Lawsuits & The ‘Little Guys”

So let’s say there’s a guy who’s driving a SUV in an ice storm. Witnesses say that he was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic and it turns out that the driver and one of his two passengers, were not wearing seatbelts.

Tragically, the driver loses control of his car, it rolls over three times, and he’s thrown clear and paralyzed. The other passenger with no seatbelt on dies, but the passenger who was strapped in, walks away with minor injuries.

So who’s at fault here? Well, according to the family of the driver, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, the SUV maker, GM, is responsible

“Attorneys made opening statements Wednesday in the wrongful death civil trial of Derrick Thomas, and the trial began Wednesday afternoon.

The former Kansas City Chief died four and a half years ago after he was injured when his Chevy Suburban flipped several times during an ice storm.

Thomas and another person in the SUV, who also died, were not wearing seat belts.

Witnesses said Thomas was speeding.

Despite that information, Thomas’ family claimed the maker of his sport utility vehicle was responsible.

KCTV5’s Robert Lyles reported on “KCTV5 News at 4 p.m.” that jurors were hearing the claim from the attorneys for the survivors of Thomas that General Motors put a deadly, defective vehicle on the street.

Thomas’ mother, Edith Morgan, brought the suit.

All morning, her attorneys laid the ground work for a case that they said GM knew or had knowledge that the 1999 Chevy Suburban rooftop collapsed in any rollover of more than one rotation, and they did nothing about it.

“GM was aware that in a rollover more than one full time that there was a serious chance the roof could crush an occupant and kill people, the plaintiff’s attorney said.

GM argued quite the contrary, saying Thomas was responsible for his rollover and eventual death, driving too fast and not wearing a seat belt. They even argued there was no blood on the ceiling of the Suburban, suggesting there was no rooftop collapse.”

Look, even if the roof caved in on Thomas — which sounds like it may be a dubious proposition to begin with given that there’s no blood on the ceiling of the SUV — it would still be Thomas’ own fault that he got killed.

Speeding and weaving in and out of traffic in ice storm while not wearing your seatbelt is the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette. You’re gambling with your life when you do that and to try to blame the car manufacturer because a loved one got killed in that situation is ridiculous.

This sort of case is exactly why we need tort reform. Notice that as we go in, we know that the person who was harmed was recklessly misusing the product in question in a way that any child could tell him was dangerous.

Yet and still, Derrick Thomas’ family has every incentive to play “lawsuit lottery” here. Thomas was a hero in KC and let’s face it, no one feels sorry for a big corporation that gets nailed with a huge lawsuit. So, they can offer the lawyers a share of the winnings via contingency fees and risk nothing but their time.

On the other hand, GM gets terrible publicity, has to spend extravagant amounts on legal fees with absolutely no recompense if they win the case, and risks a jury of teary eyed Chiefs fans forcing them to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars because they feel sorry for the family of Derrick Thomas.

People cheer when big companies lose cases like this and they call it a “victory for the little guy”. But, if GM gets hits with a 500 million dollar verdict, they’ll have to make up the costs somewhere else. That means it’ll come out of the pocket of the “little guys” who buy their cars or they will be able to afford to pay less “little guys” to work for them. Some “victory” for the little guy that is…

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