There's a familiar scene in old western movies. The wanted men are in their cells, awaiting trial the next morning. They're on edge, and the loud, carpentry sounds outside the jailhouse aren't making things easier.
What is that maddening racket, they ask. The sheriff says they're building the gallows – or they're making coffins – in anticipation of a hanging.
Everybody has to make a living and, generally speaking, we want everyone to prosper. But not all professions are equally appealing. It's hard to empathize when the gallows maker, the coffin maker, or the mortician has a banner year. Their success has come at a dear cost to someone else.
The trial lawyers of America had a good year last year. Keeping tort reform out of the proposals for health care legislation was a big victory for them, one that will not be celebrated by patients with medical expenses inflated by the growing number of malpractice suits.
The trial lawyers are hoping to have an even better year in 2010. Their goal is to abrogate mandatory arbitration clauses and expand civil liability – that is, to increase opportunities for filing lawsuits and securing juicy settlements, sometimes at the expense of intended victims.
The artificially renamed American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) is pushing for legislation that would allow consumers bound by arbitration clauses to forgo arbitration and sue instead. It also is lobbying for passage of the Medical Device Safety Act, which would overturn a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal law preempts lawsuits against manufacturers of FDA-approved products. If such a bill becomes law we inevitably will pay more for such products or find them removed from the market.
Do you hear that steady banging? It's the trial attorneys hammering together cases in which we could be buried.
Any last requests?