Monday, May 21, 2007

Lawyers Overreaching? 

Today's Wall Street Journal has an editorial titled "A Tort Riot" (not currently available online to nonsubscribers) about how the proceeds of a $10 million class action settlement in a suit against Shell Oil are to be distributed. Mostly, it's about how the lawyers are fighting among themselves for the spoils, but to me the big story is how much "spoils" there are. Out of the total $10 million, the lawyers are divvying up $6.9 million. So 70 percent of the proceeds go to the lawyers and 30 percent go to the poor injured plaintiffs (who, according to the piece, each got "a new fuel gauge and a hundred bucks").

It seems to me that my brethren at the plaintiffs bar have gone a bit too far here.

To my way of thinking, if more than 50 percent of the gross proceeds of a settlement got to someone other than the plaintiff(s), then the purpose of the suit is more to enrich the lawyers and their allies (expert witnesses, etc.) than to compensate the plaintiffs for their losses. As such, I'd think someone could make an argument that the true beneficiaries, not being the injured parties, lack standing to bring the suit, or at least to take more than half of the settlement proceeds from the poor souls who so greatly deserve them. (Of course they deserve those proceeds--don't you believe the lawyers when they relate their clients' sob stories?)

I'd love to see some statutes enacted to ensure that the plaintiff(s) in any lawsuit receive no less than half of the gross proceeds of any settlement or judgment. The trial lawyers will tell you that they can't economically bring these cases if their income is restricted in this way, but I'd respond that if the cost of prosecuting the case is less than the return, it was a bad decision to sue in the first place, and the lawyer, who is the one making that decision, ought to bear the consequences of his poor judgment.

Maybe this idea could help in reducing the congestion in our courts, not to mention the ripple effect on the cost of doing business for every industry but the trial lawyers.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?