The other night, I was watching the Tonight show with Jay Leno. He was interviewing Ben Stiller about his life, his kids, and his upcoming movie, Tropic Thunder. During the whole time, there was a buzz in the air because Ben Stiller showed off his autographed arm. Back stage, the Jonas Brothers signed his arm. Who are they? A teenage band of brothers on the Disney Channel who have millions of adoring young fans. When they finally came out, the studio audience was nuts. It was like the Beatles. The girls were screaming. You could hardly hear the interview.
Now, what does this have to do with law? Well, the fans were going crazy over the Jonas Brothers just like people are seemingly going crazy over lawsuit abuse. Are the Jonas Brothers really a great talent, or are they really a product of a good public relations company? Not that I’m trying to put them down because they may have some talent, but it’s more a function of the media in my opinion.
How does this connect? Is there really a lawsuit abuse problem? Let’s take for example a recent Time Magazine article, Who Can You Sue? Click Here. In this article, people are questioning whether a new website, www.whocanIsue.com will create more frivolous lawsuits. Further, the article quotes an attorney from Miami, Richard Sharpstein, who says, “It encourages, if not creates lawsuits. Our country’s courts are clogged with unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits which delay, if not obstruct, the access to courts of people that really need to get there, that have serious legal grievances.”
Now, where does Mr. Sharpstein get his facts, and why doesn’t Time Magazine do a little more research to find out if this statement is actually true? Why doesn’t Time Magazine interview someone from the American Association for Justice (AAJ) or some attorneys who practice in the personal injury field to at least get the other side? Why? Because the public relations machine from insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has perpetuated this myth about lawsuit abuse and frivolous claims. People have gone crazy over this, and as a result, juries (our peers) have bought into this myth while insurance companies and fortune 500 companies make record profits.
Don’t get me wrong, this new website, whocanIsue.com, is stupid! But, why does Time Magazine even give it the time of day and relate it to lawsuit abuse? Maybe Time, Inc. is big business. Maybe Time, Inc. wants to get rid of all lawsuits. Ask Time, Inc. how much they paid the former University of Alabama football coach, Mike Price, because they printed false information about him in Sports Illustrated. You’ll never know because Time, Inc. made the settlement contingent on confidentiality. Was that a frivolous lawsuit? Not to Mike Price. Apparently, not to Time, Inc. either, or they wouldn’t have insisted on confidentiality.
Are the courts really clogged with frivolous lawsuits? Ask judges. Ask attorneys who work on contingent fees. They will tell you that it would be a waste of time to work on a frivolous lawsuit. And, by the way, what is a “frivolous lawsuit”? Is it frivolous for someone to file a lawsuit because they were rear-ended by a negligent driver and injured their neck? What about a financial institution which is the third purchaser of a mortgage and which forecloses on that mortgage, through the court system, without proper paperwork? That’s frivolous. What about a financial company which buys defaulted credit card loans and uses the court system to sue individuals when they cannot even prove their claim? That’s frivolous. Maybe that is why such companies have gone to arbitration – so they don’t even have to prove the claim.
Our courts are clogged with frivolous suits? Hmmm. I thought arbitration and mediation was going to relieve the courts of such a burden. In fact, if you look at the statistics, personal injury lawsuits are down. Verdicts are down. Yet, the media continues to make the people go crazy. In the Birmingham News on Tuesday, August 5, 2008, there was a story about Mercedes-Benz filing suit against Cobasys, LLC, a battery-pack developer. Why didn’t they go to arbitration and not clog our court system? It’s okay for corporations to file suit when they want to, but when it’s an individual who has been hurt or defrauded, it’s frivolous. The PR machine is at work, and the people are going crazy.
At least the Jonas Brothers provide good entertainment for children, and they aren’t trying to deceive the public.