Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 14, 2010

Why Tort Reform is Needed


Last Monday I walked over the Staten Island courts for jury duty, a thankless (in my opinion) obligation that every American citizen has to go through every couple of years. I woke up later than usual (since the courts here are just a few blocks away from my apartment) and at the appointed time I was at my seat, hoping for the hours to move quickly as I shifted between a book and this week’s New Yorker magazine.

 

About an hour into the day, I was called to participate in a jury selection panel. Since I was not the first one to be called for questioning, I basically sat in the room hearing about minor details about the case: a local elderly woman slipped after getting off a bus and was suing both the NYC Transit Authority and the landlord of a nearby building for damages because she had sprained her ankle. As I heard the story, I thought to myself: ‘Not again. Not another personal injury suit,’ because the last two times I had participated in a jury selection (I was never called), it was always someone suing the MTA for a reason or another.

I am not personally against someone suing corporations, insurance companies or government agencies for damages – for instance, the victims who lost loved ones or limbs in the aftermath of the tragic 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash that killed 11 lives have the right to every dollar they might have received as compensation for their loss and pain. But I am honestly tired of hearing of so many frivolous lawsuits over injuries caused by simple lack of attention or general stupidity.

For example, take the Oklahoma woman who recently – and successfully – sued Winnebago because she had an accident after she left the seat of her RV after having set it on cruise control to make a sandwich (apparently, she thought that cruise control was autopilot), or the Manhattan guy who is taking Starbucks to court because his tea was too hot, which brings to memory the “Stella Award,” named after a New Mexico woman who got almost $ 3 million from McDonald’s after scalding herself with hot coffee while driving.

Not to mention that class-action lawsuit from a few years back in which a bunch of grossly overweight individuals tried to go against McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food restaurants because they didn’t know that eating super-sized meals was fattening. Couldn’t they see their own bulging waistlines? Thankfully, that one was tossed out, or else we’d have one hell of a precedent.

I surely believe that we urgently need tort reform in this country. All these suits do little else than fatten the bank accounts of ambulance-chasing lawyers. The result is the elevated cost of health insurance (hospitals and doctors need to take on malpractice insurance as part of their cost of doing business), and also the clogging of our court system. We cannot allow people to go to court for frivolous reasons. You were really hurt? Go for it. But don’t waste taxpayer dollars (remember, the courts are funded by the state, not donations) because someone looked at you weirdly. Life has its pains. Learn to deal with them.

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