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'Lawsuit crisis' doesn't exist in the United States

I noted with interest the June 22 Another Voice column by Brendan P. Cunningham, "New York's civil court system delivers injustice to all." Cunningham claims our civil justice system is broken because "judges can act corruptly" and lawyers are "lawsuit happy." He repeats the myth that lawsuits kill jobs.

Let me start by stating an unequivocal fact. There is no lawsuit crisis in America. A 2005 report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the number of tort cases resolved in U.S. district courts fell 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. The Bureau of Justice Statistics performed a study of civil trials in state courts and found that the number of civil trials dropped by 47 percent between 1992 and 2001. The number of tort cases decreased 31.8 percent during the same period. The trend in award size also was down. The median inflation-adjusted award in all tort cases dropped 56.3 percent between 1992 and 2001 to $28,000.

We've all heard the "horror stories":

*A woman who supposedly sued a furniture store after tripping over her own son.

*A man who, assuming the vehicle would drive itself, sued Winnebago after setting the cruise control at 70 mph, left his seat and went to the galley to make a cup of coffee, and then was surprised when it crashed.

*A woman who sued a restaurant after she threw a drink on her boyfriend and slipped on the floor.

None of these cases exists. They are "urban legend." So-called "frivolous" lawsuits get dismissed. The attorney who filed the $57 million lawsuit against a Washington, D.C., dry cleaner for his lost pants has apparently lost his claim, and has been the subject of a disciplinary complaint.

Proponents of so-called tort reform -- the limitation of Americans' legal rights -- have based their assertion that consumers pay a $200-plus billion cost for our legal system on a study by the insurance industry consulting firm Tillinghast-Towers Perrin. That study lumps in the millions of dollars made by insurance executives.

Yet data from the Congressional Budget Office, Business Week and now the Economic Policy Institute all discredit this report. The Economic Policy Institute concludes that the report's cost estimates are one-sided, inflate the impact of the tort system and ignore its benefits, and that corroboration supporting its numbers is weak or nonexistent.

Unlike Cunningham, I have actual sources that support my facts. Cunningham, like all tort "reformers," continues to spread falsehoods as if they were gospel. Meanwhile, our civil justice system is slowly dismantled by big tobacco, big business and big insurance. The court system treats the titan of industry and the TV repairman as equals. If people like Cunningham have their way, equal justice under the law will become a thing of the past.

Jeffrey E. Marion is a lawyer based in Williamsville.

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