NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

SUE-HAPPY STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL HAVE OVERSTEPPED BOUNDS

July 24, 2006

While casting themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, a new breed of state attorneys general increasingly are filing lawsuits that actually steal from middle-income consumers and give to personal injury lawyers, says Jack Strayer, an analyst for the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Consider this recent egregious case:

  • In Rhode Island, Attorney General Patrick Lynch retained the South Carolina firm of Motley Rice to file a public nuisance suit against three leading U.S. paint manufacturers for "contributing" to the state's higher-than-average rate of lead poisoning in children.
  • None of the three paint companies have sold any leaded paint in Rhode Island or any other state for more than 30 years, and all contend there's no way for anyone to determine if the paint they sold then has caused any lead poisoning.
  • Common sense would convince most people that the lead-paint problem can easily be solved by preventive maintenance -- such as painting over flaking areas or simply removing the older paint; the prime responsibility for that should rest with landlords or residents of the affected dwellings.
  • Some of the lawyers who won the $246 billion tobacco settlement in the late 1990s pooled a part of their awards to build cases against other industries -- often working with the attorney general of an affected state.

Critics of the practice, like Lisa Rickard of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute of Legal Reform, say the sue-happy AGs are going far beyond the bounds of their duties to benefit many of the nation's wealthiest lawyers.  The lawyers, she notes, are only too happy to kickback later with huge campaign contributions that bankroll the AGs' bid for higher office.

Source: Jack Strayer, "Should states pit top pros against corporate lawyers?  NO: Sue-happy state attorneys general have overstepped bounds," Charlotte Observer, July 24, 2006.

 

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