Monday, February 11, 2008

Grisham's "The Appeal"

Anyone who is even mildly interested in the issue of tort reform should pick up a copy of John Grisham's new novel "The Appeal." Though a work of fiction, "The Appeal" relates a story that occurs every year in states across the land.

Basically, the plot concerns a large (fictional) chemical company that has been dumping toxins on their property. The toxins contaminate the water supply of a small town and people start dying of cancer. A law firm takes on some of the cases and bankrupts themselves in obtaining a judgment against the company.

That's where it gets interesting. It turns out that the state supreme court is divided 5 - 4 against tort reform and in favor of letting large judgments stand. And it also turns out that one of the majority is up for election and the election will be held before the appeal is perfected.

So, the big chemical company sponsors their own, tort reform friendly, candidate, spending millions in a bid to unseat the incumbent and change the court's makeup to one that is friendly to their point of view. That's as far as I will go, since I don't want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read it, but the point I am making is that this is happening all over the country. Judges who are friendly to the consumer are being replaced by judges who are friendly to big business and it's happening not because the electorate is in favor of big business but because the money that the companies pump into the race can basically buy an election.

This is a cautionary tale about how the courthouse doors are being closed to the common man who has a grievance against a business for an injury. It's about how slick marketing schemes to blame "trial lawyers" for every ill from inflation to higher insurance premiums can sway voters to elect candidates whose opinions might ultimately harm them.

Perhaps this novel will cause people to start to take a very close look at what is happening in this country, while we still have a country that people can recognize.


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