Sue, Sue, Sue!

March 25, 1994

Once again, the state's trial lawyers are attempting to stretch their ability to sue the pants off deep-pocket insurance companies. And as usual, trial lawyers serving in the General Assembly are eager to promote this plan, which is clearly in their own self-interests.

This time, Sen. John Pica -- a lawyer working for litigator Peter Angelos -- is sponsoring a bill that essentially would let lawyers go after insurance companies with a vengeance for almost any reason. It would reverse a two-year old Court of Appeals ruling that determined plaintiffs can sue for punitive damages only if they can prove actual malice. This bill would let plaintiffs sue any time they feel the insurer "fails to fulfill a contractual obligation."

That's a provision lawyers can use to drive a litigious truck through. Any time someone is unhappy with a payment from an insurance company -- for fixing up a damaged car, for repairing damage to a house or for medical treatment -- this bill would give that person the right to sue and sue and sue for punitive damages. It's a sue-happy lawyer's dream come true. Maryland would become even more of a haven for plaintiff attorneys than it already is.

Most immediately affected by this bill would be auto insurance companies. A spate of new lawsuits would be inevitable as lawyers use this bill to squeeze as much money out of insurance companies as possible for their aggrieved clients. People who now use any pretext to sue insurance companies would be standing in line. Baltimore City already vies with Los Angeles for the highest auto-insurance rates in the country. This bill would simply make matters worse.

While most states in the country are curtailing the grounds on which individuals can sue for punitive damages -- Texas and New York are the prime examples -- this bill would put Maryland on the opposite path. It is not good legislation for consumers, but it would be a bonanza for trial lawyers. Non-lawyers in the General Assembly ought to wake up before it is too late.

E9 This bill should be killed before the damage is done.

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