Thursday, March 11, 2004

Why we need fewer lawyers 

Because things like this are far too common.

In more innocent times, mothers visited schools to bake brownies with kindergartners, fathers chaperoned field trips, grandfathers came in to help 6-year-olds learn to read, and no one gave it a second thought.

But in these complicated, nervous days, a growing number of school districts nationwide are adopting rigorous security policies for parents and others who want to volunteer.

Take Rio Rancho, N.M., a district just outside Albuquerque. Under a policy adopted last year, parents who want to mentor in the schools must produce character references and go through a criminal background check, fingerprinting and training.
Before you say, "But those are just isolated cases," let me tell you that I know people who work at schools in various places, ranging from Maine, to Michigan, to Maryland, and this kind of thing is happening everywhere.

And of course, it's being done in the name of safety for the children. But it's not really about safety. It's about making a big show of exhausting every screening method so the school district won't get sued for negligence when a parent convinces a kid that he/she was wronged by someone.

So the schools spend money on training sessions, fingerprinting, and criminal background checks... or they get sued and spend even more money. How many books could be purchased with that money? How many classroom assistants could be hired? What is deprived from the children when education money is not spent to teach them anything, but to keep lawyers off the schools' backs?

Lawyers have made us into a risk-averse society. We can never achieve zero risk, but God forbid something unpleasant happens, because then you'll be sued for accepting a slight risk and endangering others.

I get even more incensed reading the other headlines lately. People talk about suing fast food places, I assume for advertising Big Macs as diet food and forcing people to eat three at a time. McDonald's does not make you eat their food. Then people sue gun makers. Bushmaster did not make John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo shoot people. They made that decision themselves. You might as well sue Boeing for making airliners that are known to be hijacked occasionally. That's an unacceptable risk to the consumer! Sue them!

Will we ever be responsible for our own actions again, or are we already a nation of people who look for the nearest deep-pocketed organization to blame for everything that happens?

UPDATE: If all of the above is too abstract, then let's put it in dollar terms. How much do you think lawyers indirectly add to the cost of your medical care, or the price of an airline ticket, or even a gallon of gasoline for your car or a cart full of groceries? Across the whole economy, it's in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that it could save between $25.3 and $44.3 billion of your money every year, on health care alone, if limits were placed on medical malpractice damages. Just think of how much health care that money could buy for the uninsured or underinsured.

And just think of how much excess spending goes on in other sectors...
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