By Mark Cole
Executive Director, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Houston

Last summer, the makers of small, disposable respirator masks (which sell for about $1 each) startled Congress and healthcare leaders when they announced that Americans might not have access to these basic medical devices in the event of a flu pandemic.

How could this small and inexpensive device suddenly be in "ominously short supply" as reported by Business Week magazine? After all, this is America. Surely, we are prepared to protect our first responders,healthcare workers and anyone else who might be affected in such a potentially dire situation � aren't we?

The alarming answer is perhaps not. Instead,we could face a shortage of this important medical device because its manufacturers were caught in the nationwide epidemic of silicosis and asbestos litigation. In a two-year period, the industry suppliers of this medical device were hit with more than 300,000 lawsuits.

Fortunately, thousands of these cases have been dismissed, but the damage has been done. Manufacturers have spent millions of dollars defending or settling cases, according to Business Week magazine.Those are dollars that could have been spent making masks. And, at least one company shut down its production of these fluid-resistant masks entirely,rather than risk skyrocketing liability.

A handful of personal injury lawyers like to argue that they use the courts to "send a message" to large corporations. But, sending a message doesn't help consumers and patients.

Lawsuit abuse doesn't cut with a scalpel. It takes a hatchet to our entire healthcare system. It runs effective therapies off the market, increases costs for all of us, and creates a climate of fear that stifles medical innovation.

Lawsuit abuse kills the hope we have for a better,safer, healthier future.

But by working together to raise awareness of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse, by serving on juries and by encouraging those within our sphere of influence not to abuse the legal system, we can restore some balance to our courts.

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