June 19, 2013

The Chamber of Commerce & Protecting Consumer Rights

by Levin & Perconti

Litigation is an inherently contentious process, because it involves two sides with adverse interests. One party claims that a harm was done and demands redress from the other. However, it is a mistake to assume that all such matters in the civil justice system must therefore be filled with animosity, extreme disagreement, and prolonged feuding over every detail. Instead, when used fairly and reasonably, the process can be used to facilitate fair agreements involving responsibility and accountability.

In other words, in the medical malpractice context, it is not automatically evident that a medical malpractice lawsuit must end with each side engaged in a dragged-down, drawn-out courtroom fight. The sides can view the evidence fairly and reach agreement naturally with both sides satisfied with the outcome.

The same can be said for politics. While today it may seem as if political disagreements inherently involve each side stonewalling at every turn, it does not have to be that way. In reality, each side can share their perspective, be honest about the fairness of the other side’s argument, and make progress.

Chamber of Commerce: Digging In Their Heels
Unfortunately, over the years many lobbying interests have become more and more entrenched (and emboldened), becoming unwilling to compromise on nearly anything. This is one of the main reasons why we see different advocacy groups trying to push through more and more laws which limit the rights of consumers of every stripe (including medical patients) from holding wrongdoers accountable for their conduct.

In the medical errors context, these “tort reform” measures are certainly not new, but the battle is far from over. Unlike other issues where genuine middle ground might be sought, in most cases these tort reform laws epitomize the significant overreach by large business interests to simply make sure the rules apply differently to them than they do other members of the community.

A recent New York Times profile of the current U.S. Chamber of Commerce President discusses this descent into a more and more politicized and uncompromising attitude taken by big business groups on these issues in recent years.

The President of the Chamber, Thomas Donohue, has been at the helm for sixteen years. He admits that right away when he took the job “he vowed to make trouble for traditional adversaries like trial lawyers, environmentalists, and union leaders.” In other words, he moved the Chamber into more open political warfare with those entities which traditionally advocate for those without significant money or ability to advocate for themselves.

Sadly, this often means pushing for any number of legislative changes that enrich the largest companies at the expense of complete health, safety, and fairness for individuals--including pushing for tort reforms laws. In recent years, the Chamber has moved more and more into partisan politics, making big push in the last election to push for victories for Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate. They were unsuccessful in that effort.

All of this federal advocacy work on the Chamber’s part is big business. Donohue noted that it required $5 million a week to run the group. Most of that is funded by several large corporations. However, because talking about “small business” is more popular, the Chamber usually tries to downplay its corporate donors and position itself as an advocate for small business.

One can only hope that in the years to come, this unnecessarily aggressive, partisan attitude will wane, allowing consumers and everyday Americans a reprieve from the continued assault on their interests.

See Other Blog Posts:

New Research: Malpractice Lawsuits Critical for Patient Safety

High Court Rules on “Loss of Chance” Medical Malpractice Claims