Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The King of Torts

I will be on a beach in East Africa in only 3 more days. These words ringing through my head are all that is keeping me from loosing my mind right now. But getting through the next few days might as well be compared to climbing Mount Everest. Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic. I ain’t saving the world or anything with my job. Let’s say is like completing a 20 mile marathon and I am in horrible shape, spending my days behind a computer screen and my nights buried in books. During my trip to HK I managed to get volumes 4, 5, and 6 of Sandman Comics which has been very entertaining and I picked up James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’ and ‘Tai-Pan’. I hear his books are filled with accurate information about life in China and Japan during the 16th Century.

In between while I was bookless I managed to find a John Grisham book called ‘King of Torts’. At first the story seemed interesting as fascinating characters were introduced and Grisham brings their personalities to life with vivid physical descriptions. He weaves a mysterious web of their past but yet the characters seem to be very 2 dimensional and lacking marrow. There is an obvious effort to keep the story moving at a fast pace and I think that also makes the plot very predictable. In the beginning of the book we are introduced to the main character who is a struggling public defendant. Before you get 1/3rd of the way through, he has already established his strong moral code, then compromised his strong moral code, opened a huge law firm, and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Now it does not take a genius to figure out where this story is going. There is a more money, then refection, salvation, and the boy wins girl, typical Hindi movie style. But this is all part of an entertaining story and I accept that but I was hoping for more. I had heard so much praise about Grisham’s work.

“The King of Torts’ takes a through the world of high tort litigation where lawyers scramble to file mass claim law suites against high profile companies. These are suites that result in the recall of numerous products off the market. We have seen this happen to numerous pharmaceutical and motor vehicle manufacturers. Most recently what Dell is going through right now because of their faulty laptop batteries. Apparently, large law firms in America race to gather clients who have been harmed by these faulty products (in Dell’s case some people are claiming their houses were burned down) and have them file a joint suit against the offending company. The offender will usually seek a settlement outside of court rather than face a jury where the injured party can be awarded ridiculous sums of money. The most notorious case that comes to my mind at the moment was where that chick sued McDonalds because she got burned by their coffee, and she won. These settlements are paid out to all the plaintiffs who file the law-suite and the lawyers who file for them can take off as much as 40% off the top as fees. So where as a 500 Million Dollar settlement may have to be shared by 400,000 plaintiffs, the fees of 200 Million Dollars are retained by much fewer lawyers or even a single law firm that files the case. This is what I have come to learn from reading “The King of Torts’.

But what really pissed me off is the authors note at the end of the book. After having read though 486 pages of his work, I am read the final note which says:

“It is here that authors often submit massive disclaimers in an effort to cover their rears and, hopefully, avoid liability. There is always the temptation to simply create a fictional place or entity rather than research the real ones, and I confess I would rather do almost anything than verify the details.”

I know the names and places and other events in the book are all fictional. But when the author says out right that he is a lazy man who believes that “fiction is a marvelous shield”, I have to say sir that you have wasted my time. I would much rather have confronted some statistical information on the last page that mentions how much existing law firms have received in settlements in some high profile cases or how much some well known multi-national companies have paid out in settlements or even lost cases over the past few years. For most of the book the high tort game merely served as a back drop for Grisham to illustrate the scrupulous life styles of tort lawyers. He describes meticulously the interior of Gulf Stream Jets that the lawyers must have, trips to secluded islands, expensive cars, yachts, jewelry, and homes of the rich and famous. I might as well have been reading Joan Collins!

The issue Grisham selected was of a very powerful nature. If he is even slightly truthful then people are really losing out to large law firms when they are the ones suffering from bad drugs and faulty products. This is usually a result of large manufacturers cutting costs to save millions of dollars while they still lay off common workers and pharmaceutical companies rushing their products through the FDA, also obviously for quick returns. I feel that Grisham has gained the world ear through his talented writing and he has the power to inform. With some research and some facts planted into his tale he might have actually created some awareness amongst his readers. But with a ‘Authors Note’ such as the one he left I am left doubting any and all information I have licked up in this book. Unless I am proven otherwise that 3 days of reading will have been utterly useless.

Some might argue that reading fantasy books is also a waste of time but that is a genre I appreciate as an escape. I enjoy trips through the twisted imaginations of authors like Susanna Clarke, Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman. Their tales can lead to some serious philosophical revelations for me. I also revel in the classics because I feel in some form it is a historical education and some books are extremely poetic. And although obviously extremely talented, I don't cider Grisham as a relevant contributor to literature.

**This is a rectification of the link to Surri’s Blog in my last post. Check it out because he needs some pressure to continue updating. And he is one hell of an interesting guy.

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