From Pine View Farm

Courts and Torts 2

Back when I worked for the railroad, I had co-workers in the Claims Department. Fraudulent claims were common–so much so that the railroad would hire detectives to follow persons claiming disability to their second jobs–which sometimes turned out to be loading furniture trucks.

This is not to say, by any means, that all claims were fraudulent. Most were not. And most claimants were fairly treated, compensated for lost time, and given proper medical care, without needing to resort to the courts.

(Aside: the railroad does not operate under the workmen’s compensation system. It operates under FELA, which is all or nothing. I still receive letters from personal injury lawyers with numbers like 1-800-xxx-FELA wanting to know whether I sustained hearing loss during my years in engine service–and I was no more an engineer than George Bush is a scholar!)

But fraudulent claims are commonly pursued in our courts by lawyers who figure that insurance companies and employers will pay because, frankly, settling is cheaper than fighting in court, where lawyer fees may top $500 an hour. When looking at a multi-week trial, settling for a measly hundred grand or two looks cheap.

This story shows what happens when companies decide to fight. The story is well-worth a read; the broadcast is doubly well-worth a listen.

In a packed Texas courtroom last year, a federal judge accused doctors and lawyers of legal and medical fraud.


But the lawsuits hit a major roadblock in Corpus Christi, Texas, when a judge warned a testifying doctor that he might want to get a lawyer before he said anything further. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that thousands of silicosis claims had been manufactured for money. Her ruling is having an impact on hundreds of thousands of asbestos and silica claims across the country.

Now I predict we will hear a chorus from the lawyers that this ruling is denying injured persons their day in court. As I read it, it is not. It is only requiring that persons who file a claim have evidence.

After all, evidence is what a trial is all about.

I’m not one who favors limiting anyone’s right to sue or the awards that plaintiffs can get. Persons who are grievously wronged deserve grievous recompence.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that frivolous suits should be dealt with harshly, that is, bounced out of court on their ears; furthermore, I believe the tendency of companies to settle because it’s cheaper than fighting more than any other factor has fostered the proliferation of frivolous and dubious civil lawsuits.



  1. Karen

    March 7, 2006 at 8:11 am

    I spent many years working as a claims adjuster for many insurance companies. Yes, the insurance companies are guilty of the thinking that it’s cheaper to settle. To stop this, it would take getting rid of the sleezy personal injury attorneys, & their puppet chiropractors. Most of the specials that are presented are chiro bills. There are very little in the way of bills from real doctors. Plus, lazy people would have to have the desire to work for a living, not count on settlements from insurance companies. Hence the term “professional claimant”. They should see the list that pops up when their names are run through C.L.U.E. Even they would be embarrassed.

  2. Frank

    March 7, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    If they would fight one or two, the rest go away.

    Early in my career, I worked for the complaint department of a major national transportation company. Some crackpot passenger filed a smalls claim court case in Oakland, Calif. The Law Department decided not to pursue it, because they would have had to pay $350 an hour to some local Cali attorney to fight the case.

    So my supervisor got together with the Lead Ticket Agent (a union employee, by the way) in Oakland, prepped a defense, and beat the case.

    The nuisance claims in Northern Cali decreased significantly.

    Don’t blame the carrion-eaters for feasting on the corpse; blame the legal eagles for leaving the corpse for them to feast on.