Cattle Call for Tort Reform

For nearly 40 years, the most powerful man in Tennessee was a lawyer and farmer from Somerville. His name was John Wilder. Guvnah Wilder, that is. From 1971 through 2007, John Wilder served as Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee. Governors came and went. Democrats had majorities in the legislature, lost them, and then got them back. Republicans held majorities in the legislature, lost them and then got them back. But Guvnah Wilder held on to power, regardless of who was sitting in the other governor’s office or which party held the majority of seats in the legislature.

And during the years that Guvnah Wilder held power, he looked out for the interests of lawyers and judges. Tort reform didn’t have a snowball’s chance, and Guvnah Wilder made sure that our Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, and attorney general didn’t have to raise millions of dollars from special interest groups to get a job where they were supposed to be fair, impartial and independent.

But Guvnah Wilder is dead now, and I’m not feeling so good myself.

Tort reform is now moving through the legislature. And when I say moving, I mean moo-ving! Bee-lieve it!

The legislature is even considering tort reform for moo-cows and bees. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill that would make “bovine activities” immune from liability for injuries, death or any damages resulting from “the inherent risks of bovine activities.” I’m a city boy, and I’m not quite sure what a “bovine activity” is. I guess cow patties are a part of doo process. I suspect it involves the sort of activities I used to see on the old Rawhide TV show: herding, branding, riding, etc. Move them little doggies! But if you get hurt in the process, don’t expect to collect any damages from the owners of them doggies!

I’ve never milked a cow. I get my milk at the Piggly Wiggly. But if for some strange reason I decide to put “milk a cow” on my bucket list, I need to understand that if I’m injured in the process, I won’t be able to recover a penny. It will just be a case of spilt milk.

Again, I’m not sure what kind of injuries one can sustain while milking a cow. Maybe an udderly ridiculous case of whiplash. In any event, if I get injured while milking old Elsie, there will be absolutely no reason whatsoever for me to cow-municate with my lawyer. I won’t have a three-legged stool to stand on.

Cows aren’t the only creatures that the legislature wants to protect from lawyers. To bee or not to bee, or in this case, to sue or not to sue. That is the question. The legislature is also seeking to protect bees and beekeepers from lawsuits stemming from stings.

I must have missed something, but in 32 years of law practice, I have never sued a beekeeper or even seen a lawsuit against a bee.

I see a lot of lawyers on TV commercials. They are always talking about car wrecks or whether your grandmother is being mistreated in a nursing home. But I’ve never seen any of these TV lawyers say, “Folks, have you been stung by a bee? If so, give me a call! I know where the bee’s insurance company keeps the honey!”

Are cows now being driven out of the state by a posse of lassoing cowboy plaintiffs lawyers? Are trial lawyers in yellow jackets swarming around beehives?

And what about dog cases? I don’t mean lousy lawsuits. I’m talking about Shaggy suing Scooby-Doo after Old Scoob has long exhausted his one free bite. (“Ruh-row! A raw-suit!”) Isn’t Scooby-Doo entitled to as much protection as the Chick-Fil-A cows?

I would like to speak out on these tort reform issues. Accordingly, I am announcing that I will be a candidate for attorney general of Tennessee in 2014. If you are a doctor, a cattle rancher, a cow, a dog, a chicken, a duck, or most important, any person or animal with a large amount of money, please send me a contribution. I figure I need to raise about $10 million so that I can become the unbought, unbossed, fair, impartial and independent attorney general this state needs.

And if I can raise $20 million, I’m gonna buy me a seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Editor’s Note: Unrelated to cattle or bee tort reform, Bill Haltom’s daughter, Margaret Grace Haltom, is part of the White Station High School winning mock trial team. (MG, when can you start writing this humor column?)


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.