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'NO CONTEST: CORPORATE LAWYERS AND THE PERVERSION OF JUSTICE IN AMERICA" BY RALPH NADER AND WESLEY J. SMITH PUBLISHED BY RANDOM HOUSE, 201 E. 50TH ST., NEW YORK, N.Y. 10022 $25.95
Risk managers and the organizations employing them are big buyers of legal talent. By now, we are accustomed to hearing diatribes about personal injury lawyers. Ralph Nader and Wesley Smith try to turn the tables on lawyer-bashing, though, by giving corporate attorneys a taste of the medicine usually reserved for the ambulance-chasers. Is there a thin line separating the personal injury lawyers from the corporate bar? The authors say there is.
Raking more muck than you can shake a stick at, the authors attempt to negate what they see as a corporate-financed propaganda blitz that paints gigantic companies as innocent victims of ordinary Americans bent on suing their way to financial independence. The authors argue that the American legal system has virtually abandoned the ideal of providing all citizens access to justice. Instead, they maintain, courts have largely become the playground of the nation's largest corporations and their hand-picked legal pit bulls.
Mr. Nader, of course, is a consumer advocate with whom we are by now most familiar. Co-author Mr. Smith is an attorney, author and consumer activist. Doubtlessly the trial lawyers association will howl in delight as their counterparts on the other side of the legal fence get their retribution.
"No Contest," has lots of familiar names. In fact, there's a good chance that at least one of the law firms risk managers or their companies use will be in Mr. Nader's gun sights, skewered as a running dog for corporate interests. For Messrs. Nader and Smith truly believe these lawyers and firms-defenders of The Establishment-are the true powers eroding the basic rights of the little guys, who seek truth, justice and $10 million in punitive damages, preferably in small, unmarked bills. The annoying thing about these power lawyers is they get in the way of regular citizens who might otherwise sue their way to riches.
Messrs. Nader and Smith jab at the myths they say underlie much of corporate propaganda about a "tort crisis."
For example, they re-examine the case of Judith Haimes, a Philadelphia soothsayer who was awarded $1 by a jury because a CAT scan damaged her psychic aura. The book points out that, due to an appeal, plaintiff Haimes never received a dime. To his view, these types of anecdotes are untruths paraded out by advocates of not tort reform but tort deform.
Like a magnetic field that polarizes iron shavings on one side or another, "No Contest" is one of those books you will love or hate-no middle ground-depending on whether you view yourself as pro-business or pro-consumer. Most risk and insurance professionals will likely view themselves on the business end of the continuum.
Messrs. Nader and Smith won't find risk managers a sympathetic audience with "No Contest" and clearly didn't have that specialized audience in mind when they undertook this would-be expose. That is not to say, however, that risk and insurance professionals should ignore "No Contest," or trivialize it as the rantings of some tort-happy attorneys. Whether or not you buy into the authors' case, "No Contest" offers a provocative read that may leave you forever viewing differently those in the defense bar who represent corporate interests.
Kevin M. Quinley is senior vp-risk services for MEDMARC Insurance Co. and Hamilton Resources Corp., both of Fairfax, Va.