Corporations are hijacking the legal process

Corporate America and its insurance companies are trying to get something for nothing.  Other than a catchy title, the so- called "Common Sense Legal Reforms Act" (House HR10), which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is heading toward the Senate, promises to severely limit the accountability of manufacturers of defective products.  Consequently, consumers who are injured by these defective products sacrifice their historical right to a reasoned jury verdict.

Essentially, the bill places a cap on certain kinds of damages and has a "loser pays" provision.  What this means is, in the event you are unsuccessful in your lawsuit , you will owe the prevailing side their attorney's fees and costs in certain situations.  Designed to smoke out frivolous claims,  the reality of the provision will tip the scales in favor of the wealthier litigant.  The indigent party of one of modest means will simply not be able to afford to take the risk. Survival of the richest in its purest form.

What's in  for the consumers who will be giving up their right to certain damages?

As part of the "Contract with America," why are there no provisions for higher safety standards to protect American consumers? Lower prices? Lower insurance premiums?

If the manufacturer is not held completely accountable for its actions or inactions, what incentives are there to build safer products?   Does anyone believe that if it was not for the large and justified jury verdicts, General Motors would have acted on their knowledge that their cars exploded on side impact?  How about the Ford Pinto, which exploded upon rear impact?

If dead customers don't motivate, and the threat of a substantial verdict is eliminated, what possible incentive would corporate America have to care?  To be sure, a small fraction of trial lawyers may lose income, which many perceive to be a great benefit, but at what costs? Let's not let the current anti lawyer cloud our judgment.  If the proposed legislation and other laws on the horizon, make it impractical and difficult for lawyers to take injury cases, the ultimate loser is the innocent victim.

Other than helping companies earn more money and sticking it to the trial lawyer, why is this bill necessary?  Has anyone offered up any evidence whatsoever that there is in fact, a "lawsuit crisis' that would require this type of draconian measure which will insulate corporate America and neglect parties from full accountability?

Quite to the contrary, the actual facts reveal that there is no lawsuit crisis.  For example, a study in 1992 by the National Center for State Courts found that  corporate defendants were more than individual defendants to win their cases.

Furthermore, an analysis of jury verdicts published in 1992 by the center for state courts concluded that personal injury lawsuits, which include medical negligence and product liability cases, now make up less than 7 percent of all civil cases and the number of tort filings declining every year since 1990.

What about the skyrocketing verdicts?  The critics of the civil justice system portray the relatively rare large negligence verdicts as routine.

The largest body of information regarding negligence verdicts is that assembled by the Rand Corporation Institute for Civil Justice, which is funded largely by insurance companies and business interests.  Researchers who studied reported verdicts over a 25-year period concluded the negligence verdicts overall, have remained even with inflation.

Moreover, research by the Governmental Accounting Office and Consumer Federation of America has determined that those high verdicts awarded by a jury are not arbitrarily given.  Instead, they reflect the severity of the Plaintiff's injuries and the cost of the medical care provided.

Product liability claims, researchers have found, had only 355 punitive damage verdicts during the entire period of 1965 to 1990.  The majority of the punitive damages awards were reduced by the judge.

Even if there was a lawsuit crisis, would protecting the negligent wrongdoer and sacrificing the innocent victim be the appropriate measure ? That would be like legalizing assault and battery to ease the burden on our criminal justice system.

No matter what political views we have, we are all consumers.  We have an obligation to ourselves to consider the facts and consequences of important legislation as well as the motives of those who seek our blind approval with catchy phrases and attacks on easy targets.

Personal injury lawyers and the civil justice system were born of need, not greed.  It is the fear of being held accountable that provides motivation to create safer products.  These safety considerations are reflected in the decreases in claims.  The civil justice system can be improved but we should not blow up the building because the plumbing needs repair.


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