Lawyers, of course, get a big percentage of any award, but to cover what the lawyers take, the price tags of all consumer goods are a little higher. Life-saving products are especially penalized by the "lawyer tax." A manufacturer who produces pacemakers says lawsuits add thousands of dollars to the cost of every pacemaker. Lawsuits punish hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people.
Critics of lawsuit abuse tend to focus only on the cost of litigation. The cost is nasty. But the higher cost is just the start of the nasty side effects. What's worse is that fear of lawsuits now deprives us of things that make our lives better.
Sure, fear of the "invisible fist" makes manufacturers more careful. Some lives have been saved because the litigation threat got companies to make their products safer. That's the "seen" benefit.
But that benefit comes with a bigger unseen cost: The fear that stops the bad things stops good things, too -- new vaccines, new drugs, new medical devices. Fear suffocates the innovation that, over the past century, has helped extend our life spans by almost 30 years. Every day, we lose good things.
We can't even begin to imagine the life-saving products that might have existed -- if innovators didn't live in a climate of fear. That'll be the subject of next week's column.