Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Math: B minus C+ = $1.3 million!?!?

It’s not often that our alma mater makes national headlines, but Lehigh University was back in the news today, not because they beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament again, but because a fellow graduate has sued our fine institution for $1.3 million.

Lehigh’s crime is allegedly having the audacity to give Megan Thode a C+ in a counseling and human services fieldwork class when she needed a B.  How dare Lehigh expect its students to meet rigorous academic standards!

Under this premise, should be sunbathing on their own Lehigh-funded island in the Caribbean…

Not only did we receive an “unfair” grade or two (…or ten) in our day, but Lehigh took away our dream of becoming a major league baseball player.  After a respectable freshmen season, Lehigh ignored our potential and cut us from the baseball team.  Lehigh's action made it all but impossible for us to pursue our desired occupation as second baseman for the Chicago Cubs.  In 2012, the average major league second basemen made $3.2 million per year.  Had Lehigh not cut us, we would have continued our baseball career all the way to the major leagues, playing for 8-12 years, plus lucrative coaching and broadcasting opportunities after our playing days were over.  We’re getting lawyered up as we speak, but we think we’re owed at least 20 million bucks.

Damn you Lehigh!!

Seriously, Ms. Thode is a surefire contender for 2013’s most ridiculous lawsuits list.  Add this to the never-ending, and far-to-often frivolous, patent, copyright, medical malpractice and discrimination lawsuits, and it’s clear that our legal system is broken.  Not only do these lawsuits overwhelm our courts and judges, they are killing our economy by siphoning billions out of our pockets through higher prices (legal costs passed along to customers) and reduced productivity (spending time and money on legal proceedings rather than research and development).

Luckily, we have a very simple and elegant solution.  In fact, it’s a tried and tested solution that just about every other legal jurisdiction in the world already has in place.

Loser pays.

Here’s our proposed legislation – the “Fix Our Legal System in One Sentence Act”:

“In criminal or civil legal proceedings, any Defendant who is not convicted of a crime or is not found liable for monetary damages, shall be reimbursed for all reasonable legal costs incurred to defend themselves by the Plaintiff.”

Done.  In one simple sentence, it’s estimated that each American family would benefit to the tune of $3,500 per year.  No new taxes, no increased regulation, no deficit spending required.

For a detailed illustration of these costs, a survey of 36 Fortune 200 companies administered by Northwestern Law School shows that those 36 companies spent over $4 billion in 2008 on litigation costs. This $4 billion is just the cost of litigation – it does not include any settlements or damages awards. Extrapolate this out to the entire Fortune 200 and that’s over $20 billion in litigation costs funneled away from research and development and into lawyers pockets.  Some of these costs will be legitimate legal expenses incurred during the normal course of business, but too much of it will be spent fighting frivolous lawsuits.

How many of these frivolous lawsuits would be avoided if the Plaintiff faced the possibility of paying a significant penalty if they lost (i.e. the Defendants legal costs), and their lawyers faced the possibility of not collecting their fees?  Most, if not all.

But won’t this scare away Plaintiffs who have a legitimate legal gripe?  No.  This proposal does not take away anyone’s right to sue.  If you have a strong case, you shouldn’t be concerned about losing and can expect to settle or win outright on the merits of their case.  Similarly, no lawyer would turn down a pro-bono case that was virtually certain to result in a windfall of fees.

Loser pays takes away the lottery ticket mentality of the legal system as we know it, and it’s about time.  What are the chances that Ms. Thode sues Lehigh University if she’d have to pay their legal bills when her case is thrown out?  Nil.  And that’s the way it should be.  Lehigh should be spending its money on need-based scholarship to eager and accomplished students, not on defending itself from immature and entitled freeloaders.


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