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Irresponsible lawsuits need to be stopped

Smokers with terminal lung cancer can take heart. If they want to make sure their family is financially taken care of after they die, they should simply move to Oregon. That’s where the state’s Supreme Court agreed that the family of an Oregon smoker who died from lung cancer should be given the $79.5 million they were initially awarded in 1999.

The family claimed that their loved one, Jesse D. Williams, would not have kept on smoking three packs a day if he thought that Philip Morris, Inc. – the company that is supposedly directly responsible for Williams’ death – was selling harmful products to the public. This sounds like another well-crafted lie, a la former President Bill Clinton’s utterance of the now famous phrase, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Another suspicious factor in the ruling is the fact that in all cases for punitive damages in Oregon, 60 percent of that goes back to the state to fund “crime victims assistance programs,” an Associated Press story said. This is why the Oregon Supreme Court probably does not think that the award amount is too outrageous. It probably figured, “What the heck? The majority of the money is going to a good cause anyway.”

In Florida, Tom Gallagher, a Republican candidate for governor, is urging “tort reform,” which would change the terms under which Florida malpractice suits are filed.

Some of the items Gallagher wishes to put into place are a cap on award amounts to $2 million from a single defendant – known as “joint and liability,” which could protect business from wasteful suits – and the creation of a separate court to deal with business lawsuits, the Tampa Tribune reported.

These limits and restrictions could be useful for preventing those who do not have serious and legitimate claims from tying up the court systems – but Gallagher said in the Tribune article that the Legislature would probably vote against the “joint and liability” measure soon.

Whatever happens with “tort reform,” self-responsibility is the real issue here. Being responsible for one’s actions and for the consequences of those actions is part of being a functioning member of society. Granted, when corporations and businesses are at fault for the injuries of their patrons, they should compensate the victim accordingly.

So if Williams did not think that Philip Morris would sell a product that could be harmful to one’s health, he must have gone through life not paying any attention to the details – including the Surgeon General’s warning that proclaims the dangers of cigarette smoking – on the side of every pack of cigarettes.