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The Myth of the “Litigation Explosion”   

A lawyer wears two hats:  Advocate, and counselor.  As advocate, my duty is to fight for you hard as hell, tooth and nails; to be the knight in shining armor charging into the Valley of Death.  As counselor, I must give you the news and help you realistically evaluate your odds so that you can make well-informed decisions regarding basic questions in your case: especially, whether to accept a settlement offer.

Today I recommended — and my client accepted — a settlement agreement that will barely pay her medical bills.   Why?

The first reason is that it is hard to understand how a person can be seriously injured in a collision when there is not a lot of visible crash damage to their vehicle.  Science does not support the idea that crash damage correlates to injury.  In fact, it is established that deaths sometimes occur in cases in which there is literally NO visible crash damage.  I have seen video of a rear-end collision at 12 miles per hour.  There is no crash damage, but you should see what happens to the crash dummy.  Its head and spine whip back and forth; it hits the “A” pillar of the car (the one between windshield and front window) despite being belted in; and is just generally trashed.  But, again, you cannot see any damage to the car.  Not even a “fender bender.”

So, there is a myth that you must have big crash damage to have a bad injury.  But the second reason I recommended the settlement is that a lot of you readers out there apparently believe that there is a “litigation explosion” and therefore if you give my client a large verdict it will raise your insurance rates and damage the economy of Oklahoma, the United States, and the known universe.  Many of you think that lawyers are all rich and that “runaway juries” dole out “jackpot justice” because they are swamped with sympathy for hurt people who cry wolf.  Consequently, when you serve on juries you award medical bills or less to seriously injured people.  I see the data.  I have to take it into account.  My client today accepted a settlement that barely pays her medical bills (after I drastically reduced our fee) because she and her husband cannot afford to take the risk of still owing large medical bills after the case is over.

But why do you believe in the “litigation explosion”?  It’s a myth, deliberately created by insurance companies using the media to spread propaganda that is absolutely false.

An Albuquerque woman was severely burned by a cup of McDonalds coffee in 1992 and won a nearly $3 million verdict.

An Albuquerque woman was severely burned by a cup of McDonald’s coffee in 1992 and won a nearly $3 million verdict.

Take, for instance, the famous McDonald’s coffee case.  A lady was driving and spilled coffee on her lap and collected $3 million, right?  It was her own fault and the jury went nuts, right?

Well, no.  She was a retired schoolteacher and was stopped at the drive-through.  She tried to take the lid off and the coffee was so hot the cup got soft and deformed and the coffee then spilled into her lap.  McDonald’s coffee is so hot it gave her 3rd degree burns in her privates in less than a second.  McDonald’s had 700 prior complaints of serious burns from hot coffee.  The McDonald’s company representative testified the company was not going to change its coffee.

The jury awarded $1.4 million, which is the PROFIT McDonald’s makes on coffee sales in ONE DAY!!!.  Then the judge reduced it to $400,000.00.  (Please, don’t give me a measly 400K to have third degree burns on my privates, minus attorney fees and expenses.  No, never.)

So why do you think this was an example of a runaway jury?  Because it was seized on as an example, ridiculed, and was intentionally publicized that way.  I read recently that the insurance industry has spent $12,000,000,000.00 (TWELVE BILLION DOLLARS) in the last decade on public relations campaigns and advertising to try to influence American voters and jurors against injured people.

“Litigation explosion” should mean there are ever-increasing numbers of civil cases filed, right?  But no.  I checked a few years ago and civil case filings were down by over 20% from 1995 to 2005 in Oklahoma County.  “Jackpot Justice”?  A survey of Oklahoma trial court judges a few years ago reported that 90% of the judges thought the system worked, was fair, and did not need “tort reform”.

In Oklahoma County 67 straight juries in whiplash cases rendered verdicts of less than medical bills back in the late 1990s.  8 out of ten medical malpractice cases nationwide are won by the doctors.  Recently Tulsa County went an entire YEAR without a verdict in excess of $100,000.00.  Punitive damages are rarely awarded.  Damages awards in excess of $1,000,000.00 in Oklahoma are less than five per year.

Medical malpractice?  The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, the mouthpiece of doctors, reported a couple of years ago that over 90,000 people die every year due to medical errors.  However, other studies have shown that the entire cost of medical malpractice cases adds less than one percent to our medical charges.  You could take away medical malpractice cases altogether, and your medical bills would not go down.  In fact they did that in Texas.  Their bills have not gone down, and rural towns still cannot get doctors to come to them.

Too many facts for you?  Then let’s think about it from a different perspective.  In a poll a few years ago the Oklahoma public wildly favored limiting “non-economic damages” to $250,000.00.  In fact the Legislature has since passed a law limiting “non-economic damages” to $400,000.00.

What are non-economic damages?  the ones you cannot put a number to.  Pain, disability, disfigurement, death.

Yes, death.  In Oklahoma, at this time, the law prohibits a jury from awarding more than $400,000.00 to the family of a parent who dies due to getting run over by a train; burned to death in a car hit by a truck; or killed by a prescription error.  I know when you answered that poll you weren’t thinking about your own mother, or didn’t understand it could apply to you, but still …. If your mom got killed by a speeding truck that lost control, would you think it was fair that $400,000.00 was the absolute most you could recover?

I’m sorry, folks, I wish I could have my momma back.  I would pay way more than $400,000.00 (if I had it) just to hear her say one more time:  “Greg, don’t make a federal case out of it.”  (Hope you’re listening, Mom.  Love you.  Love you WAY more than $400,000.00.)

* If you’ve been injured, call Greg Haubrich now for an initial case evaluation at no cost to you. Call: (888) 873-9238

This billboard is propaganda paid for by corporate interests.

This billboard is propaganda paid for by corporate interests.