Big business lobbyists and their front group are at it again. As usual, right in the middle of the holiday season, the American Tort Reform Association has released its now-predictable “Judicial Hellhole” report. For those who have been following this political debate in the past, this news is likely accompanied by a long yawn.
Year after year now the group releases this list and points fingers at certain communities (or sometimes entire states) in order to paint the false portrait of a civil justice system run amok. The idea is to generate headlines to convince community members who are less familiar with the facts that there is some mass problem of frivolous lawsuits and victimized-defendants.
Of course, none of that is true.
As the ITLA President discussed in a response to the now-predictable Judicial Hellhole report, what these entities truly fear are suits by those harmed by their misconduct. The response argues:
“What they fear are meritorious lawsuits: actions brought by citizens against corporations producing unsafe products, polluting air and water, swindling their employees, or otherwise acting irresponsibly.”
Often forgotten in the framing of this debate is the underlying purpose of the civil justice system. Far too little focus is on the reality that some corporations make mistakes or act negligently in ways that severely harm–even kill–community members. Without outside pressure to change their practices to improve safety, then there is little reason for them to prioritize the health of community members over their profits. History has shown time and again that the largest businesses only change when they are forced to. Yet, those suits which might apply pressure to force that change are the ones targeted by these “reform” laws.
In fact, the tendency of business interest and chronic-defendants to harm others is one of the very reasons why the right of access to the civil justice is so critical to begin with. Those supporting tort reform often suggest that the changes would be minimal, only affecting fringe cases. The truth is that the changes are nothing more than insulation for powerful businesses, preventing regular community members their day in court to explain the harm caused by the big interest.
Shifting Public Opinion
As the ITLA response points out, there is reason for optimism on this issue. The 2012 election was a reminder that the majority of residents will not stand for the arguments pushed and funded by big businesses for their own gain. A basic appreciation for the need to preserve the rights of the large majority of community members prevailed.
The attorneys at our firm continue to urge all residents to ensure their friends and family members know what is at stake with these civil justice issues. Advocacy efforts to preserve rights begin and end with dinner table conversations and conversations between friends and neighbors. By standing together and spreading accurate information, we can ensure all residents retain the ability to hold wrongdoers responsible, no matter how large or powerful they might be.
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