People always like to talk about tort reform. Malpractice reform is the sub-species currently in season, but tort will come back. We just need a spilled-McDonald's coffee lady for this generation. (Scroll to the second paragraph if you think hers was a nuisance suit - she was 79, suffered third degree burns, spent eight days in the hospital, underwent skin grafts and was originally offered just $800 towards her $20,000 in medical bills).
This is what I want you to think about the next time a middle-aged man in a grey suit with a neck as wide as his head tells you about tort reform, and how it's in your best interest. Particularly, I want you to think about this part:
On March 6, 2007, Torres-Gomez, a seven-year Cintas employee, climbed onto a slow-moving conveyor to clear a jam of wet laundry, instead of shutting off the machinery as he was supposed to do.
He jumped up and down on the clump and fell into the 300-degree dryer. Twenty minutes later, another employee heard his burned body banging around in the dryer and made the grisly discovery.
Now, before you get too caught up on "supposed to", read this part:
Torres' suit claims her husband and his co-workers were encouraged by Cintas managers to climb onto the conveyors to dislodge clumps of uniforms to keep up with production.
Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that in the year and a half after the accident in Tulsa, at least eight Cintas plants in six states had been cited by OSHA and state authorities for hazards similar to those that led to Torres-Gomez's death.
A man died. This is not an incident that does not get reported to corporate. Yet, in the 18 months after a man was baked to death in an oven, federal regulators discovered that the practices that lead to his death were still going on.
Deaths are sometimes not enough to make factories, products, lives, safer. Why? Because sometimes deaths, maimings, explosions and all other business casualties are more cost-effective than safety measures.
Workers' comp premiums increase a bit, or you settle small for lost earning capacity, loss of consortium, (loss of consortium - a fun claim, meaning money paid to your spouse or sometimes your children to the damages to family relationships caused by your horrific fiery death). And as long as the ratio of baked-laundrymen to efficiency gains is correct, they'll never stop putting workers in danger.
Unless you fuck their ratio.
And that's what big tort awards do. A multi-million dollar settlement for a dead laundryman may be a windfall to his family, and to his lawyers, considering that if he'd died of swine flu or fell in the bathroom they'd be left with insurance or nothing. But that multi-million dollar settlement may make people think again about safety in the workplace - it makes it less efficient to play with worker's lives.
It makes us all safer.
I love my current job, at a small business litigation practice in a wonderful building, with a brilliant and humane and mentoring boss; I'm crazy for litigation and most people consider our kind - employment discrimination and suits between businesses, pretty sinless. Clean.
But sometimes, I wanna be a ninja. Sometimes, I'd rather do personal injury.