Letter: Michigan has growing lawsuit abuse problem

Bob Dorigo Jones

Michigan’s legal liability system has taken a turn for the worse according to a survey performed by the Harris Poll. After years of being ranked in the top half of all the states for having a fair and reasonable legal system, Michigan has sunk to the bottom half of the rankings along with states like Mississippi and California. 

The personal injury bar could regain a majority on the Michigan Supreme Court if the candidate they back wins in the 2020 election, writes Bob Dorigo Jones.

This is disturbing because 89% of those polled — lawyers and senior attorneys at the largest companies in America — said a state’s litigation climate is likely to impact important business decisions at their companies.

A state’s liability system affects more than job providers, though. In 1997, an organization I led called Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch discovered that nonprofit organizations were also hit hard by lawsuit abuse. The Girl Scouts of Metro Detroit reported it had to sell 36,000 boxes of cookies every year just to pay for their liability insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Then, things began to improve. Common sense legal reforms enacted by the Legislature brought about a more stable legal climate. A new majority on the Michigan Supreme Court got serious about dismissing frivolous lawsuits. Michigan’s ranking rose to the top half of the states. Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch disbanded because of the significant progress made in restoring fairness and personal responsibility to the justice system.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. 

In the most recent edition of the Lawsuit Climate Survey, Michigan has dropped to 33rd in the nation. Concern about lawsuit abuse is rising in the business community. And, in the Michigan Supreme Court where rule-of-law justices have held a majority for 22 years, Justice Stephen Markman must retire because he’s reached the maximum age for justices. That means the personal injury bar could regain a majority on the high court if the candidate they back wins in the 2020 election.

Lawsuit abuse encompasses more than frivolous lawsuits. For instance, defensive medicine has become an expensive problem because many doctors order more tests than are needed so they can use them in court if sued by personal injury lawyers who second-guess their decisions.  

Litigation has a far-reaching impact on our lives. That’s why I’m announcing that we’re bringing back Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch – to serve as a watchdog over the courts again. Stay tuned for more in the weeks and months ahead.

Bob Dorigo Jones, former president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch