- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

It is evident the jury system is no longer appropriate when it comes to awarding damages to individuals suing corporations.

Last year, $5.7 billion was dished out to those who felt they had been wronged. In many instances, the wrong was self-inflicted, such as in the case of a former heroin user who felt cigarettes were the cause of his cancer. Though he was awarded $3 billion by the jury, the judge reduced the amount to $100 million. Philip Morris U.S.A. will be forced to pay this ridiculous claim. Maybe they could get the heroin dealers to chip in.

The people who sit on these juries have no idea how much money $1 billion represents. Most of them have never made more than $500 a week. The corporations are looked upon as giant cash cows, and the jury is finally going to get even for all the money these greedy giants have squeezed out of the American worker. Tobacco verdicts have spawned countless other lawsuits against corporations. Lawyers found out how gullible jurors could be when it comes to suing corporations, and now they are in a full-court press to exploit big business. It's reverse communism.

In Louisiana, a judge received $1.06 billion from Exxon Mobil to compensate him for radioactive contamination of his land. Granted, Louisiana is not noted for its high moral standards when it comes to law and order, but couldn't the jurors have awarded him a few thousand acres instead? Can you imagine how many environmental abuses there have been and the number of lawyers now scrambling to uncover them?

Perhaps the most outrageous awards come as the result of medical malpractice. In New York, $115 million was awarded to a plaintiff for "pain and suffering." I have long felt there is no jury in the country educated enough to understand all the nuances of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Can you expect a high-school dropout to listen to an expert microbiologist testify and make an informed decision on what he has heard? Let's be realistic; malpractice lawsuits should be decided by a jury of peers, not John Doe off the street.

Once a malpractice verdict is reached, we all know how rich doctors and hospitals are, so the award should cause an equal amount of pain and suffering for the medical personnel involved. Could there be any correlation between rising health care costs and lawyers? Judges do reduce amounts awarded, but even then, the amounts have little to do with compensating the plaintiff for actual damages.

Lawsuits are so out of control that the U.S. government is offering money to survivors of the September 11 disaster to prevent the thousands of lawsuits that would result in the city with the most lawyers in the country. There are caps on the awards a $3 million maximum. If they could, lawyers would sue the city, the state, the owners of the buildings, the companies owning the planes everyone but the terrorists. It is time some common sense returned to our legal system.

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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