Solutions sought to lawsuit abuse

September 23, 1997


Staff Writer

Five years ago Jack Doll found himself on the bottom end of a $350 million lawsuit stemming from an accident involving a car he rented from his Morgantown, W.Va., Hertz dealership.

Doll, a Frederick, Md., businessman and president of Majon Inc., which owns Hertz franchises in 13 locations, including Hagerstown and Frederick, said the lawsuit went on for three years and involved 14 law firms in several states.

After the largest defendant in the case - the auto manufacturer - agreed to settle, Doll said he felt his only choice was to do the same, even though he denies his company had anything to do with the accident.


"Basically, it was easier to settle than it was to fight," he said.

Doll would not reveal how much he paid, but participants in Monday morning's forum marking Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week said the cost of frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards affects everyone.

"The message will get out there that these lawsuits are not in the best interest of the country," said Doll, acting chairman of Western Maryland Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said many people don't realize that when a business is sued, the associated expenses are passed along to the consumer. For example, he cited the high liability insurance paid by many doctors.

"You can be sure he doesn't pay that. He just adds that to the fee he charges his patients," Bartlett said.

Legislation to curb abuse could be passed, but it will take great public outcry to do so, given the large numbers of lawyers in Congress, he said.

Bartlett said that the "vigilance" of many lawyers have led to positive changes in society, too, and any effort to rid abuse should be made carefully.

"We want to make sure we don't overreact and limit the access of individuals to lawyers and courts," he said.

Only 11 people attended the forum, and organizers blamed the low turnout in part on the fact that invitations arriving by mail too late.

"We can't sue the post office, I don't think," Doll joked.

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