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Are Tort Reformers Going After the Wrong Target?

New York personal injury lawyer Eric Turkewitz takes a critical look at a lawsuit by numbers kingpin-cum-Rikers Island inmate Raymond Marquez, alleging that the New York City Department of Corrections' indoor smoking policy caused Marquez's bladder cancer.  Despite the fact that Marquez had smoked for thirty years before quitting around the mid-1970s, his lawsuit attributed his cancer to the second hand smoke that he endured between 1998 and 2001 while awaiting trial at Rikers Island for a crime for which he was subsequently acquitted.  On Friday, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the City.

Turkewitz comments:

When I first heard about the litigation, it sounded like a dog, and I don't know any reputable personal injury firm that would have taken it. And as it turns out, the suit was brought by the plaintiff's son, who happens to be a local attorney.

Because most reputable lawyers would have -- and indeed did -- decline this case, Turkewitz argues that it's unfair for the City to make the case a poster child for "ridiculous lawsuits" as it has done in recent press releases. 

Turkewitz makes an interesting point.  Some of the most notable examples of litigation-gone-wild -- such as Roy Pearson's $65 million pants suit against the dry cleaners or the $54 million suit against Best Buy for losing a woman's computer in the repair shop -- were brought by pro se litigants (though Pearson is a lawyer).   In many pro se cases, or cases where a plaintiff is represented by a friend or a relative, it's often because most sensible plaintiffs' lawyers turned the cases down.  For that reason, is it fair to use cases that no lawyer would have taken anyway as an example of what's broken in the tort system or as a basis for criticizing trial lawyers?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 14, 2008 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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