chronicling the high cost of our legal system

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Posted Mar. 31: 

A widely applauded provision in the new federal "terrorism insurance" law is intended to facilitate lawsuits against nations and private parties adjudged to have committed, or aided and abetted, terrorism.  To understand the danger here, it is useful to look at history.  If based on today's standards, compensatory and punitive damages against Germany for the actions of its World War II war machine would have exceeded the wealth and GNP of that country for eternity.  Had the tort arrangements apparently favored by many advocates of the new law been in effect then, it would have resulted in a level of reparations ruinous enough to have precluded the reconstruction of Germany and its return to the international community. Yet would anyone seriously contend that the fear of paying eventual punitive damages would have deterred Hitler from embarking on his reign of terror? 

Decisions over postwar reparations are of great historical import. They should not be a function of private litigation, but of diplomacy that considers all factors at the time.  Done wrong, as in Versailles in 1919, they can condemn the world to war and suffering.  Expanding our tort law to this arena by empowering "angry victims and aggressive lawyers" may be cathartic, but the cost may be greater than we know.   Extending our pathological tort system to the new area of international law is a mistake of historical magnitude.  -- Al Rodbell, Carlsbad, Calif.

I read the Lynn Sweet piece in the Chicago Sun-Times (see Mar. 4) about Sen. Edwards's use of the cerebral palsy patient as a prop in a Senate speech.  According to the piece by reporter Sweet the 1992 obstetrical case was "botched".  Your recent piece in the WSJ (see Feb. 27) gives an excellent review of how lawyers have won cerebral palsy cases against doctors using assumptions that are not scientifically valid.  Just wondering: has anyone gone back to review the case Edwards won for $5 million to see if it would hold up to what we now know about the causes of CP? -- S. W. Bondurant, M.D.

-- Good question.  We hope some professional news organization looks into it, and publicizes whatever it learns.  -- ed.

Maybe there's hope yet.  Today's (Feb. 26, not online) Courier News of Bridgewater, N.J. reports on a case in which a judge actually made a sane decision regarding a lawsuit.  It seems a boy jumped over a chain fence designed to keep cars from driving onto a school playground.  He chipped several teeth -- and his mother sued claiming the school was negligent for allowing "a dangerous situation to exist".

Judge Rosemarie R. Williams, a Superior Court judge sitting in my town of Somerville, noted that the chain was painted yellow and was connected to two yellow posts.  Also, children were easily able to walk around it to get to the playground.  She also said that it was difficult for her to view an item that was put into place to protect students from a far more obvious danger as creating a dangerous situation itself.  Finally, she ruled that climbing, walking, or jumping over the chain when it could have been walked around was not an exercise of due care. 

And then she threw out the case. Three cheers for Judge Williams! -- Bob Bullock, Somerville, N.J.

As a physician, as an old follower of Quackwatch, and as a card carrying skeptic, I feel I should warn you that your periodic email site updates have recently included advertisements promoting the use of colloidal silver, a modern equivalent of snake oil.  I realize you can't investigate all such products and you are not endorsing or backing this product, but you should know that belief in colloidal silver as a miracle cure is on the same plane as the health scares over mercury in dental fillings, autoimmune diseases from silicone, and brain cancer from cell phones.  In fact, in some instances the use of colloidal silver can cause real disease.  Readers may wish to consider Quackwatch's reference to colloidal silver and Rosemary Jacobs's story before experimenting with such treatments.  -- Scott L. Replogle, M.D., Louisville, Colo.

-- We share reader Replogle's disquiet.  The Topica service, which distributes our newsletter, inserts ads of its own choosing and neither gives us advance notice of their content nor allows us to veto future insertions.  We've put an advisory in the newsletter text warning readers that we in no way endorse or necessarily approve of products or services promoted in the ads.  -- ed.

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