State prop. caused P.I.'s
pain and suffering
I enjoyed the June article on the reduction of
personal injury suits since the '80s. I thought it was interesting
that little attention was paid by the article to state Proposition 213
(§3333.4 of the California Civil Code, which prevents the uninsured
from obtaining pain and suffering damages).
In my opinion, it is Prop. 213 that has led to a
huge downturn in personal injury lawsuits. I would guesstimate that
business at the average P.I. firm has dropped at least 35 percent
because of Prop 213.
In the eight months that I have been in private
practice, I have had to refuse at least eight cases because of the
accident victim's uninsured status.
Not only has Prop. 213 drastically reduced P.I.
business from the uninsured, but by putting millions of extra dollars
into the insurance company coffers that would have gone to uninsured
auto accident victims, it has also allowed the insurance companies to
fight even harder on, for instance, low property damage auto cases.
If Prop. 213 were to be overturned tomorrow, I
would bet the money I could've earned on the earlier mentioned eight
cases (in a non-Prop 213 world) that you'd be writing about a P.I.
litigation upswing within the next 12 months.
Robert A. Reed
Little pain, no gain
I read your article regarding the decline in the
number of lawsuits with great interest and I heartily disagree. You
attorneys never have lived in the real world. In the last two years, I
contacted several attorneys in the Los Angeles area regarding two
legal matters: One case involved a clear insurance bad-faith claim
which two attorneys told me was valid but "too small" for them to
take, and a toxic exposure about which three attorneys said, "It's
too hard to sue public entities." Even though I am an experienced
personal injury paralegal, I could not handle these myself due to
money, time and proximity.
Additionally, as a paralegal occasionally taking
new client calls, the basis for acceptance was "would we win and
were the damages large enough" to make it worth our while. Ten years
earlier, we would have taken nearly everything which had probable
liability and some damages, and the occasional big win would tide us
over. However, with the weight of the law favoring insurance companies
and judges not responding to the defense's heavy-handed discovery
tactics, it was only a matter of time before P.I. firms adjusted their
intake guidelines to exclude smaller or risky matters.
Nancy Lee Wolfen
Carson City, Nev.
'Colossus' shrinks fees
I just finished reading the June article, "Big
decline in lawsuits filed since 1980s," with incredulity. No-where
in the article did it correctly state the reason for the decline in
personal injury lawsuits. Possibly because only lawyers accepting
cases with values exceeding $1 million or law professors who do not
practice what they hypothesize were consulted.
The truth is, insurance companies have spent
millions of dollars defeating consumer legislation such as state
Propositions 30 and 31, which went down in resounding defeat despite
being in the consumer's best interest.
Insurance companies tender nothing resembling
fair and adequate compensation in personal injury cases, even where
liability is undisputed and injury is well-documented. Rather, they
rely on "Colossus," a computer-generated prediction of what a jury
will award in any particular instance. It predicts, among other
things, that a soft-tissue injury with reasonable treatment has a
value of about $4,500 to a jury. If plaintiff's attorneys were
previously wondering why offers are low and unreasonable, wonder no
By this letter, I hope the plaintiff's bar will
become aware that such a computer program does exist and is pervasive
throughout the industry.
Philip R. Sheldon
Practice equals CLE
I feel MCLE to be unnecessary, outrageously
priced and the product of mistaken thinking. It ought not to be "put
behind us" until it is dead, where it should be.
For the commission to compare MCLE with
"similar programs for professionals, such as barbers and hearing-aid
dispensers," is ridiculous. Lawyers study, refresh and review every
time they handle a legal matter. The jealous mistress the law is
requires constant legal education, research, study and discussion;
thousands of hours, not eight, 10 or 12.
I object to the furnishers getting fat on a
frustrating and needless exercise. I know of no other calling that
requires regular and intensive study as that of the law - not
barbers, not real estate salesmen, not anything else.
Robert N. Fraser
Shocker: Bar ignores us
Why weren't we surprised to find that a panel
handpicked by the State Bar would ignore the opinions of lawyers
around the state and call for continued mandatory education and more
hours of MCLE? The bar has ignored what lawyers thought on this issue
for years, and now their panel has seconded the motion. What a shock!
The fact is that MCLE is a colossal failure. It
has done nothing to upgrade the practice of law in California - its
only legitimate objective - and there is no possibility that it will
do so. MCLE does give people who like to tell other people what to do
- our self-selected bar administration - an opportunity to do so,
and to continue running an expensive bureaucracy to enforce their
will. And it provides a way for providers to make ridiculous amounts
of money while providing classes which would need to improve greatly
to achieve mediocrity.
The one thing no one ever bothers to demonstrate
is that it actually has made lawyers, as a group, better at what they
do. Your article, following the bar association line, implies that we
should take more hours than other professions. But the fact is, we are
the only profession named that requires any graduate study at all. It
is ridiculous to compare this with hearing-aid dispensers or barbers
or accountants or real estate brokers.
John Marshall Collins
Apples and oranges
The renewal of the MCLE debate continues to
ignore the primary act of law: As a profession, it requires continuous
legal research. Every county has at least one law library, which is
used more by attorneys than lay people. As a litigator, I spend more
than five hours a month researching law.
These facts are simply not true for doctors,
accountants, real estate agents, barbers or pest control personnel.
Your average law office has more research material than all the above
professions combined. We don't need more classes.
Instead of comparing apples to oranges, the State
Bar should begin promoting the fact that continuing legal education is
a daily component of any law practice. When was the last time your
doctor said, "I need to research that issue?"
David L. Hagen
Fire it up, your honor
I was disappointed in the recent announcement
seeking a presiding judge and two hearing judges for the State Bar
Court, where minimum qualifications for the positions include at least
five years' membership in the State Bar with no record of
The "discipline" prohibition may discourage
some of our most able members. Frankly, I think most of our membership
would feel more comfortable with a judge who, sometime in his or her
career, has been the target of a complaining client, or who has some
long-ago misdemeanor conviction that sparked bar action.
The governor often appoints imperfect people and
the voters often elect candidates with some blemish. Discipline should
be merely a disclosure, not a bar on application. If we are truly to
be judged only by perfect people, let's require applicants to also
be members of the clergy, and to file an affidavit that if they
smoked, they did not inhale.
The CJ's snake pit
When I read Chief Justice Ron George's two-page
spread about gender bias - never proposition opposing counsel, he
might get hysterical - I wanted to run up to the chief and gush,
"You're my hero!" Fearing such a gesture might be
misinterpreted, I write this instead.
The judicial system over which George presides is
a fetid snake pit of gender bias. No longer the irritating kind that
has become so politically incorrect, but the kind that destroys the
lives of children. Yes, I'm talking about the "family court
These so-called courts issue restraining orders
wholesale which forbid fathers to even communicate with their children
- forget about custody. The orders are stamped out without notice,
hearing or any attempt to tailor them to the facts of a particular
case. While 95 percent are issued against fathers, only 5 percent are
issued against mothers.
Mom wants one, she gets one. Once issued ex parte,
they become a status quo which the safe-playing judges decline to
When I wrote the chief a few months ago to
suggest that restraining-order abuse be addressed by the Judicial
Council, an underling wrote back to inform me such a thing couldn't
possibly be done.
I wanted to cry, but I was too busy being angry
about all the kids who can't even get a birthday card from their
Laurance S. Smith