Jury Awards in Injury Cases Aren't `Excessive'

The editorial "GOP vs. Lawyers," Oct. 16, is essentially reasonable, but it makes, in passing, the kind of observation that people make routinely and no one ever challenges: "Many jury awards for `pain and suffering' seem excessive."

I have been practicing personal-injury law for 25 years, and I can assure you most solemnly that the overwhelming majority of personal-injury verdicts are reasonable and conservative. The excessive verdict is the rare exception. And even then, they are invariably reduced by the trial judge or on appeal.

For every case that makes the newspaper, there are thousands of well-reasoned decisions which do not. A recent Cornell University study regarding federal jury verdicts found that jury awards actually averaged half of those of judge-only cases. The study also found that in product-defect cases where the judge was the trier of the facts and there was no jury, those cases resulted in plaintiff awards 48 percent of the time; while those cases decided by juries found for the plaintiff only 20 percent of the t ime.

The American judicial system is in a state of crisis because of the jam caused by drug-related cases. At least 80 percent of the case volume in every state in the country is taken up by drug-related cases. The volume of civil litigation involving personal injury has gone down in relation to population in the last 10 years. The notion that American civil juries are out of control is a fantasy spread by a campaign paid for by the $3 trillion insurance industry. Unfortunately, it is accepted by nearly all A merican juries. The result is anything but excessive awards; quite the contrary. Elia Michael Larocca, Fresno, Calif. The tobacco industry

The Opinion page article "Cut the Taxpayers' Subsidy of Cigarette Advertising," Oct. 13, was excellent. One would think that with the debt topping $4 trillion and affordable health care in short supply, someone in the government would increase revenue and actually taxing tobacco advertising, using the money to sponsor counter-advertising designed to discourage the number of smokers, thereby easing the strain on the health- care system.

I am confounded by the fact that tobacco kills so many people each year and causes so much disease, yet it remains legal. Giving the tobacco industry tax breaks on their drug pushing is not in our society's best interests. Robert Duke, Ellisport, Wash. Favoring a cigarette tax

I strongly support Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot Nov. 3 - the American Cancer Society-sponsored 25-cent tax on cigarettes to fund health programs for children. As a physician, witnessing the suffering brought on by cigarettes, I cannot be quiet while the tobacco industry tries to condemn our children to nicotine addiction. Over 90 percent of smokers start in their teens or younger, and in Massachusetts 10 years old is the average age to start smoking.

The most effective and proven method to stop children from starting to smoke is to raise the price of cigarettes. A 25-cent cigarette tax in California in 1988 led to a 17 percent overall decline in smoking, with a greater reduction among children. Because I have never met smokers who want their children to smoke, I encourage all voters, including smokers, to help save our children from this deadly addiction by voting "yes" to Question 1. Josiah D. Rich, MD, Boston

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