Essential reading in in the weekend Wall Street Journal as Kimberly Strassel talks to John A. Ulizio, CEO of U.S. Silica, a major producer of industrial sand. In profiling Ulizio, Strassel provides an excellent, case-specific study of how America’s legal system is broken, encouraging the kind of “jackpot justice” that drives U.S. manufacturers to despair (and overseas). And in Ulizio’s view, the legal profession is not policing its own.
From “He Fought the Tort Bar — and Won“:
In 2003 alone — the year he took the company’s top job — U.S. Silica was served with nearly 20,000 lawsuits claiming it had caused silicosis — a serious, if rare, lung disease. The tort bar saw silica as the “new asbestos,” says Mr. Ulizio, and he had visions of his century-old concern going bankrupt, along with dozens of others.
Instead what ensued was a legal thriller, in which the defendants not only beat the suits, but exposed a mob of lawyers and doctors who were fabricating cases, and who are now under investigation. This year his company has been hit by only one silicosis claim. “We hoped the truth would prevail eventually,” he says, back in the conference room of the company’s modest headquarters. The realist adds: “It worked, but it didn’t have to.”
And that might be the most disturbing part of Mr. Ulizio’s tale. “When you have an entire system that condones these lawsuits, that does nothing to police its own, where there are no consequences, right or wrong has nothing to do with it. It’s a coin flip.”
Ulizio and U.S. Silica’s resistance to the thousands of speculative lawsuits eventually led to a Texas ruling by U.S. District Judge Judge Janis Jack, that laid bare the corrupt legal/medical machinery that generated the fraudulent lawsuits. As she wrote in the 2005, “In a majority of cases, these diagnoses were more the creation of lawyers than of doctors.” (See this Texas Lawyer article, “Silica Order Could Affect Future Mass Tort Litigation.”)
Ulizio expresses the kind of mystified frustration we often hear from manufacturers, people who just want to manufacture and sell a necessary product, creating good jobs in the process:
We mine and sell sand. Sand. That’s all we do. We aren’t the evil empire. We aren’t manufacturing some exotic chemical that we’re unleashing on the world. We’re taking sand out of the ground. We don’t even process it, except to clean it up a little and size it. And we are selling something that has been around forever, the dangers from which have been known since well before anybody involved in this litigation was even born.
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