Friday, January 19, 2007

Business v. Lawyers

A number of my lawyer acquaintances have been in transition this year, finding new jobs or getting into new areas of practice. This article in BusinessWeek -How Business Trounced the Trial Lawyers - spells out why. In 2003 Texas legislators passed a sweeping tort reform law, a culmination of years of intense lobbying by business groups. Among other things, the act put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for med-mal cases, bars suits against manufacturers for defective products more than 15 years old, restricted class actions and hamstrung litigation in areas such as asbestos.

The pendulum has swung though it’s not clear what exactly the effects will be. It’s not like any of these guys have had to turn to panhandling, but there’s a definite shift. Of course it's not the lawyers who will suffer, lest my derision seem motivated purely by self-interest. I recently ran into a partner at Nix, Patterson & Roach, one of the firms mentioned in the story, who has turned his focus on patent litigation and just opened a new office in Dallas. Rather, it's the people like Jack Cline, profiled in this opinion piece in the NY Times - They Say We Have Too Many Lawsuits?

Jack Cline is in a hospital here fighting for his life, stricken by leukemia that he says he got from exposure to benzene at his factory job. In most states, he would be able to sue the companies that made the benzene. But Alabama’s all-Republican, wildly pro-business Supreme Court threw out his case.

In a ruling that would have done Kafka proud, the court held that there was never a valid time for Mr. Cline to sue. If he had sued when he was exposed to the benzene, it would have been too early. Alabama law requires people exposed to dangerous chemicals to wait until a “manifest” injury develops. But when his leukemia developed years later, it was too late. Alabama’s statute of limitations requires that suits be brought within two years of exposure.

I think we'll be hearing a more of these stories.


Blogger N.J.L.S. said...

It would seem that a politicians could achieve the desired outcome (i.e., limiting frivolous lawsuits) while continuing to extend much needed protection to individuals such as Mr. Cline through a more nuanced burden shifting (or even burden-raising) scheme.

1/20/2007 11:52 AM  
Blogger Luis Villa said...

a more nuanced burden shifting (or even burden-raising) scheme.
Or even a less nuanced one. I've never been more in favor of national health insurance than when I finished doing our medmal section in Torts...

1/20/2007 11:58 AM  

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