'Lawsuit Lottery' book calls for citizen action

Ann Knef Mar. 24, 2005, 1:22am

Brothers Douglass (left) and Benjamin (right) Lodmell flank father, Gary.

Madison County Court's notoriety as a plaintiff-friendly venue is prominently noted in "The Lawsuit Lottery: The Hijacking of Justice in America," a new book that takes a look at America's dysfunctional tort system and calls out for grassroots change.

Brothers Douglass S. Lodmell and Benjamin R. Lodmell, the book's co-authors, are members of the legal profession who take affront to the "hijacking of justice in America by the world's costliest tort system."

Douglass Lodmell, who proclaims an abiding respect for the American legal system, said the nation's courts have been seriously abused over the last 20 years, collectively damaging the credibility and legitimacy of the nation.

"As the world becomes more global, we're looked at for the stability of our government and legal system," he said. "Foreign companies now are being pulled into state and federal courts. It would be unthinkable in their country. Others think we're insane. It really does affect the way we're seen."

The Lodmells spent a couple of years researching court actions across the country. An astonishing increase in lawsuits filed in Madison County between 1998 and 2000, drew the Lodmells to a closer examination here.

"Our civil justice system is broken," he said. "It is costing our country trillions upon trillions of dollars and breeding a sense of self-serving entitlement on one hand, and a cynical, paralyzing fear on the other.

"On an individual level, it's destroying people financially. When a ninety-two-year-old widow can lose her life savings because her great-grand nephew crashed a car she lent him, well, something is seriously wrong. That's why Benjamin and I wrote this book. We want to expose the truth and, hopefully, spark enough outrage that people will push for change."

'The Lawsuit Lottery' explains that filing lawsuits, once seen as a last resort and deemed "unseemly," changed almost 30 years ago.

"On June 27, 1977, the death knell for the stigma against 'going to court' tolled loud and clear," writes the Lodmells. "On that day, the U.S. Supreme Court [gave] attorneys the right to advertise for litigants. Thus, it's all too common to see ads with screaming headlines: 'Injured at work?...Been in a car accident?...Call to see if you are eligible for a cash settlement!'"

The book also takes aim at contingency fees.

"Part of the reason so many people sue at the drop of a hat is that there is virtually no cost to the plaintiff," say the authors.

"Almost all litigation attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. They don't get paid unless their clients win. On the plus side, this arrangement provides 'the little guy' access to a legal system that might be unaffordable otherwise.

"Conversely, it permits great abuse of the tort system by allowing unscrupulous attorneys to drum up litigation for all sorts of complaints with all kinds of plaintiffs--legitimate or otherwise--who, win or lose, have nothing at risk in launching a lawsuit."

Class action lawsuits have gotten out of control, by enriching plaintiffs' attorneys and bankrupting businesses, Lodmell said. Meanwhile, plaintiffs receive negligible benefits.

"A growing phenomenon since the latter part of the 20th century, class action lawsuits have created havoc through business and industry, engendering a host of bankruptcies, bringing huge companies and even industries to their knees, and leaving massive unemployment in their wake," write the authors.

"A study by Class Action Reports indicates that plaintiffs' attorneys typically chalk up huge fees for these cases--on average, over $1,000 an hour--while their clients often get little or nothing when all is said and done. One auto insurance case cited had the lawyer who filed the suit getting $8 million while the policy holders got $5.50 each, plus an increase on their auto insurance premium."

The authors also write about the effect of medical malpractice lawsuits.

"With the prospect of at least 10,000 medical malpractice torts a year and the continuation of soaring insurance premiums, one can readily imagine the unimaginable--a meltdown of a health care system that once was the envy of the world," write Lodmell and Lodmell.

They suggest a number of remedies, including:

  • Limiting contingency fees charged by lawyers. "Better yet, ban their use altogether," they write.

  • Banning the "no loser pays" feature that encourages filing dubious lawsuits.

  • Capping punitive and non-economic damages for un-measurable pain and suffering

  • Reforming the way that financial liability is apportioned among multiple defendants. If, for instance, you're 5 percent at fault, you shouldn't have to pay 50 percent of a judgment just because you have deep enough pockets to do so.

  • Placing greater law school emphasis on ethics in the practice of law.

    The authors encourage citizen action.

    "You can write your local political representatives," they say. "Write a letter to the editor. Denounce greed. Teach your children, by example, the virtues of personal accountability and social responsibility.

    "And always remember that speaking out against the lawsuit lottery mindset is speaking up for a better, safer, friendlier, more civilized America."

    Lodmell & Lodmell, P.C. is a Phoenix, Ariz. asset protection firm. The book is published by World Connection Publishing and retails for $15.95. Proceeds will be donated to World Children's Relief, a charity founded by the Lodmells.

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