National conservative columnist George Will ran a piece recently attacking lawyers and the civil justice system. Unfortunately, he relied on anecdotes and urban myths to make his points. In this country, perception seems to be more important than reality on this issue. If people really think alligators live in the sewers of New York, no amount of proof will convince them otherwise. Claiming trial lawyers are responsible for the obesity problem in kids because lawsuits supposedly have shut down all the playgrounds is a classic example of urban myth. First of all, there are just as many playgrounds as there ever were, in fact more. Second, the rise of fast food restaurants and the Nintendo Corporation might just be one teeny reason kids aren’t as skinny as they were in the 50s and 60s. If people really believe our courthouses are clogged with frivolous lawsuits and the justice system is broken and out of control, the truth is hard to sell. In reality, the number of civil filings has been decreasing for more than a decade. But that doesn’t stop Will from peddling propaganda that tries to insist litigation is out of control. The perception that we are lawsuit crazy culture is just not accurate. But don’t believe me; look at the Justice Department statistics published during the Bush Administration — the latest in 2004. The statistics show the number of lawsuits filed across the nation has dropped steadily almost every year for the last 15. The average jury verdict has dropped to one third the average verdict in 1992. Jury trials are actually vanishing. You can believe propaganda, it’s plentiful and paid for by the people and institutions that have a lot to gain if you buy it, or you can look to the truth and the real facts. The real facts contradict just about every assertion Mr. Will stated in his editorial. The Constitution ensures that all people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system, even when taking on the most powerful corporations. Will’s article insists that all lawsuits are "frivolous." Try telling that to someone when their insurance company refuses to pay a claim, or someone who is injured by a drug a manufacturer knew was dangerous, or loses their life savings because of a crooked investment banker. Do some lawsuits lack merit? Absolutely. Are there entities and institutions that overreact in order to defend themselves (like banning recess in elementary school)? You bet. Are there extremists on both sides of the issue that have lost all common sense? Unfortunately, yes. But what system would Will replace our current one with? A jury of ordinary citizens may not be perfect, but it has served us well for over 200 years.
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