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Indigestion from outrageous verdicts

Dan Hess

Reading the Trials Digest section in September gave me indigestion. When is the insanity for these outrageous judgments going to stop? When the only people who can reside in California are those with no assets and the trial lawyers?

Three questions: 1) Are individuals in the U.S., and California in particular, ever going to be required to take personal responsibility for injur-ies they incur when engaging in high risk, inherently dangerous (and completely unnecessary) recreational activities? ($4.4 million for an award due to a severe injury from using a ski jump); 2) why should the public bear the cost of inflated and punitive judgments against municipalities and the state? (Gender discrimination for $3.2 million for alleged sexual discrimination by the City of Santa Barbara); and 3) what is the inherent value of a human infant's life? ($43.5 million for a 4-month old infant left in a vegetative state due to alleged negligence by a health care provider)?

Facts: There are too many greedy lawyers working to perfect the art of manipulation and deception at the public's expense while 1) abusing the jury system to secure outrageously inflated judgments; 2) pursuing cases that often have little merit and only serve to enrich attorneys, and 3) pushing unnecessary and overly complex legislation in order to create new legal subspecialties.

Here are six suggestions:

1) The loser pays all costs in personal injury litigation.

2) The state, counties and municipalities should have sovereign immunity except in the most egregious of circumstances (read: criminal or grossly negligent conduct by government employees).

3) Class action attorneys only get paid on a reasonable hourly basis or no more than 5 percent of all judgments in excess of $10 million. The attorneys receive nominal fees unless each class mem- ber recovers a reasonable percentage of their loss.

4) No juries in civil trials and only in serious felony criminal trials
5) Jury instructions in criminal cases that introduce DNA evidence include a statement to the effect that there is a billion to one chance that two individuals have the same DNA.

6) The cost of certain non-routine investigations performed by governmental agencies be netted out against the amount of the judgment awarded to personal injury plaintiffs and their attorneys.

These are six pragmatic and equitable solutions that the State Bar and Sacramento should work towards implementing. Regrettably, self-interest and greed will prevent this. One possible benefit for this continuing madness: we won't have the money to engage in a war with Iraq.

Daniel L. Hess is an attorney in Torrance.

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