Tag Archives: Tort Reform

Interesting Article re U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Strong Use of Litigation (Despite Tort Reform View As to Individuals)

[The U.S. Chamber of Commerce] has its own multimillion dollar affiliate, the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), whose sole mission is to restrict the ability of individuals harmed by negligent corporations to file suit.

Yet ironically, the Chamber is also one of the most aggressive litigators in Washington, D.C., appearing in hundreds of lawsuits a year. The Chamber has its own litigation arm, the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), which both files its own lawsuits and enters into the lawsuits of others more than 130 times a year.

Interesting article about U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s strong use of litigation in support of corporate interests, despite its opposition to litigation by individuals (e.g. tort reform).

I’m not interested in calling the Chamber or anyone else “hypocrites.” But it is important people realize that efforts like “tort reform” (despite a broad-sounding label) have a narrower intention: to protect corporations from lawsuits by individuals alleging harm by corporations. Tort reform is NOT an effort to reduce lawsuits across the board, and is certainly not an effort to reduce lawsuits filed BY corporations. That is a right that corporations want to keep intact because it serves their interests. If you are thinking this is okay with you, from the perspective of your business, keep in mind that you are an individual too, and you need fair access to the legal system in either capacity.

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Lipsen/Roll Call Article re Importance of Civil Justice System and Trial Lawyers

Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice, wrote at RollCall.com about the importance of trial lawyers as the last resource (and often, the only resource) to address corporate misconduct.

Reading this article made me think, as I often do, of a thought experiment.

Here it goes– think about your answers to the following questions:

(1) How many individuals, yourself and/or others, do you know of who filed a lawsuit against a corporation?

[I bet your answer is very few].

(2) How many of those individuals were found by the legal system to have a frivolous claim?

[I bet your answer is zero].

(3) How many individuals do you know who in effect “won the lottery” and walked away with a big payday as a result of their lawsuit? (This being individuals you KNOW FIRSTHAND won what you think– people routinely gossip, second hand about individuals supposedly winning far, far more than actually occurred).

[I bet your answer is zero, or very few].

(4) How many individuals do you know of who have lost $500 or more as a result of a corporation’s careless or intentional conduct?

[I bet your answer is far more people than your answers to 1-3 combined].

Ms. Lipsen writes:

It has been a daily occurrence to see the news dominated by the latest example of corporate misconduct. Each saga follows the same pattern: Tragedy occurs, followed by apologies tempered by denials and claims of innocence, and evidence that profits were knowingly put ahead of the safety and well-being of the American people.

At the same time, we have also seen how federal agencies lack the resources to adequately protect and safeguard the American people. Regulation is difficult when corporations brag about the millions of dollars saved by limiting their recalls or ignoring industry guidelines in spite of consumer safety.

Ultimately, Americans simply want safe products, fewer preventable injuries and a restoration of checks and balances that give people a fair chance to obtain recourse — before a company’s rampant negligence secures its position in the hot seat. But only after tragic accidents do we closely analyze the agencies and systems that failed, and what must be corrected.

Every time we do so, there is only one institution that consistently protects consumers and holds wrongdoers accountable: America’s civil justice system.

[O]nce these [corporate] scandals fade away, it will be telling to see whether some lawmakers continue with their fixation on “tort reform” — or handing out immunity to the very same corporations responsible for injuring consumers in the first place. Because today, such calls are not only illogical and tone-deaf, but contrary to the interests of all Americans.

Corporations, or their hired guns at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have dedicated millions of dollars to demonize trial attorneys. Yet each corporate scandal and dangerous product show that when the first lines of defense fail to protect the safety of consumers, only the civil justice system can hold negligent corporations accountable and restore justice. At the end of the day, it’s trial attorneys — not the corporations that put profits ahead of safety — that speak for the interests of these families and consumers.

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Interesting Statistics About Lawsuits in WI and Elsewhere

Does Wisconsin and the U.S. generally need “tort reform?”  Are too many (or an increasing number) of lawsuits being filed, with too many plaintiffs receiving large awards, and too many businesses suffering due to law suits by individuals?

As a plaintiff’s employment attorney, I have shared my own observations and biases in trying to answer questions  like these.  See, for example, my blog posts “Biggest Risk to Employers? Frivolous Suits? No. The (Expensive) Certainty of Being “Right” and “Corporate Rhetoric, the Decline of Individual Rights, and What You Can Do About It.”

My views aside, the best answers to the questions above are non-biased and objective answers, grounded in statistics and facts.  While it is my opinion no one can give answers that are purely objective and non-biased, folks interested in the questions above should check out this resource, which is much more objective than my blog posts: “Civil Justice in Wisconsin: A Fact Book, with Commentary” by Marc Galanter and Susan Steingass, of The University of Wisconsin Law School.

(I heard of this fact book via the excellent blog by Jon Groth, a Wisconsin personal injury attorney).

I’ll quote the Fact book’s conclusion below, which is a summary of some important information covered, although you should read the full fact book (a 23-page Adobe document) for detailed and statistical information that addresses questions like those above.  The full fact book is here.

“Conclusion

In many ways, Wisconsin is very much like its neighbors and like the rest of the nation. Overall, resort to the courts is increasing, but most of this increase is in the family and contract areas. Tort filings are decreasing relative to population and in absolute numbers. The portion of cases that reach trial, especially jury trial, is decreasing. When cases do get to trial, median awards are mostly lower than in the recent past.

If we look further to see how Wisconsin is distinctive, we find that even with the limitations of the data, Wisconsin has a modest amount of
litigation in comparison with our neighbors and the rest of the nation. Most non-family civil cases are filed by businesses against individual defendants; where individuals sue businesses, the awards are comparatively modest.

This relatively low resort to the courts is reflected in a lawyer population that is relatively small and slow growing. The costs imposed by the civil justice system are palpable; the benefits that it confers are less apparent – indeed to the extent that they are effective, they fade from view. The same system of justice that protects citizens, protects and facilitates businesses. Businesses use the civil justice system to enforce contracts and collect debts. The security of property rights afforded by the civil law enables them to raise capital, borrow, and extend credit. They enjoy the protections of the tort system in deterring injurious behavior by others. All of this is so routine that it easily escapes our attention. This should remind us that citizens and businesses have a shared interest in an effective civil justice system. We hope that this booklet helps provide the basis for an informed public discussion.”

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