International House of Dan: Class action reform passes in the House

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Class action reform passes in the House

I've had a couple of quick things to write about over the past few days, but I've been unable to go online, so I'll throw out a couple of "retroactive" posts later on. I'd like to point out that Mizzou should've beat Baylor by a lot more than they did, and that I was delighted to see kU get schooled in what turned out to be a very good game.

Quickly, though, I'd like to make a comment on what I heard on C-SPAN this morning as the House debated class action lawsuit legislation. Being a "baby lawyer", I am troubled by the demonization of lawyers generally, particularly coming from elected officials who are often lawyers themselves. But I'd like to point out the inconsistent blame game being played by many conservative legislators with regard to class action lawsuits.

They argue that the hefty awards made in state courts are being gobbled up by lawyers, and not going to the injured plaintiffs, and that because of this, the fee arrangements need to be capped. The problem is that they don't apply a similar logic to the cost of prescription drugs, in fact, they take the opposite approach. Lawyers take a risk when they take a case on a contingency basis, they expend money on trial preparation, court costs, wages, investigation, etc., without knowing if they will ever see a penny of that money back. The contingency fee acts as an incentive for lawyers to take these cases, and assume the financial burdens associated with advancing the rights of injured plaintiffs. Republicans argue that this is wrong.

Conversely, though, they argue that pharmaceutical companies should be able to charge tremendous fees from sick people, because these fees are the incentive they need to assume the financial burden of advancing life-saving research. So it's not okay for greedy lawyers to rob their clients in order to buy themselves cars under the guise of advancing victim rights, but it's okay for greedy pharmaceutical companies to rob us all in order to pay their execs ridiculous salaries and develop more drugs for old impotent men under the guise of advancing life-saving research. It is also telling that the blame for plaintiffs getting pennies was placed squarely on their attorneys, and no mention was made of the greedy defendants using every tool available to reduce, delay, and avoid making payments to those very same plaintiffs.

Life-saving drugs have come about as a result of greed-driven research by large pharmaceuticals, but it also has happened that victims of terrible wrongs have found redress because a greedy lawyer took a chance on their case.


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