Ill Suited

Tort reform. No, it is not about the pastry business. For years various interest groups have complained that the unscrupulous have abused the right to sue. They've tangled business, medicine, all of us, in a fear of litigation. Far too many decisions are based less on merit than on protecting one's legal butt.

And now, they have another poster child ... that D.C. lawyer and his pants suit. He's demanding $50 million-plus from a dry cleaner who allegedly gave him the wrong trousers. Even when he loses, his small-business defendants will have also lost ... their attorney fees will just about wipe them out.

It just goes to show, the reformers argue, that there must be protection against these frivolous, malicious lawsuits. Or at least limitations.

Here's the problem: How, besides the right to sue, do we protect ourselves against sloppiness by doctors, disdain from insurance companies, egregious negligence by manufacturers, misleading conduct by business?

I mean, let's face it, we are now a society that is based on MIStrust. The truth is that if someone feels he can get away with something, he'll probably try. The one thing that might give him pause is the threat of a lawsuit and serious penalties. And many of the limitations that are being proposed would really stack the deck against those who have legitimate grievances.

But as we also know, if someone can expect to get money he doesn't deserve by filing litigation, he'll probably try that too. Chances are the one he sues will settle out of court just to avoid the expense and nuisance.

So what we seem to have here is another of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" catch-22s. It's enough to make one want to sue.