Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Copier Lawsuit Reflects Debate on `Loser Pays'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Copier Lawsuit Reflects Debate on `Loser Pays'

Article excerpt

Sylvester Jones of St. Louis wants $10 million, plus $800 million in punitive damages, in a suit that alleges his copying machine was a poorly designed money pit.

Sharp Electronics Corp., which made the copier, calls the suit frivolous and wants it dismissed. Although only 6 months old, the suit has produced a 2-inch-thick court file that promises to get thicker.

Jones claims that his Sharp copier is built to require frequent and costly drum cartridge changes. He says he needs his copier for making copies of his many court documents.

His suit, some would argue, offers a clear-cut reason to back a Republican plan to require losers of many federal suits to pay the other side's lawyers. Such a "loser pays" rule is part of the GOP's "Contract with America." jo

Backers say the rule would discourage the filing of weak cases that clog federal courts.p

Detractors say the rule would crush many legitimate claims by individuals and class-action suits against giant corporations.

In September, the House Republican Conference said the rising cost of litigation prompts manufacturers to withdraw products, discontinue product research, lay off workers and raise prices.

"Almost everyone agrees that America has become a litigious society; we sue each other too often and too easily," according to a statement by the Republican Conference.

The number of federal suits filed yearly grew from 90,000 in 1960 to more than 250,000 in 1990, the conference says.

But the more recent numbers appear to include criminal suits, according to figures from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. And between 1988 and 1993 the number of civil suits actually declined slightly overall, the office said.

Under loser-pays, the amount the loser owes the winner for legal fees would be limited to the amount the loser paid his or her lawyer.

For example, if the loser's legal bill was $1,000, he or she would pay the winner no more than that amount even if the winner had spent more than $1,000 for lawyers. …

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