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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2004 / 13 Tishrei 5765

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager
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Consumer Reports

Why I was evicted from a Miami hotel | I was in Miami Beach, Florida, this past weekend.

And I got evicted from my hotel.

Yes, the Trump International Hotel notified me and its other guests that we all had to leave the hotel because Hurricane Jeanne was headed to the South Florida coast.

This struck me as odd on two accounts.

First, it was clear even from the hyper television news coverage of Jeanne that Miami was at the outer edge of the hurricane, with, at worst, 40 miles per hour winds in store for it. It seemed to me that if my well-being were endangered by such winds inside a modern high-rise hotel, Donald Trump may wish to rethink whom he employs as architects and engineers.

Second, I was entirely prepared to assume all risk to myself and absolve the hotel from any responsibility for what might happen to me. And I told them this — that I will sign away any right to sue the hotel should anything bad happen to me because of the hurricane. I said this because the hotel was honest enough to announce that it was evacuating its guests for reasons of liability.

Of course, I knew they would refuse my offer. Threats of lawsuits now determine much of how Americans and their institutions behave. It is close to impossible to overstate the damage trial lawyers and litigious Americans have done to this country — not only in terms of the money lost, but even worse, in terms of the moral character lost.

The Gang of Four — trial lawyers, handpicked jurors, fortune-seeking litigants and like-minded judges (themselves often former trial lawyers) — have created an environment of mistrust that blankets our society.

Thanks to fear of lawsuits, children are routinely allowed to play in far fewer ways than they were a generation ago. Monkey bars and seesaws are just two examples of park staples that are becoming extinct. Parents are often afraid to allow children who visit their homes to jump on the trampoline, swim in the pool or play with the dog. And many hospitals now forbid videotaping your child's birth, lest something go wrong and you sue them.

Have you ever noticed that should you desire fresh air, you can no longer open a window in any modern hotel room? Why is this? Again, fear of litigation should you fall or jump out. Likewise, my wonderful top-of-the-line Lexus does not allow me to dial a phone number while driving. Why? Because Toyota fears a lawsuit if I crash while tapping in numbers. So in order to dial a phone number in one of the finest cars made, I have to first bring the car to a complete stop. Of course, this is far more dangerous than punching a number in on the screen in front of me. It is no different than searching for radio stations on the car radio — yet, imagine if you had to first stop the car before changing radio stations, lest you crash while looking at the radio.

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The examples of the worsened quality of life brought about by the Gang of Four are legion. But when this litigating gang is joined by big government, big news media, one of the two big political parties and big activist organizations, the societal results are even more devastating. The very soul of the country is imperiled, because its moral backbone — personal responsibility — is undermined.

The best illustration was shifting the blame for getting sick as a result of cigarette smoking from the smoker onto the tobacco companies. Trial lawyers made billions, jurors got to stick it to huge companies and lavish others' money on the poor dying little guy, health activists got rich and felt great about themselves, government got billions of dollars by doing nothing, and the Democratic Party got rich from the lawyers' contributions and felt noble crippling big corporations. Just think of the number of people who benefited! Unfortunately, however, the American soul lost, because the tobacco litigation circus started to undermine the notion that we are responsible for our freely chosen behaviors.

That is why I was probably regarded as an eccentric when I told hotel employees that I would take full responsibility for whatever happened to me if the hotel allowed me to stay. It seemed clear to me that Miami was not the target — and never was — of Hurricane Jeanne. And even if it were, I would have felt perfectly safe in this powerful structure. But to the young employees, members of a generation of Americans brought up to believe that the tobacco lawsuits were moral, my notion of taking personal responsibility for my own fate sounded almost bizarre.

There is an added unfortunate note to this story. I was in Miami Beach to serve as scholar in residence at a prominent local synagogue for Yom Kippur. Upon arrival at the synagogue Saturday (the holiday began at sunset Friday evening), the 700 or so people were told that the synagogue was closed due to the impending hurricane. Many other synagogues closed in mid-afternoon. Why? Largely because of fear of liability engendered by the local government (that itself was afraid of liability) that declared a "mandatory evacuation."

Why "mandatory"? So that the government could protect itself from lawsuits, though in reality every individual and private institution could choose not to leave. As it happens, Miami Beach was to experience some drizzle. The trial lawyers and government, along with the individuals frightened by them, shut down synagogues on the holiest day of the Jewish year. One small step backward for America, another giant step forward for the profession of the Democratic nominee for vice president of the United States. Just imagine what the profession and its allies will be able to achieve if he wins.

Neither Donald Trump nor the holiest day in the Jewish calendar can withstand such power. The truth is hurricanes are mere sneezes compared to the force of trial lawyers and their allies.

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JWR contributor Dennis Prager hosts a national daily radio show based in Los Angeles. He the author of, most recently, "Happiness is a Serious Problem". Click here to comment on this column.



© 2004, Creators Syndicate