By Roger Borgelt
Tragedy can bring out the best in people who rally resources to help those in need. The outpouring of global support following the earthquake devastation in Haiti is a good example.
Unfortunately, tragedy can also elicit greed, opportunism and an ugly underbelly of our society. The speed with which some personal injury lawyers started trolling for business in the aftermath of the tragic deaths associated with the Toyota recall is a cringe-worthy example.
The usual suspects of personal injury lawyers associated with big class action lawsuits have wasted no time staging press conferences on courthouse steps, declaring that they're open for business. Others are soliciting clients with print ads that are literally covered in dollar signs. Ads seeking clients are popping up on Google and elsewhere on the Web.
As is too often the case with these kinds of class action lawsuits, some personal injury lawyers use aggressive and often misleading advertising tactics to recruit plaintiffs, many of whom may lack any real injury, in an attempt to win big money.
Not surprisingly, there's little talk of the truly injured when many of these lawyers have discussed the potential windfall from Toyota. One prominent Houston-based lawyer said blatantly, "Lawyers are jockeying for a place in this. This is a mass tort. Toyota is in for billions of dollars..."
There was scarcely a mention of victims in this news article, other than a quote from a man who lost his wife in an accident who said, "It's amazing how many friends I suddenly have in other lawyers wanting to join me in one way or another."
Our nation's class action system Ã¯Â¿Â½ originally designed to help the little guy Ã¯Â¿Â½ has run amok, most times benefiting only the personal injury lawyers. As we saw in a class action suit against Ford Motor Co., the lawyers involved were recently awarded $25 million. Their clients? They received a $500 voucher.
The general population suffers as well. Explosive litigation can drive companies out of business (putting workers out of a job) and increase the costs we pay for goods and services.
In 2003, the Texas Legislature cracked down on class action abuses. Our state leaders voted to limit legal fees in class action lawsuits and to end the practice of awarding coupons to plaintiffs, unless that's how the lawyers also are paid.
Still, federal class action lawsuits Ã¯Â¿Â½ often filled with uninjured parties - continue to clog our courts and simply enrich personal injury lawyers.
As citizens, we can do our part to foster justice by not participating in any class action lawsuit unless truly harmed. Taking part when not injured delays justice and dilutes the class such that actual victims do not receive the compensation they need.
Our courts should be used to provide timely justice for those with legitimate claims. We should be appalled by lawyers who milk tragedy for spoils.
Roger Borgelt, a partner with Potts and Reilly LLP, currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.
CALA is a nonprofit, grassroots public education movement dedicated to raising awareness about the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse. The movement is supported by more than 25,000 Texans. For more information, visit www.calactx.com
By Roger Borgelt