A legal watchdog group – Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch – that disbanded in 2013 has returned as MiLAW due to what it calls “a disturbing turn for the worse” in Michigan’s legal liability system.
Michigan now ranks 33rd among the 50 states in the 2019 Lawsuit Climate Survey performed by the Harris Poll and the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The survey is said to be the nation’s most comprehensive poll of how lawyers and senior attorneys at the largest companies in America view the nation’s lawsuit climate.
“After years of being ranked in the top half of all the states in the nation for having a fair and reasonable legal system, Michigan has sunk to the bottom half of the rankings along with states like Mississippi and California,” says Bob Dorigo Jones, president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
“Michigan’s lawsuit climate is becoming more volatile and unpredictable, and as that happens, it becomes less attractive to job providers who are deciding where to locate their business. Of those who participated in the survey, 89 percent said that a state’s litigation climate is likely to impact important business decisions at their companies,” he says.
“With all of the variables that affect a state’s business climate, it’s easy to overlook the importance of its legal liability system. Taxes, government regulations, quality of education, availability, and cost of skilled labor and many other issues certainly weigh heavily when business decisions are made, but this survey shows that it’s time to put the spotlight on Michigan’s litigation climate again.”
For 17 years, Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch served as a non-partisan citizen watchdog over the courts. It worked to increase public awareness of all the ways excessive litigation negatively affects job providers, families, and communities.
“Many people view lawsuits as a problem only for businesses or insurance companies,” adds Dorigo Jones. “However, nothing could be further from the truth. When we began publishing our research in 1997, we discovered that non-profit organizations were some of those hardest hit by lawsuit abuse.
“At that time, the Girl Scouts of Metro Detroit reported that it had to sell 36,000 boxes of cookies every year just to raise enough money to pay for their liability insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits. They weren’t alone in dealing with this problem. Little League baseball, horse riding programs for the developmentally disabled, and many more community groups were being rocked by the high cost of liability insurance.”
Gradually, things began to improve. Common sense legal reforms enacted by the legislature began to provide more stability for the legal climate. The Michigan Supreme Court developed a reputation across the country for tossing frivolous lawsuits out of court and for limiting the spread of legal liability. By 2015, Michigan’s ranking in the Lawsuit Climate Survey had risen to 24th in the nation. Job providers were beginning to have a favorable view of Michigan’s legal climate again.
With this new ranking, fears over lawsuit abuse are rising again in the business community, and in 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court, where rule-of-law justices have held a majority for 22 years, could reverse direction.
“At the end of this year,” states Dorigo Jones, “Justice Stephen Markman must retire because he’s reached the maximum age for justices. That means the personal injury bar could regain a majority on the high court if the candidate they support wins the election.
“Lawsuit abuse is a term we use because it encompasses more than frivolous lawsuits. For instance, defensive medicine has become an expensive problem in America these days because many doctors and health professionals feel the need to constantly order more tests than are needed. They do this in an effort to ward off speculative lawsuits by personal injury lawyers who second-guess their decisions. Lawsuits can also be used as a weapon to intimidate or to deflect responsibility by those who are guilty of misconduct or negligence. And it can happen in the private as well as the public sectors.”
Litigation has a far-reaching impact on our lives in so many ways, according to the group. How will it affect the availability of safe drinking water? How will it affect the ability of the auto industry to provide consumers with autonomous vehicles? How will it affect the availability of medical care and potentially life-saving prescription drugs?
“These questions are crucial to the future of our state, and that’s why Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch is returning to action,” concluded Dorigo Jones. “This time, we will be known as MiLAW for short, pronounced MyLaw, to emphasize the personal stake each Michigan resident has in eliminating lawsuit abuse.”