Do California Counties and Cities Spend Too Much on Lawsuits?

The California Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), an insurance industry-backed organization whose goal is to limit access to justice, is out with a study that finds that eight of California’s largest cities and nine of the largest counties spent $504.1 million in 2007 and 2008 to defend lawsuits, and to pay settlement and judgments.

While those numbers may be accurate (it’s hard to tell), the so-called study provides no real context for the number. For example, what percentage of the overall budgets of the cities and counties does $504.1 million represent for a two-year period? How many lawsuits are we talking about here, and what percentage were meritorious, and what percentage were defeated? We’ll probably never know, which is the problem with the “lawsuit abuse” organizations.

For example, a few years ago a San Francisco jury awarded $27 million to the family of a 4-year-old girl who was fatally struck by a City of San Francisco truck driver who ran a red light, jumped a curb, and crushed the little girl and her mother, who was severely injured. Is that a legitimate lawsuit and verdict against the City? Or the more recent Metrolink crashes in Los Angeles that killed 18 people after the engineer, it was learned, was texting moments before the accident. If those injured or killed bring cases against entities responsible for the crash, is that considered “lawsuit abuse”?

That’s the problem with CALA’s report. Whenever it, and similar organizations, issue a press release it must be taken with a grain of salt. Shouldn’t the legal fees and awards from legitimate claims be deducted from the overall number being bandied about by CALA? I mean, I don’t think anyone would argue that the victims of the Metrolink shouldn’t be compensated for the devastation that has been visited upon them by the negligence of a government employee.

But we won’t hear about the legitimate claims from CALA, because “fair-and-balanced” information is not part of its objective. We will only hear about the claims that sound frivolous, so the public will infer that aggrieved people are abusing the justice system, when there is very little evidence to support that. Does CALA protect the taxpayers, or is it’s objective something larger. This is from the Center for Justice Democracy:

While CALA represents themselves as grassroots citizens groups, and they say they are sustained by small donations from ordinary citizens, they actually represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers. The money trail from these groups leads directly to large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations, and auto manufacturers. They are also funded by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), as well as professional associations, local businesses and industries that also wish to be shielded from consumer lawsuits.

Be wary of organizations who want to “reform” the justice system. Our system works remarkably well the way it is. Want proof of that? Just go down to the court house and watch a few trials. I will bet that you will be impressed with the quality of cases that have been brought (even the ones that lose), and you’ll have a renewed sense of satisfaction in our system of justice.

Based in San Diego, California, the accident and injury lawyers at the Walton Law Firm represent individuals and families throughout the region who have been injured in all types of auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, and all other accidents caused by negligent conduct. Call (866) 607-1325 for a free consultation.

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