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BY Slade O'Brien
by Slade O'Brien on 8/30/00.

In response to Charley Reese's column "In tort-reform fight, don't assume lawyers are always the bad guys":

Reese is right when he states, "The lone individual or family would have no chance for justice against corporate giants without the effort of the trial lawyers. In these cases lawyers are the heroes."

However, in today's legal environment, there are far too many villains parading as heroes. And, unfortunately, the real legal heroes are doing little if anything to end this charade.

Ask yourself this question: Who provides the justice when the lone individual or family is attacked by a trial-lawyer-driven, frivolous lawsuit?

No one. The unpredictability and precipitous nature of the current legal system can be just as draconian as the most invidious scheme for corporate greed.

For example, on Sept. 10, 1995, The Orlando Sentinel published a first-person article chronicling how a trial lawyer attacked and terrorized an innocent family, all for $25,000.

Steve Berry had the unfortunate luck of hitting a motorcyclist 30 seconds after a drunken driver smashed into, and apparently killed, the man. Despite the Highway Patrol charging the drunken driver with driving while under the influence and manslaughter, a lawyer for the family of the motorcyclist sued Berry.

For almost two years, lawyers subpoenaed and questioned Berry, his wife and their 14-year-old son. In the end, according to Berry, only three things
mattered: "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We had assets, and the guilty person had almost nothing. We -- not our insurance company -- stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages. The family [suing] had almost nothing to lose."

These factors, coupled with the emotional distress that plagued their family, forced the Berrys to settle the suit. According to Berry, "The family who sued us did not get much money out of the suit, but we did not win either. We are glad it is over. But despair and anger that sometimes turned to bitterness marred nearly three years of our lives. And nothing was resolved."

We at the Citizens for a Sound Economy believe that guilty parties should be made to pay accordingly, and that injured parties should have access to the courts. However, we also believe that no one should be made to pay for damages that the individual didn't cause.

Fortunately many candidates for the Florida Legislature, both Republican and Democrat, agree. That's why more than 155 of them have signed the Citizens for a Sound Economy tort-reform pledge, which states that they will take no action to dismantle, weaken or change in any negative way the civil-justice reform bill
(HB-775) passed in 1999 and that they will work to abolish the doctrine of joint and several liability.

Tort reform is about protecting everyday citizens from frivolous lawsuits and predatory trial lawyers. Its necessity has been caused because the legal profession has failed to take the responsibility to police or regulate its members. Any argument to the contrary is one not grounded in fact.