I'll See You In Court


November 21, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

I am sick and tired of all this lawyer-bashing. When I hear somebody say something bad about lawyers, it makes me want to walk up and spit in his face, thereby causing him to shove me, so I can fall down and file a $17 million personal-injury lawsuit against him.

I am darned grateful that I live in a country that has, more lawyers than any other country in the entire world. We need a lot of lawyers, to protect all these rights we have as Americans, including -- but not limited to -- the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, job security, decent housing, affordable health care, the capture of happiness, a non-smoking section, a joke-free work environment, a smoking section, cable TV, a team that makes the playoffs, rain-free outdoor weddings, risk-free bungee-jumping, warning labels on everything including spiders, self-esteem and a choice of low-fat desserts.

We have so many rights that we cannot possibly keep track of them all with our primitive non-legal minds.

A fine example of this, brought to my attention by alert reader Leon Rothman, is the Case of the Denture Adhesive Menace, as reported in a Miami Herald story by Bruce Taylor Seeman. Let me review the facts of the case:

From 1985 to 1990, a company named SmithKline Beecham manufactured denture adhesives sold under the names "Orafix Special" and "Brace." SmithKline recalled these products in 1990 after they were found to contain trace amounts of benzene, a carcinogen. SmithKline contends that the products were not harmful. There is no evidence anybody got cancer from using them.

Then a retired Philadelphia auto-supplies dealer named Meyer E. Duboff, who used SmithKline denture products, contacted his lawyer, Jay S. Cohen.

"He called me and said, 'I've been using this stuff for years. Can you check it out?' " Cohen told the Miami Herald.

OK, is everybody following this? One guy has called his lawyer. This guy does not have cancer. Nobody has cancer.

So the lawyer told the guy: "Gosh, Meyer, nothing really happened. Why don't you just forget about it?"

No! Just kidding! That might happen in some backward, under-lawyered nation like Japan, but not here in the U.S.A.! What happened here, of course, was that Cohen and some other lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against SmithKline on behalf of Duboff and all the other denture-adhesive users out there who had not yet noticed that they were victims.

And of course SmithKline, to avoid the hassle and legal expense of a trial, settled out of court. Three groups got money in the settlement:

1. MR. DUBOFF. He got $25,000. Fair enough. It was his idea in the first place.

2. THE OTHER DENTURE-ADHESIVE VICTIMS. They were notified of their victimhood via newspaper advertisements and direct mailings, paid for by SmithKline. About 650 people sent in proof that they had purchased Orafix Special or Brace; each of these people received $7. Another 2,800 people, who did not have proof of purchase, received a package of discount coupons for SmithKline products.

3. THE LAWYERS FOR THE PLAINTIFF. If you are a fan of Justice, American Style, you will be very excited when I tell you what the lawyers got, in expenses and legal fees.

They got $954,934.57.

"It's a lot of money," said Cohen. "But there's also a lot of money that goes into these cases."

I am sure there is! A lot of money! Also a lot of work! It cannot be easy, taking a case wherein it appears, to the naked untrained layperson eye, that nobody has suffered any observable harm, and, using legal skills, turning it into a financial transaction that involves thousands of people and a million dollars! Plus coupons!

So the lawyers certainly deserved this money, although I'm certain that, for them, the really important thing was simply the satisfaction of knowing that all those victims are now finally able, at long last, to put this horrible denture-adhesive nightmare behind them and begin leading happier lives, possibly by applying their $7 settlements toward world cruises, vacation homes, etc.

Yes, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these lawyers and the estimated 14.2 billion other members of the American legal community, many of whom, I am sure, will write to me on their official letterhead stationery to respond to this column. I look forward to reading these letters; I just hope that, in handling them, I do not suffer paper cuts, which could cause me, as a writer, to become incapacitated, not to mention pain and suffering.

And I'm not settling for any stinking coupons.

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