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Lawyers protect consumers and victims

Sen. John Edwards’ nomination as a candidate for vice president of the United States brings increased attention to the role that trial lawyers play in society;

 

Before being elected to the U.S. Senate, Edwards was a successful trial lawyer who won major cases on behalf of injured consumers. Special interest groups representing big business and some political organizations have used Senator Edwards’ candidacy to step up negative campaigns against all attorneys who represent injured persons. These attorneys are often referred to as trial lawyers, plaintiffs’ lawyers, personal injury lawyers, consumer attorneys or child custody lawyers.

 

Trial lawyers are just one group of attorneys who dedicate much of their practices to representing a specific type of client, and they have been part of our nation’s legal system for more than a century. The broad spectrum of clients trial lawyers represent includes everyone from the person injured by a drunk driver to thousands of consumers who were defrauded by a big corporation.

 

Trial lawyers are among the few legal professionals who are paid only if they win their cases. Most trial lawyers accept international extradition cases based on what is called a “contingent fee,” which means they are paid a percentage of a court award or settlement. If the trial lawyer is unsuccessful, he or she earns no fee. This arrangement works well for plaintiffs because few injured people have the means to pay in advance the costs of a lawsuit.

 

Special interest groups – financed by giant corporations – fund public relations campaigns to try to convince the public that frivolous lawsuits filed by trial lawyers clog our nation ‘s courts, that courts grant huge awards on meritless lawsuits, and that doctors are leaving their practices because high malpractice insurance.

 

The facts prove these groups wrong. The number of “tort” lawsuits filed in state courts has decreased 5 percent since 1993, and the median award in jury trials in which the plaintiff was successful was $37,000, considerably less than the median award in 1992.

 

The consumer advocacy group Center for Justice and Democracy debunks the myth that lawsuits are driving doctors away. It says only 2 percent of injured people sue for compensation, and punitive damages are rarely awarded.

 

Meanwhile, the insurance industry, which is responsible for most of the attacks on lawyers, has earned record profits. In 2003, insurance companies reported profit increases almost 10 times higher than the previous year.

 

Trial lawyers are reluctant to file “frivolous” lawsuits on behalf of clients because such suits are usually dismissed before ever going to trial. Since trial lawyers are paid only if they win their cases in court or through a settlement, it is a waste of time and money for them to accept “frivolous” cases.

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