Al Hofeld and the Litigious Society | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Al Hofeld and the Litigious Society

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To the editors:

After you spend "More Than 30 Seconds With Al Hofeld" [February 21], you realize that this lawyer's fame and fortune were made with precisely the kind of litigiousness that has burdened our economy and made it uncompetitive. He is not the solution. He is part of the problem.

According to one study, American industry spends more on lawyers to defend against liability claims than it spends to buy new machine tools to improve productivity. Total U.S. liability costs are 15 times those of Japan. U.S. liability insurance rates are 20 times those of Europe.

Nearly 18 million new civil cases were filed in state and federal courts in 1989, one for every ten adults. According to the Conference Board, a group of business concerns, this boom in litigation has led 47 percent of U.S. manufacturers to withdraw consumer goods from the market, forced 25 percent to stop product research, and wiped out American jobs, with 15 percent of companies having laid off workers as a result of product liability.

It is estimated that spiraling litigiousness will cost this country about $300 billion this year, only about 15 percent of the money going to claimants. Do we really need 70 percent of the world's lawyers? While U.S. corporations are hiring lawyers, the Japanese are hiring engineers.

Experts estimate that the total cost of product liability lawsuits between 1973 and 1988 was equal to the combined profits of the 200 largest corporations in the United States. During the past 15 years, the number of product liability lawsuits filed in federal courts increased 1,000 percent while the number of filings in state courts increased between 300 and 500 percent.

Did you hear the one about the Pennsylvania fortune-teller? After a CAT scan at a hospital, she claimed to have lost her psychic powers. A sympathetic Philadelphia jury added to health care costs by giving her $1 million for her troubles.

Because of the explosion of liability claims, the small-aircraft industry, for example, which employed 17,000 people in 1979, employed as few as 1,000 a decade later. In the case of small aircraft, the "lawyer's tax" is a whopping $75,000 per plane. This market has now all but been ceded to foreign competitors, an all too typical result.

In industry after industry, America's competitiveness is at risk because liability exposure forces innovators to discontinue product lines or face millions of dollars in legal expenses. These costs raise consumer prices and put U.S. companies at an overwhelming disadvantage against our overseas competitors.

Daniel John Sobieski

S. Monitor

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