"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free"
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Paul Hayden

If A Tree Fell on Dad, Who Would You Sue?

January 20, 2002

Within days after The Day Everything Changed we heard whisperings of a government compensation fund for the victims who survived the attacks on the World Trade Center and the families of those who died. Why? "What!" you say. "How could you ask such a dumb question? It’s the right thing to do. It’s the American thing to do! It’s the patriotic thing to do!"

Really? There was no such fund for the victims and families of the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy, the USS Cole, or the Embassy bombings. No one gave millions of dollars to the families of those who died in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, or the Spanish-American War. What makes these people so special?

Before I go any further, please let me assure you that I am not heartless, unfeeling, or untouched by the losses of the victims of the Muslim terrorists. I just want to point out that their grief and loss are no greater than that felt by the victims of Timothy McVeigh. For that matter, if a tree fell over in a national park and killed your father, your grief would be just as deep as the grief felt by the families of those killed in these terrorist attacks. So why the special treatment for the 9/11 families?

The answer is quite simple. If a tree fell on your father, there would be no one to sue. McVeigh’s victims had their choice of suing a crazy militant or the U.S. Government. McVeigh had no money to speak of, and it is next to impossible to sue the government. But the Islamic terrorists chose to use the airlines to do their deeds. What a juicy target! Airlines have lots of money! Since they started serving peanuts instead of meals, no one except Jimmy Carter likes them. "Call the lawyers! This is going to be an easy one!"

Of course the government foresaw this and acted quickly to protect an industry that is vital to our national economy and defense. (You may not be aware of the fact that our armed forces use commercial airliners to ferry troops to most wars because of a lack of sufficient troop transport aircraft.) Had the government not acted to forestall lengthy lawsuits and ridiculous awards, one or more of the airlines involved might have been forced into bankruptcy. Had such a precedent been set, and terrorists later used the same method, it is conceivable that the resulting lawsuits could have left us with no commercial airlines.

According to OverLawyered.com, "A Cincinnati company named Providence Inc. has been sending out portfolios to Sept. 11 victim families with $50 to $200 in cash, prepaid calling cards and the names of four law firms with ’extensive experience in major airline and other similar mass disasters.’ The company advances money to plaintiffs in anticipation of lawsuit settlements." And this is just one of many such companies that have attempted to profit from the disaster and the vulnerability of the airlines. This type of scam works because the lawyers have done a great job of promoting the false concept that money can somehow assuage the loss of a loved one.

"Well, weren’t the airlines responsible?" Of course. Just as responsible as Ford was when a man used a vehicle manufactured by them to kill a pedestrian. Naturally, there is much more to it than that, but that is the type of knee-jerk reaction that results from Americans getting their news from TV sound-bites.

The people who were responsible were hate-filled fanatics who are now dead. Their organization has millions, but we don’t know where most of it is. The logic seems to be, "We can’t sue dead people, but we have to sue somebody." Does that make sense? Whenever something bad happens, somebody has to sue somebody? It sure doesn’t make sense to me.

That said, the airlines bear some responsibility for putting passenger convenience above security. So does the federal government, which is charged with overseeing airport security. So do the various local governments who own the airports. So do the contract security companies who hired unqualified people. There’s plenty of blame to go around. If it were up to me, I would assign a large part of the blame to liberal judges who forced the airlines to hire people who were not loyal to our country for sensitive security positions, based on bogus claims of discrimination. But wait. Re-read this paragraph. Of all the entities who share the blame, which has the deepest pockets and is the easiest to sue?

Our country has gone "lawsuit crazy." We sue for everything and for nothing. Consider this scenario. An American citizen trips over his own big feet in a convenience store owned by an Iranian immigrant. He looks out the window and sees that the owner is driving a rust-riddled beater. He asks about the store’s insurance, and receives the answer, "Insurance? What is this insurance?" He shakes the dust off his clothes and leaves. No one worth suing there. He then stops at Macy’s to pick up a gift for his wife. He trips on his untied shoelaces. Is that Macy’s fault? Of course not. But even though he initially states that he is not injured, Macy’s loss-prevention people quickly go into action. They treat him extremely well, because they know that their financial strength is likely to result in a lawsuit. Sure enough, our hero belatedly discovers that his back and neck are suddenly bothering him. You can guess the rest of the story.

The United States has almost ten times as many lawyers per capita as the average developed nation, three times as many as the next most lawyered nation, Great Britain, and hundreds of times as many as undeveloped nations. How has all this legal expertise benefited our nation? Millions of people’s lives have been ruined by frivolous lawsuits. Thousands of businesses bankrupted unjustly because they couldn’t afford the quality and number of lawyers of those who sued them. Billions of man-hours wasted in unnecessary lawsuits. And astronomical judgments awarded by sympathetic juries because liberals have convinced America that "Big Business" is the enemy. Can you imagine the size of the sympathy awards that might have resulted against the airlines when the national grief over 9/11 was factored in?

Friends, let me tell you who "Big Business" is. It is you. Your pension plan or 401k owns shares in the companies liberals delight in seeing ruined. Your job depends on "Big Business." And when they get hit with multi-million dollar lawsuits for "pain and suffering" or "mental anguish," guess who pays? You. The cost of defending lawsuits and the resulting awards are all added to the price of the goods you buy. Large businesses pay huge premiums to insurers and keep lawyers on retainer because they expect to be sued, just because they are there. Ultimately, you and I pay for all of these wasted expenditures through increased costs for goods and services.

