“Ambulance Chasers” At Simpson College

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

When a Simpson College management professor publicly criticized one of her students in a letter to the editor of the school newspaper, she added a page he may not want in his permanent record.

History major Chris Erickson was one of the protestors who dressed up as ambulances before attending a Kerry-Edwards campaign rally at the Indianola, Iowa college in late October that was headlined by Jon Bon Jovi and Leonardo DiCaprio. “The students who tried to portray Edwards as an ‘ambulance chaser’ were disrespectful, and worse yet, lacking in both knowledge and understanding,” Ruth Weatherly, a professor of management at Simpson College wrote in the Simpsonian, the college’s newspaper.

Erickson, who also serves as an executive member of Simpson’s College Republicans, is currently taking a class with Professor Weatherly. As of this writing, the Fort Dodge, Iowa native is averaging a B+ in the course.

“There are rare frivolous lawsuits in the U. S. court system,” according to Professor Weatherly. “Those cases are dealt with appropriately by the judges who hear them.”

“Unfortunately, some students are not paying enough attention in BLaw, since they don’t seem to recall what a frivolous lawsuit is.”

The B in BLaw stands for Business. Business Law is the course that Ericson is taking with Professor Weatherly.

While Professor Weatherly admitted to her presidential preference outside of class, at the podium she would only tell students, “I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote.” Ironically, in their recent exchange, both Erickson and Professor Weatherly raise legitimate questions about the nature and scope of the litigation explosion.

“Ambulance chaser” is a not-entirely-flattering term that skeptics apply to some personal injury lawyers. While not quite as derogatory as “shyster,” the age-old phrase connotes images of lawyers literally chasing ambulances to drum up business by encouraging injured patients to sue for damages.

“The trials in which John Edwards represented injured parties were not frivolous,” Professor Weatherly wrote. “Do the October 28 protestors know anything about the facts of the cases Edwards pursued on behalf of his clients?”

Professor Weatherly tries to provide an answer to this rhetorical question:

“If anything like the following ever happen to any of the student protestors or their family members, I trust they will not seek out the assistance of a trial lawyer: removal of a woman’s breasts (both of them) even though she did not have cancer, when a lab mislabeled her test results; permanent disability of a child after he was given a dose of medicine ten times the proper amount while hospitalized; deaths of a father and child in a car crash caused by tires known by the manufacturer to be defective; death of a 12-year-old when a drunk out-of-control skier knocked her out of a ski lift and into a parking lot.”

Professor Weatherly drew on the experiences of Sen. John Edwards, D-N. C., as he related them in his book Four Trials. Sen. John Edwards, D-N. C. Law Professor Michael Krauss looks at one of those cases in his study on tort reform in North Carolina.

“A 1997 malpractice award of $23 million for a neurologically-impaired baby easily eclipses the Sabia ‘horror story’ from Connecticut, which I use in my Torts class as a case study for med-mal [medical malpractice]’s problems,” Professor Krauss writes.

“Just as in the Sabia case, however, the North Carolina plaintiffs lawyer seemed to concede that his case was not really about proving physician wrongdoing so much as it was about getting money from an insurer to take care of the upbringing of a handicapped child.”

That child’s parents “were very excited that their child is going to be taken care of,” their attorney, future U. S. senator John Edwards, said. “That’s what this is all about.”

In an increasingly litigious society, the actual pain and suffering of the tragically unfortunate get lumped together statistically with the questionable, less-than-readily apparent maladies of other plaintiffs. The cost of all such litigation is staggering.

“The estimated aggregate cost of the tort system in 2002 was $233 billion, or roughly $1,000 for every man, woman and child,” Professor Krauss wrote in his report, “The Tort of Medical Malpractice: Is it time for law reform in North Carolina?”

Professor Krauss teaches at the George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. His study was published by the John Locke Foundation, which is based in Raleigh, N. C.