiana — the same sort of arguments that now underpin the medical industry’s call for national malpractice reform.
Today, from my wheelchair, I rue that that accomplishment. Here is my story.
It appeared that the case would be resolved quickly, considering that the defendant freely admitted his error. However, this turned out to be far from true.
As I’d expected, the jury found the original pathologist negligent. But, to my surprise, Mary wasn’t awarded any damages… The jurors reasoned that the pathologist had not acted maliciously, and that if he were found liable for a monetary award, he might leave the state. They were likely influenced by political ads that ran during the state’s tort reform ballot campaign, describing physicians who were leaving Nevada because of its malpractice crisis.
Right wing radio talk-show host and tort “reformer” Michael Savage has brought a lawsuit. The infraction? He was quoted by an Islamic group on its website in which he called the Quran a “book of hate” and said Muslims “need deportation.”
Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork has sued the Yale Club for an amount “in excess of $1,000,000,” plus punitive damages, as a result of a trip and fall accident on June 6, 2006. The Complaint is here via the WSJ. The accident happened while he was climbing to the dais for a speech, and there were no steps or handrail for the 79-year old Bork to hold on to.
Aren’t anecdotes fun? You can use them to “prove” anything. And with these anecdotes, I “prove” that a tort “reformer” is just someone that was never injured by the negligence of another.
- Hellholes Update: AAJ Responds (Ambrogi @ Legal Blog Watch)
- ATRA’s Judicial Hellholes 2008 (Olson @ Overlawyered, with links to others)
- Drug Lawsuits Keep Atlantic City A Judicial Hellhole (Silverman @ Pharmalot)