Editorial: Trial Lawyers

Scruggs, meanwhile, revolutionized American tort law, by rounding up thousands of plaintiffs to take on major businesses and industries, including cigarette makers, drug companies and construction firms. The crush of litigation often forced companies into major settlements.

Trial lawyers across the country learned from them and followed their lead. Each man became the scourge of many corporate corner offices, which were forced to spend time and money battling legal claims the companies often deemed frivolous.

But plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that their legal action filled a regulatory void and helped to keep Big Business in check.

There’s a little bit of truth to both sides.

Just consider the tangled mess surrounding asbestos litigation, which has dragged on for decades. Thousands of individuals who were harmed or died from asbestos have received some financial compensation. But many of the claims have proved to be bogus, cooked up by sleazy lawyers, aided by shoddy doctors.

The same goes for silicosis litigation, where a federal judge ruled in 2006 that thousands of claims had been manufactured for money.

The lesson here is that the trial lawyers play a key role in our legal system. But in pursuing fraud, the trial lawyers can’t commit fraud.

Many state courts and the Supreme Court have issued recent rulings that amount to major setbacks for the plaintiffs’ bar. But it’s hard to rally support for trial lawyers when the leaders of the field are going off to prison.

The trial bar has long been held in low esteem in polls. All the more reason why attorneys must maintain high ethical standards when representing individuals and companies.

Weiss, Lerach and Scruggs did lots of good in their day. But they got greedy and broke the law.

Now, it’s their turn to pay up.

Philadelphia Inquirer