John Stossel

Tort lawyers lie. They say their product liability suits are good for us. But their lawsuits rarely make our lives better. They make lawyers and a few of their clients better off -- but for the majority of us, they make life much worse.

Years back, as one of America's first consumer reporters, I'd avenge harmed consumers by bringing cameras to the offending business and confronting the crooks. My work warned others about the dangers in the marketplace but didn't do much for the victims.

So I thought about those personal injury lawyers. They could do more good -- they could sue bad companies, force them to change and get the victims money. I started referring hurt consumers to lawyers.

Imagine my shock when consumers called to say their lawyers took most of the money!

Even when the lawyers do help their clients, they hurt everyone else because fear of their lawsuits takes away many good things: Swimming pools, playgrounds and gymnastics programs close because liability insurance is so expensive. Kids lose their favorite places to hang out in the summer.

More importantly, innovators dump potentially life-saving inventions. Companies that started work on a safer asbestos substitute, an AIDS vaccine and a Lyme disease vaccine gave up the research because any work in those areas risked stirring up the lawyers. The liability risk was too great.

It's why I've come to think of lawyers the way I think about nuclear missiles. We need them to keep us safe. But we avoid using missiles because we understand the collateral damage they do. We ought to avoid lawyers for the same reason. I'll explore this problem Thursday night on my Fox Business program.

Look at health care. The lawyers claim they punish bad doctors and win compensation for injured patients, and their suits add "less than 2 percent to the cost." But there is another side to that story.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, chairman of obstetrics at Hackensack University Medical Center, points out that 1 or 2 percent is just the direct cost. The indirect costs are far higher because suits force doctors and hospitals to practice defensive medicine and do unnecessary tests.

"If ... you walk in (an emergency room) with a headache, what do they do? They order a CAT scan, an MRI, you name it, " Alvarez said.

They do surgery on people who may not need it. That's safer for the doctor, although it's not safer for the patients.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate