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Civil lawsuits

Posted: January 31, 2012 10:57 a.m.
Updated: February 1, 2012 5:00 a.m.

When Gov. Nikki Haley delivered her State of the State address recently, she promised to try to create more jobs in South Carolina, block unions from expanding and a few other things. As you might expect, her speech was generally met with approval from fellow Republicans (though there’s no love lost between Haley and many GOP legislators) and criticism from Democrats. But of all the things she mentioned, the one with the most potential for improving the climate in this state was her proposal for a “loser pays” system of civil lawsuits.

As the law currently stands in South Carolina, anyone can bring suit against anyone else for virtually anything. Few claims are dismissed outright, no matter how specious they might be, for judges generally like for suits to be decided by juries. This system, which is in widespread use throughout this country, has led to the proliferation of lawsuits, with plaintiffs’ lawyers hawking their services on television and encouraging people to sue, sue, sue. Attorneys generally take these cases on a contingency basis, claiming a sizeable percentage when they win one, so plaintiffs can file suit without any cost to themselves. If the attorneys win or settle -- and settling is generally the aim -- only a small percentage of these, they can make good money.

Haley proposes making plaintiffs pay for the cost of waging these suits if they lose. Texas has passed a similar law, requiring plaintiffs to foot the bill of the winning party’s legal costs if a judge finds the case to be groundless. In addition, Oregon, Alaska, Oklahoma, New York, California, Illinois and Florida have also enacted similar legislation. England and several other countries also use this system.

Everyone who’s been legitimately wronged, of course, should have a right to bring suit. This would not prevent that right. But it would certainly go far towards eliminating the mindless suits that are filed, many with the intention of settling with insurance companies that simply don’t want to go through the time and expense of litigation. Such a law would benefit responsible South Carolinians and attract new jobs and investment from companies that are tired of fighting a system that favors plaintiffs.

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