Don't Let 1000 Michigans Bloom

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  • 10/17/2005

It is time to take off the gloves and prosecute stupidity. Looking at it from a different, more proactive angle, it’s time for tort reform. After all, as Forrest Gump so aptly put it, “stupid is as stupid does.”

Our courts are over-crowded and under-funded. Auto insurance and professional liability rates are too high. And, unfortunately, our personal responsibility levels are too low. A New York man sued McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken for contributing to both his obesity and his related health problems. I wonder if he took Vioxx?

The man may be fat, but his attorney is a fathead, a very wealthy fathead. If we are going to prosecute stupidity, we will have to make it a misdemeanor (since our courts and jails are already over-burdened), but let us make enabling it a felony.

Keeping in mind the immortal words of former congressman and convicted felon James Trafficant, “Beam me up, Scotty,” consider this editorial from the 10/16/05 edition of the Business Review of Western Michigan:

Contraindicative Rx

If some state lawmakers have their way, drug makers in Michigan will lose their shield against consumer lawsuits. That’s a tough pill to swallow. The bills, which last month passed the House on an 89-17 vote, would repeal a 1996 state law that protects drug makers from liability if their products meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety and labeling standards. The bills’ Democratic sponsors are emboldened by last month’s Texas jury verdict against Merck and Co., which marketed the pain killer Vioxx. The jury awarded the widow of a Vioxx user $253.4 million. But here’s one fact to remember: The Michigan protection does not apply if a company intentionally withholds information or makes misrepresentations to federal regulators. While we worry that a lawsuit shield prevents a drug’s users from seeking every angle of recourse against a company that brings to market a drug with unintended ill consequences, the process of researching, developing and receiving approval to market a drug takes several years. What Michigan may do while trying to provide recourse for consumers is erode business protections against meritless lawsuits. What’s more, eliminating the drug-company immunity sends the wrong message as the state seeks to keep what remains of Pfizer’s facilities in western Michigan and elsewhere in the state and attract investments from life-sciences companies — a topic that came up in Business Review’s May 25 quarterly forum in Kalamazoo and Sept. 14 forum in Grand Rapids. After all, life sciences is a logical extension for protection. “We’ve got to protect the rights of consumers and make sure people who are negligent, and wantonly negligent, are punished,” state Rep. Bill Huizenga, (R, Holland),told Business Review. “On the flip side of that, we need to make sure companies are able to be innovative.” Huizenga, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said removing immunity tells the pharmaceutical industry — and life sciences, too, we say — that Michigan business law is going backward. Here’s our prescription for lawmakers — take a dose of reality, give it a rest and call us in the morning.

Frivolous lawsuits do nothing to educate the American public about better health care. In fact, they trivialize such important efforts. What’s most disturbing, however, are the effects such lawsuits have on our diminishing view of personal responsibility and warped perspective on blame. Blame is what people do when they find themselves on the wrong end of the risk/reward equation. Blame supposes fault and as Plutarch wrote, “to find a fault is easy, to do better may be difficult.”

If we do not stand up for what’s right and what’s needed, then we will live to see a thousand Michigan’s bloom.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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