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The King of Torts

By TLS | April 25, 2008

So I’m in the middle of reading John Grisham’s The King of Torts. Makes me think about the whole "ambulance chaser" label slapped on attorneys. So what is it that gets people upset at the attorneys?

Is it the way they advertise? If that was the problem then those guys would go out of business, but often they get the most business. How far is too far when it comes to getting clients? There are many attorney commercials on TV that are extremely "hollywood" - full of clever slogans, jingles, and dramatizations. I see the ads on TV all the time asking people to call The Law Offices of James Sokolove, LLC. Nothing wrong with that. Their ads are very tame. Dark backdrop, ominous voice-over, and contact info.

Is it the number of lawsuites filed? Maybe that’s it.

Or, more likely, is it the money that attorneys get from settlements. It seems to me that this is our winner. Would lawyers get such a bad wrap of they didn’t get a percentage of settlements and judgments? Doubt it.

Ultimately, I have no concept of this stuff, yet, but I am looking forward to greater understanding in school and then in practice over the next several years. Until then I’ll just sit back and enjoy Grisham’s fiction.

tort - Damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving strict liability, but not involving breach of contract, for which a civil suit can be brought.
American Heritage Dictionary

Topics: Books, Law |

5 Responses to “The King of Torts”

  1. Jimmy Damintz Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 9:51 am

    This was a an excellent book and does point out the problems with “ambulance chasers”. The problem is a multi faceted problem with layers of sleaze. The commercials are only a thin layer.
    1. There isnt any real justice for many of the plaintiffs in these types of cases. The only one who truly benefits is the lawyer which is wrong.
    2. These lawsuits inhibit the way business is conducted in a deleterious manner. Sometimes a lawsuit may be valid but many times they are attacking problems that aren’t even valid. These lawsuits have jacked up the price of getting a product to market so much, that it has a severe effect on the economy. Also, good products and companies are being wiped out without any valid reason.
    3. The fees charged should not be a percentage of the judgement. They need to be fixed more appropriately to prevent “fishing”.

  2. TLS Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Jimmy - thanks for the post!

    You bring up some interesting discussion points. I’d like to know more about the “good products and companies are being wiped out without any valid reason.” Which products and companies are you referring to?

    If you have any examples, I’d love to study them further. Please share. Thanks!

  3. Jimmy Damintz Says:
    June 5th, 2008 at 5:42 am

    Off the top of my head check out some of the details behind Vioxx. I don’t proclaim to be an expert, but from what I have read on it, it seems to be more of a legal problem than a real health concern. Off the top of my head, you could even look into the DDT problem as well.

  4. TLS Says:
    June 6th, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Thanks! I haven’t looked at DDT, yet, but I have looked at Vioxx and I’m not sure that Merck and their Vioxx product would fit into this category.

    They do appear to be a good company, generally, and have produced many helpful drugs over the years.

    But with regards to Vioxx, in my opinion, they are not really in danger of being “wiped out without any valid reason.” That assertion would mean they are in financial trouble and facing bankruptcy, layoffs, etc. because of Vioxx lawsuits, and that the evidence doesn’t warrant the charges asserted in the lawsuit(s).

    According to Merck’s website the company made over $24 billion in sales last year with a net income of $3.2 billion, so I think they have a strong financial position.

    As far as whether the evidence supports the lawsuits, Merck itself voluntarily removed Vioxx from the market based on results of its own studies and others.

    In April The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) included reports by independent researchers that Merck may have intentionally misled federal investigators in a campaign of deception in its zeal to get FDA approval for the drug Vioxx. The reports allege that:

    - Merck gave the Food and Drug Administration a skewed accounting of deaths in a clinical trial of Vioxx; internal accounting suggested higher death rates, but the difference was attributed to the timing of death. When initially reporting mortality rates to the FDA the company only included those who had died during treatment and up to 2 weeks later (or up to 3 months later on a separate report). In reality more people died from side affects months later. The FDA eventually received all of this data, but prior knowledge may have resulted in avoidable injury and death.

    - Merck was using what the JAMA authors call “ghostwriting” in order to make their research appear more credible when published in journals. The work of the company’s employees and contractors would appear to be the work of med school sicentists, which made Vioxx stand out in the saturated painkiller market. Yikes.

    Facing over 26,000 lawsuits, in November Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle claims. This JAMA report was not expected to derail the settlement as it was not based on any new information that was not aready disclosed in previous court cases.

    Considering that Merck made over $2 billion from Vioxx alone the year prior to taking it off the market, and the fact that the product was on the market for five years, the $4.85 billion they have set aside to settle these cases does not seem to be crippling to the company.

    And given that Merck may have intentionally lied about clinical trial test results, and the fact that they were found liable for using deceptive marketing practices to promote Vioxx, I am not convinced that they are victims of overzealous or unreasonable lawsuits.

    Perhaps the Vioxx case has prompted Merck to undertake better practices in both testing and promoting their drugs.

    Wow, I wrote way too much here! Sorry - but it was a very interesting excercise. If anyone can give an example of a company that was unfairly driven out of business by unwarranted lawsuits, please post it so we can review.

  5. Jimmy Damintz Says:
    June 10th, 2008 at 8:47 am

    This is quite detailed and I admittedly am out of my league. I didnt mean to infer that Merck was going bankrupt. What I did mean to infer was the cost effect of tort law. Even in the detail you provided I am not convinced that Merck did anything to justify them having to pay $4.85 billion. Medical testing and tort reform is needed to get to the issues of safety. I am skeptical of all reports given by both sides. Before the big settlement Merck had also won several cases defending their product. It was a matter of time before they had to pay this settlement.

    To me the big picture ends up being, many people received a settlement, where the settlement isn’t just. Either it wasnt deserved or it wasn’t enough. The drug companies have to restructure/merge/ re-insure/ handle the added costs. We as consumers, taxpayers etc. absorb the astronomical cost of getting a new product to market. Many needed/probably safe products never get to market because of legislation. Even if they do, then they have to fight the onslaught of tort lawyers. In the end the only ones getting any benefit out of it all are the lawyers.