Testifying before Billy Tauzin's House Subcommittee on Telecommunications,
Trade and Consumer Protection, Attorney Lawrence Schonbrun told tales of
outlandish practices by attorneys participating in class action suits. Schonbrun,
who has appeared in nearly 60 class action cases in federal and state courts
nationwide, aligned with plaintiffs and defendants, said, "I do this
on a daily basis in the public interest to protect what I believe to be
the most underrepresented minority in America: unnamed class members in
Class actions have become a rising trend among some personal injury lawyers who file suit on behalf of a "class," many of whom aren't aware they are involved in a case. By doing this, attorneys can do the work once, yet collect dozens, hundreds or thousands of times their normal contingency fee because of the number of "plaintiffs." Schonbrun said he is currently involved in a case where "the court learned that a law firm was seeking an average hourly rate of $5,600 per hour for every hour of legal work performed. The lead attorney was seeking to be paid at a rate of $10,450 per hour."
Members of the House of Representatives listened carefully to the testimony
of Rita Bergmann, a brave 13-year-old, seventh-grader from Clarksburg, Maryland,
as she described her heroic battle with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Rita described how her love of ballet and hiking was interrupted in December
1994 with the diagnosis of bone cancer just above her knee, and of her doctors'
struggles to save her leg.
Rita suffered through several operations and chemotherapy. In April of 1995 her entire left knee and half of her femur (thigh bone) was replaced with a polyethylene and titanium knee joint and rod. At first, the wound did not heal as expected. More surgery was done. After three months, Rita was able to put weight on her leg, and by January 1996 she no longer needed a wheelchair. By the summer of 1996 Rita was mountain climbing and taking a seven-mile hike with a 15-pound backpack. She had also returned to ballet.
In ten years, Rita's polyethylene joint will need to be replaced. Without it, she'll probably have to have her leg amputated. Yet class action lawyers have threatened to put the polyethylene joint manufacturers out of business.
Says Rita: "I want to be able to always walk on my own leg, bend my knee, wiggle and point my toes. I don't want to take off a titanium leg each time I go to sleep, and I want to be able to hold on to the ballet I miss so passionately with the few steps and spins I can do... I can't imagine how such a needed material could just cease to be made available... If polyethylene wasn't available to make a prosthesis, the only choice for my leg would have been amputation; but this way I can go on and reach for some of my greatest dreams -- to continue climbing mountains and to really dance ballet again."
In recent columns Ann Landers has entertained readers with stories of ridiculous lawsuits. One of her favorites comes from Chuck Thomas of the Camarillo, California Star. Ann writes that a lawyer who attended a concert drank beer and had to go to the restroom. While he was there, a woman who couldn't wait in the long line for the ladies' restroom decided to use the men's. As Ann puts it, "the lawyer became so startled at seeing a woman in the restroom that instead of doing what comes naturally, he was unable to do anything at all. Soon after, he filed a suit not only against the city of San Diego, which owns the stadium, but against the beer vendor as well."
Fortunately for the preservation of beer vendors everywhere, a federal judge threw out the case, and ordered the lawyer to reimburse the city and the vendor the cost of defending themselves.*