Be careful! You may get what you wish for - Looking at the Law

I remember August 13, 1963 as if it were yesterday. That was the day that I was sworn in as an attorney at the old Superior Court on Elm Street in New Haven. I remember how proud I was that day. I remember my mother and father beaming in one of the first few rows watching my swearing in as an attorney.

The pride that I felt was because being admitted to the rolls as an attorney in Connecticut in1963 was an honorable achievement. The practice of law was based upon civility and a lawyer's place in society was respected.

At that time, there was a proper balance between society in general and the institutions which were intimately involved in our lives, namely government, big business and the insurance industry. There was some give and take and some conflict among and between those institutions and we as lawyers, but generally, we treated one another with respect and truly respected one another. Those days have changed.

When I was a young lawyer, I laughed as hard as anyone at lawyer jokes. They were just part of our society and were not meant in a mean spirited way. People need the ability to laugh at themselves and that was the spirit in which we, as attorneys, accepted lawyer jokes. Now, I no longer have that feeling. I am extremely angry when I hear a lawyer joke now because it is usually uttered in a mean spirited way not only by members of society who have been indoctrinated by government, large corporations and insurance companies, but by those institutions themselves. Civility is no longer a part of the legal profession and in large respect has disappeared from all aspects of our daily lives.

Instead, there is a concerted effort on the part of America's think tanks and government, large business and the insurance industry to systematically dismantle the judicial system so as to erode the rights of individual citizens. This is all done in the name of lowering costs and by characterizing us lawyers as unethical money seeking connivers. This is an effective way to achieve their goals, but is transparent and will ultimately fail.

A recent Newsweek issue concentrated mainly on what it considered to be frivolous and junk lawsuits. That issue was filled with untruths and distortions. I could answer the allegations in that issue point by point, but it would require as much space as it took to denigrate plaintiffs in that issue. Most of what was in the issue was untrue and agenda driven. If you wish a copy of the American Trial Lawyers Association response to that issue of Newsweek, please contact me and I will be happy to send it to you. It will enlighten you.

There is also conflict between lawyers and doctors now over medical malpractice lawsuits. I suspect that the problem is not that lawyers distrust doctors or doctors distrust lawyers. The problem is with insurance carriers who tell doctors that their insurance rates must continuously go up because of large verdicts and cost of defense in the medical malpractice area. As a result, doctors claim that they are going out of business because of medical malpractice costs (a fact which is almost impossible to verify) and lawyers are forced to defend themselves by stating that most medical malpractice cases have merit. The real problem is that the insurance companies who have stirred up the controversy sit back and let lawyers and doctors bash one another. The beneficiary of all that are the insurance companies because if medical malpractice verdicts continue, they can raise their premiums indicating that there was not reform and, if there is reform, they can save some money in the verdict area, but you can bet that the premiums will still go up each year blaming rising medical costs.

We had a similar experience in Connecticut with the advent of the no-fault automobile law. Insurance companies promised that if we adopted a no-fault insurance scenario, then premiums would go down. We did adopt such a scenario and the premiums did, in fact, change. They went up. I would like to see insurance carriers open their books so that we can see that they are not in as bad shape as they claim and that, if they had any losses, the losses occurred not as a result of claims, but as a result of poor investment of their assets.

Large manufacturers claim that the cost of doing business has been hampered because of large product liability verdicts. We all know that if manufacturers are allowed to operate in an unregulated manner that greed will set in, products will suffer and consumers will be hurt. Examples are the hiding of the deleterious effects of tobacco and asbestos by the manufacturers of those products for a period of time. How many Americans died as a result of that deliberate concealment by those manufacturers? Do any of you doubt that if we put a cap on product liability verdicts or made such suits hard or impossible that manufacturers would cut corners in terms of protecting the public? As a trial lawyer, I know of many situations in which manufacturers have made their products more safe as a result of litigation. As a result, many American lives have been saved and many injuries have been avoided.

I was somewhat dismayed by Pres. George Bush's claim that medical malpractice suits were junk lawsuits and that all so-called junk lawsuits should be done away with or capped. As I was listening to Pres. Bush, I realized that he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and that he was simply spouting the big business rhetoric. In fact, in Connecticut before one can bring a medical malpractice suit, an affidavit is needed by a board certified physician stating that the negligent physician deviated from the accepted standard of care. If there is any such thing as junk lawsuits, they are weeded out by judges and juries before they result in verdicts. Most cases which are reported as involving a set of preposterous facts do not involve that set of facts. It is easy to claim that they do, but on many occasions, I have gone to the actual trial record and found that the cases which are reported as junk lawsuits actually were decided on a legitimate basis and that the facts have been distorted or misrepresented. Juries are not stupid. They evaluate evidence carefully and clearly and try to do the right thing. They are pretty accurate and intuitive.

Another gimmick of the insurance industry is advertising campaigns which place a premium upon the cost of insurance and insinuate that if plaintiffs are not successful that insurance costs will go down. The Geico ads certainly place a great importance on the cost of insurance. Those ads tout a change to Geico with a potential annual savings of $189.00. The savings becomes more important than the outcome of a Senate investigation or the traumatic break-up of a couple or the remodeling of a dream house. While the ads are amusing, they are sinister in that they send the message out that insurance costs and the ability to buy cheap insurance is so important that it outshines situations which are obviously more important to society.

Allstate now has an ad in which a person on the television screen indicates that Allstate is so charitable and so concerned about your welfare that if you, as an Allstate insured, is sued by an evil plaintiff's attorney Allstate will make sure you are not alone in court, but will send a defense attorney to be with you. Are you naïve enough to believe that Allstate is sending that attorney to be with you? He or she is there only to protect Allstate's assets. If Allstate was really concerned about lessening the trauma on one of its insureds who has been sued, it would make a reasonable offer to settle the case before suit rather than continuing its unreasonable course of conduct in the litigation area. Its unreasonableness is well-known to many in the legal profession.

So I guess by now you can tell that I am quite riled about this subject. You are correct. I have been involved in the practice of law for a long time and I have seen the law headed in this direction, particularly in the last 10 years. The conspiracy between government, big business and the insurance industry has been quietly eroding your rights as citizens. The sad thing is that some of you have climbed aboard without realizing that you are cutting your own throats.

Before you get on board with this conspiracy, you should answer this question. Would you rather have your claims for redress for wrong that has been committed on you decided by a jury of your peers or by government, big business or the insurance industry? The answer should be loud and clear. Don't get sucked in. You may end up the victim. Our system is fine as it is and I, as a trial attorney, am prouder than ever of my profession.

Robert Mirto is