It is common for those seeking to limit the legal rights of community members to use misleading examples and half-truths to make their case. For example, a recent article from the Journal Standard seemed to paint the picture that Illinois was rife with “frivolous litigation.” In making the case, the article points to the obviously a one-sided Chamber of Commerce “ranking” of Illinois as 46th for “legal fairness.” Fairness, of course, is a vague term. Fairness to whom, the injured consumer? Big businesses?
In addition, the story offers the example of gasoline cans and the largest manufacturer of the cans. The story claims that the manufacturer went out of business because of frivolous lawsuits from consumers who hurt themselves in fires. This is similar to arguments made about the famous “hot coffee” McDonald’s lawsuit.
The article over-simplifies everything and suggest that if only incompetent people did not make mistakes then everything would be fine. As a result of their errors, the company was forced to change its design to a safer alternative and then went out of business because of legal fees. Of course, the story fails to mention that the company’s assets were purchased by another business and is back and running just as it was before.
The story went on to quote the president of the well-known slanted tort reform group, the Illinois Civil Justice League. The leader noted that, “If someone is truly hurt and fault is found, they should be compensated for their economic damages – but not for perceived pain and suffering,”
One wonders what he say to young children who lose a limb or whose parents are killed by malpractice. Their “economic” damages are minimal. I suppose they should receive next to nothing for the life-altered damage they suffering simply because its not easily quantifiable in dollars and cents.
As a brief glance at the above makes clear, the article did not exactly present a balanced perspective. Advocates on only one side of the issue were consulted at all.
Setting the Record Straight
The President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association wrote a letter in response to this skewed perspective. He shared the story of the 3-year old girl who suffered burns all over her body when the gasoline container near her accidentally spilled in her family’s garage. And the example of the volunteer firefighter who nearly died after static electricity ignited gasoline can while filling up his chainsaw.
It was these and similar tales that spurred legal action which led to equipping gasoline containers with flame arresters. The flame arresters cost about $1 per container, but the company refused to add them, leading unaware individuals to suffer horrific accidents.
The company in question only filed bankruptcy after its product injured 75 people and killed 14 others in ways that could have been prevented. The ITLA letter to the editor points out that “the company knew its gas cans were hazardous and ignored multiple expert reports recommending it use flame arresters in the spouts of cans to prevent explosions and fire.”
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