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The Case for Trial Lawyers

By Michael F. Barrett, Esq.

PHILADELPHIA, July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is by Michael F. Barrett, Esq.:

"Kill all the lawyers" -- at your own peril

When you heard the news not long ago that three prominent attorneys who had made their reputations suing corporations had pled guilty to either attempted judicial bribery or a kickback scheme, no doubt Shakespeare's oft-quoted line, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," came to mind.

But what you probably don't realize is that the line, taken in its dramatic context, really means that if you want anarchy you must first get rid of lawyers.

Indeed, while it has become fashionable in some corporate and political quarters to demonize trial lawyers, your medicine cabinet, your house, your car, your highways, your workplace and the world in which you live are far safer today because of the efforts of trial lawyers to hold businesses and governments responsible and accountable for their actions. Trial lawyers, says attorney and former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, are our last defense against greedy corporations.

Don't believe him? Do you remember flammable children's pajamas? Deadly cribs? Asbestos? Even Little League and Pop Warner Football games before helmets were required. They have all disappeared, or been vastly improved, thanks to civil lawsuits.

Unfortunately, however, today's legal and political climate is edging us closer towards the anarchy to which Shakespeare cleverly alluded. In March the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the makers of medical devices who have received FDA approval are protected from lawsuits, no matter what goes wrong with their devices. It now appears the same "pre-emption" protection will soon be afforded drug makers -- the same drug manufacturers who supply the studies on which the FDA bases its decisions. These are the same drug makers who often drag their feet in reporting adverse results and in pulling dangerous drugs off the market.

Do you believe that the understaffed and overwhelmed FDA, which until recently believed lawsuits were an essential additional safety check, should be the sole judge of whether foods, drugs and medical devices are safe for you?

Tell that to the more than 3,000 women and their families who have sued Johnson & Johnson alleging that its Ortho Evra birth-control patch had caused heart attacks, strokes and even death. Rather than delivering less estrogen than a standard daily birth control pill, as the FDA-approved label indicated, the patch actually delivered more and increased the risk of blood clots. Johnson & Johnson, based on its own studies, knew that -- but delayed telling the FDA and the public.

Or tell the hundreds mostly dialysis patients who suffered allergic reactions, including several who died, after taking an apparently tainted blood thinner, heparin. The manufacturer withdrew the drug earlier this year after questions arose about its Chinese supplier -- which apparently had never been inspected by the FDA.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, tort reform -- including proposals to place caps on non-medical damages -- continues to be a popular topic. But, with lawsuits against Pennsylvania doctors declining 38 percent between 2003 and 2006, the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania is over in Gov. Rendell's view. One reason for the decline: a certificate of merit requirement that prevents malpractice lawsuits from proceeding unless a licensed doctor signs off on the validity of the claim. Nonetheless, even though the Institute on Medicine says nearly 100,000 die as a result of medical mistakes each year, hospitals are lobbying to completely shield their doctors from lawsuits.

Trial lawyers strongly endorse legislation that quashes frivolous lawsuits. But if you believe that legitimate litigation plays a crucial role in protecting patients and consumers, let your state and federal legislators know you are opposed to pre-empting litigation rights and capping non-economic damages.

Michael F. Barrett, Esq., Managing Shareholder of Salt Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, P.C., is the newly-elected President of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, a non-profit advocacy organization.

SOURCE Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky P.C.
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