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Law is an honorable profession, and the majority of lawyers have high ethical standards and practice with integrity. Unfortunately, the legal profession is too often defined by its least ethical members who abuse the system. Our justice system is designed to mediate our differences, punish those who break the law, and to compensate for damages caused by others. What it is not deigned for is jackpot justice, where plaintiffs and lawyers frivolously file wildcat suits hoping to be paid to just go away. Lawsuit abuse not only damages the legal system that underpins our nation, it also imposes costs on every American.
Last year Raelyn Campbell of Washington, D.C. sued Best Buy for $54 million in damages after the electronics store lost her computer while it was being repaired. Where did she get the idea for that staggering sum? From an earlier Washington, DC law suit where a dry clear that was sued $54 million for losing a pair of pants.
In the Tampa area, the Green Iguana Bar & Grill, is being sued after a woman injured herself taking an alcohol shot. She was underage and had knowingly slipped into the bar. “I'm suing because I should not have been let in," she told reporters in Tampa because "If I weren't let in, none of the events would have happened."
While the lawsuits may sound absurd, the effect on consumers and business in Florida is anything but funny. Frivolous lawsuits drive up the costs of doing business. Any lawsuit requires expensive layers to defend the business, and often it is cheaper to pay someone to go away rather than drag the business name thought a lengthy court process and be exonerated.
This cost is included in the price of doing business and passed on to the consumer. The consulting firm Towers Perrin found that the tort cost per person in the United States is $825, or $3,300 per family of four in Florida.
And the costs are particularly hard on Florida’s economy. The Institute for Legal Reform recently naming Florida the 9th-worst state for the fairness (or in this case, the “unfairness”) of its litigation environment.
The most egregious example of lawsuit abuse in Florida this year is almost sure to help our state move the wrong direction when the rankings are next compiled: a trial lawyer and a Maryland-based class action lawsuit consultant have teamed up to file at least nine bogus lawsuits against Sarasota Ford and Venice Dodge Nissan, two highly-respected local businesses with a spotless reputation for integrity, with the threat of filing more and more if they aren’t paid $43 million.
Yes, that’s right - $43 million.
But let’s be perfectly clear about why the cases involving Sarasota Ford and Venice Dodge Nissan have garnered so much attention. First, the man who used to be in charge of the businesses happens to be a Congressman with a history of supporting federal tort and lawsuit abuse reform running for reelection. Second, Sarasota Ford and Venice Dodge Nissan have become the target of a “shakedown syndicate” that’s abusing the legal and political systems here in West Florida in an attempt to force a settlement.
These lawsuits wouldn’t be in the news unless this “shakedown syndicate” was abusing both the legal and political systems. How interesting is it that the same plaintiff’s lawyer threatened the co-owner and local elected official with “death by 1,000 cuts” by filing one lawsuit every ten days to inflict the highest amount of reputation harm, knowing that the media would treat each of the suits with their own front-page coverage?
In reality, had these suits been legitimate, they would have been filed all at once instead of stringing the process along, illegally trolling for new class-action participants along the way.
With Sarasota Ford and Venice Dodge Nissan refusing to crumble to these demands, at least nine suits have now been filed, with additional suits forthcoming in an attempt to wear down the dealerships and force a high price settlement.
For generations, investors in other states and abroad have viewed Florida as fertile ground for starting and expanding businesses, and if this is a trend we want to continue, we better get our legal system more in line with our less-litigious competitors in other states and other countries.
Specifically, our leaders in Tallahassee need to introduce legislation to neutralize plaintiff trial lawyers' excessive influence over the legal and political systems, enact common sense reforms to ensure fairness in liability suits, ensure damage awards are fair and equitable, eliminate frivolous lawsuits, and enforce legal ethics rules.
Its time we stand up against the trial lawyer money machine and demand true tort reform that will return the system to real victims with real grievances.