OCEAN CITY – Advertisements on city buses usually promote lunch specials at local establishments rather than talk about litigation issues, but if you look closely, that’s what one bus ad campaign is all about.
An ad campaign created by the Maryland Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse showing a picture of a sunbather and the tag line “don’t get burned by lawsuit abuse” can be seen on a handful of Ocean City buses after organizers chose the resort as the perfect place to “make a splash about our issue” during the months when Ocean City is Maryland’s second largest city.
MDCALA Executive Director Todd Lamb said Ocean City is home to numerous legislators and leaders during the summer and hopes that the campaign will raise awareness and educate the public that frivolous lawsuits filed in the state’s judicial system adversely effect more than just the plaintiff and the defendant.
“Lawsuit abuse effects everyone,” said Lamb. “It increases medical costs and scares doctors from practicing in rural areas such as Worcester County, which makes it hard for the general public to find a good doctor in close proximity to their homes.”
Lamb also contended that lawsuit abuse was something that Ocean City residents should pay attention to as the issue his non-profit and non-partisan group is fighting against often hits small businesses.
“The majority of jobs in Ocean City are created by small businesses, which unfortunately bear the brunt of these frivolous lawsuits in the country,” said Lamb.
Lamb says the proverbial line in the sand dividing between lawsuit abuse and a credible claim is the issue of justice vs. greed.
“Personal injury lawyers who make their living off of claims like this often encourage people to sue even if they aren’t injured,” said Lamb, “and unfortunately, when someone has a legitimate claim, it takes a very long time to get their day in court and eventual justice because the system is clogged with ridiculous lawsuits.”
According to a 2002 commercial and Administrative Law subcommittee which met before the House Judiciary Committee, the average time that a person will collect compensation due to the clogged court system from the date of their injury is 1,825 days.
City Solicitor and 38-year veteran practitioner of the law Guy Ayres said that although he thinks lawsuit abuse does happen, he says it might not be on such a grandiose scale.
“We do live in a somewhat litigious society,” said Ayres, “and some people feel that they have no other choice than to go to court, and people are more willing to go to court now. However, the system is set up to curb and stop frivolous claims.”
Ayres said that in the Maryland Rules of Procedure, if a suit is found to be frivolous, both the person who filed the claim and the lawyer who represents that claim face harsh sanctions and penalties.
Ayres also said that he feels there are probably more cases of “plaintiffs with unrealistic financial goals or ideas on how valuable their claim should be.”
For instance, in 2006, a Baltimore jeweler was sued for $3.5 million after a former client was robbed of her diamond ring after leaving a grocery store. The woman claimed that the jeweler, who had appraised the ring two years earlier, was responsible for the armed robbery. According to her reasoning, the jeweler appraised her ring too low, and if she had known the real value, she would not have worn the ring to the grocery store. The suit was finally thrown out of court after two years and $7,000 in legal bills for the jeweler.
Lamb noted that the costs that many doctors, especially in rural areas, must pay for liability insurance is a direct correlation to rampant lawsuit abuse.
“This is not against lawyers, it is more against a mentality and we hope to educate people to not continue with this mindset as it has severe consequences for everyone,” said Lamb. “We need to get back to some level of integrity in the law and get this country back on track. I bet if you looked in the phone book in Ocean City, you’d find more lawyers than pizza places.”
Ayres said that the real issue with the rural doctors such as the ones found in this area, are that historically, they are the lowest paid and oftentimes the last to be paid.
“I think that it’s a reason why more and more doctors are becoming what they call boutique doctors and not accepting insurance of any kind”, said Ayres, “because it’s taking so long for the insurance companies to compensate them, and sometimes, they don’t get paid at all.”