We need some lawyers, but in my opinion most of them are parasites on our society and our economy. If Congress ever got into the mood to do something useful, they could raise the standards for attorneys so high that the number of new lawyers would be reduced by ninety percent. (Here’s a scary thought: American law schools will graduate almost as many new lawyers this year as are currently in practice.) Congress could also enact tort reform and limit the amount of awards made above actual damages suffered. But that will never happen, because so many of our legislators are lawyers. They will protect their lawyer buddies instead of the public while they are in office, and when they leave office, they will go back to being parasites. Excuse me, lawyers.

If someone can explain to me why the grief of the families who suffered losses on 9/11 is any deeper or more profound than the grief of any American who has lost a loved one, or why they are more deserving of government aid that the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, then I will get behind the concept of special compensation. Until then, I consider the whole idea unfair. I believe the special compensation fund to be nothing less than a response to blackmail by trial lawyers.

To Anthony Gardner, Chairman of the WTC United Family Group, who was interviewed last night on Fox News, I have this to say: "Shame on you. The average award to the families in your group will be between one half million and one and a half million dollars. This is in addition to billions of dollars donated by the American people through private charities. Your organization’s website describes lofty goals of uniting the nation and honoring the dead, but all you did when you were in the national spotlight was whine for five minutes about not being able to sue the airlines and get millions more dollars. Thousands of families have lost loved ones in other terrorist attacks and natural disasters, and received only life insurance payments (if they had life insurance). You should be grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and compassion this nation has given you, and for the fact that the government has chosen to give you money right now instead of facing years of lawsuits."

Micah 6:8 says, "God has showed you what is good: to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your Lord." I see little justice in our justice system when the wealthy and well-connected can manipulate it to their own ends. I see mercy disregarded when certain people can benefit from tragedy, while others receive no help. I see little humility in the attorneys who sue without regard for justice, but whose sole consideration is the ability to pay huge judgments. Our court system has strayed far from its roots, far from the most basic concepts of justice. Until major reforms are made, our legal system does not deserve to be called a system of justice.

AN EDITOR’S RESPONSE. When I sent the article above to our Editorial Board, I received a number of insightful replies. The note below from Editor Jim Vignoli of North Palm Beach, Florida, was so thought-provoking that I wanted to share it with you:

"One more time you have provoked me to consider a matter one step further. First, if there were one word I would be allowed to remove altogether from the vocabulary it is "closure." What is that? My aunt and uncle lost my twenty-eight year old cousin to acute viral spinal meningitis. Can they ever "close the door" on that? Somehow this concept of "closure" has crept into our culture, and I believe it is another subtle deception of the enemy. If we can sue an airline for the senseless death of our loved one, then maybe somehow we can point a finger, find a scapegoat, and breathe a little easier. I do not believe our Father wants us to breathe easier, or to cast blame for senseless acts. I believe more often than not that His intent in allowing grievous events in our lives is to simply draw us nearer to Him.

"In such human loss, there is no logic, no reasoning, no cleverly worded statement to a jury, no amount of money, no laying blame on a person or a group. In the end, all that exists after such tragedy is a hideous and horrifying wound to the soul that can only be assuaged by the merciful embrace of a loving and kind Father. And He always seems to leave a portion of that wound exposed and untreated...because this is what living life in these bodies of sin is all about. We should look at life like the character "Much Afraid" in Hannah Hurnard’s great book Hind’s Feet On High Places: in life’s journey, each trial and moment of suffering is just another stone for us to pick up along the path and place into our pouch. At some point we will have sufficient stones to build an altar to the Most High God. An altar that will bear a sacrifice pleasing to Him, an altar that will comprise the very pith of our beings being given up to the Lover of our souls. An altar whose composition is the sum of all sufferings we have endured as we seek after Him who longs to embrace us. An altar that is the outward statement of an inward reality: that we have completely surrendered ourselves to Jesus because we trust Him, we love Him and we want to be like Him. There is no more noble pursuit or lofty goal than to be vulnerable and pliant to our God, who will allow tragedy and loss if only to win us completely to Himself.

"Thank you, my brother, for your faithfulness. Your words ring of truth, and stir the heart to ponder how it is we should live in this wicked generation."

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Copyright ©2002 Tom Barrett

Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

He has written thousands of articles that have been republished in national newspapers and on hundreds of websites, and is a frequent guest on radio and television shows. His weekly Conservative Truth article (which is read by 250,000) offers a unique viewpoint on social, moral and political issues from a Biblical worldview. This has resulted in invitations to speak internationally at churches, conferences, Money Shows, universities, and on TV (including the 700 Club).

“Dr. Tom,” as his readers and followers affectionately refer to him, has a passion for teaching, as you can see from his ministry website (www.ChristianFinancialConcepts.com); his patriotic site (www.ConservativeTruth.org); and his business site (www.GoldenArtTreasures.com). Tom's friend Dr. Lance Wallnau wrote of him, "Tom Barrett is a Renaissance man with a passion for subject matter ranging from finance to theology and American history."
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