I picked up an intriguing read from the bookstore the other day…The Rule of Lawyers by Walter Olson. It recounts and sheds some light on the massive shift in American class-action litigation that occurred during the twentieth century. Over the past few decades, American plaintiff lawyers have managed to all but annihilate the “assessment of risk” defense for corporations facing class-action lawsuits in certain industries…tobacco comes to mind, but toy and automobile manufacturers are facing similar difficulties. What this means is that American trial lawyers now hold the idiotic opinion that tobacco companies (say) are responsible for paying for damages that their products incur, even if the product works 100% as advertised. And unfortunately, many judges are buying this moronic point of view (pardon the bias). As a result, consumers are having less and less to “assess the risk” of the products they buy, and are being coddled by class-action lawyers. Entire states have sued industries for compensation, and attorneys general use these “public good” class-action lawsuits as bullshit re-election fodder.
A good example of the ballooning class-action lawsuit trend affected me directly. My Dell Inspiron 5150 hard drive crapped out two summers ago to the tune of $450. It happened (supposedly) because of a design flaw in the laptop…although the computer was manufactured 100% as advertised, some class action lawyer thought it was perfectly fine for Dell to have to compensate me for the repairs. Now I’m not complaining (I did eventually receive a $450 check), but this is a disturbing trend when it comes to industries like alcohol, tobacco, and even toys. When medical expenses are implicated in class-action suits, the states have an “in” because lawyers can argue that entire state-run medical programs (i.e. Medicaid) should receive payment for damages. In a way, class-action suits have been an effective (albeit incredibly sleazy) way to fund state medical programs like Medicaid.
Hmm…the state taking money from private corporations and giving it to the poor through Medicaid…what does that sound like?
By the way, the chemical industry has had its fair share of this problem. Dow Corning had to declare bankruptcy after class-action lawyers cooked up the idea that silicone breast implants caused autoimmune disorders (seven billion dollars later, that claim was proved total bullshit). In fact, the largest set of class-action lawsuits in history involved the chemical industry. Ten points to anyone who can guess it!