Research

Research

GM’s fatal ignition switch scandal has once again brought the issue of automobile safety to the forefront. Like so many previous cases, a lawsuit has uncovered what is an unfortunately recognizable pattern: an automobile manufacturer discovers a defective design, but refuses to fix it because it puts profits over people.

In the latest case, GM recalled more than 2.6 million cars because of ignition switches that had a defect that allowed them to slip from the “on” position to the “accessory” position, shutting off engines, power steering, and brakes, and disabling airbags. Incredibly, GM knew of the fatal ignition switch defect as far back as 2001, but decided not to fix it because it would have meant adding a 57 cent part to the cost of each car. The danger was finally exposed by a lawsuit brought by a driver’s family. At least 13 deaths have been linked to the defect, though consumer advocates believe that number may be higher.

Litigation will ultimately play a key role in identifying what went wrong in the most recent safety issue—the GM ignition switch debacle. These findings will aid regulators and legislators in protecting the American public in the future. By holding manufacturers accountable, the civil justice system will continue to protect Americans, while spurring generations of safety innovations, as it has done for more than half a century.

The civil justice system is vital in holding negligent trucking companies accountable, and provides compensation to those killed or injured by unsafe trucks. However, archaic insurance rules undermine the economic incentives to safety provided by the courts. The insurance market itself is unable to function properly – offering lower premiums to safe companies and higher premiums to companies with dangerous histories – because outdated minimum insurance levels keep premiums artificially low for even the most dangerous companies.

Throughout modern history, women have suffered disproportionately from the effects of dangerous and defective drugs and medical devices.  Women take more medications than men, respond differently to them, and are more likely to suffer adverse drug events.  Because of the recent Riegel v. Medtronic (2008) and PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing (2011) rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, women injured or killed by dangerous drugs and medical devices may not be able to hold these manufacturers accountable.

Through its legal reform front group the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), the U.S. Chamber has been at the forefront of a heavily-funded campaign toAAJ Report eliminate corporate accountability, even for massive violations of state and federal law. For decades, this has primarily revolved around high profi le PR campaigns to portray the civil justice system as beset by frivolous lawsuits. But where a billiondollar tort reform campaign has not succeeded in closing the courthouse door, its more stealthy compatriot – forced arbitration – has gone a long way to shielding corporations from accountability and replacing the courthouse altogether.

Take a moment to read the American Association for Justice's full report on how forced arbitration clauses are routinely hidden in the fine print of contracts and secretly abolish many of the safeguards the civil justice system provides.

During the early part of the last decade, many academics, insurance industry executives and policymakers were concerned with an apparent medical malpractice insurance crisis. The “crisis” appeared in the form of dramatic increases in physicians’ malpractice insurance premiums. News stories highlighted price hikes as high as 600 percent in one year.

In hindsight, it has become clear that despite the predominant storyline at the time, the crisis was not caused by an up swell of litigation. Claims severity – the average amount paid in medical malpractice claims – did increase during this time, as to be expected when such claims largely constitute medical costs that are subject to high levels of inflation. However, claims severity increased gradually, and not in a manner that would explain a sudden spike in claims costs. Moreover, claims frequency – the number of medical malpractice claims insurers were having to pay – actually decreased.

The Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has the sole mission of restricting the ability of individuals harmed by negligent corporations to access the civil justice system. According to the multinational corporations that finance ILR, American businesses are hindered by too many lawsuits. Yet these same corporations show no hesitation in liberally using the courthouse themselves.

Since 1980, the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) system has protected Medicare funds by ensuring that Medicare is reimbursed for costs that other entities have primary responsibility for paying. That system has become a poster child for inefficient bureaucracy. It is plagued with difficulties that range from posing inconveniences to causing genuine economic harm. Insurance companies, small businesses, municipalities and even other federal agencies have to spend millions of dollars to navigate MSP’s web of red tape. The system is so dysfunctional that even Medicare is harmed by its own bureaucracy, unable to recoup taxpayer dollars from people who are trying to give money back to the government.

Preventable medical errors kill and seriously injure hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Any discussion of medical negligence that does not involve preventable medical errors ignores this fundamental problem. And while some would prefer to focus on doctors’ insurance premiums, health care costs, or alternative compensation systems – anything other than the negligence itself – reducing medical errors is the best way to address all the related problems. Preventing medical errors will lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients.

Since 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued more than 850 recalls for toy products, many for hazards like magnets, lead and other dangers hidden in our children’s toys. Between 2004 and 2008, toy-related injuries increased 12 percent. Also, The CPSC is woefully under-resourced to cope with the flood of new products entering the U.S. marketplace.

The result of such corporate negligence and regulatory powerlessness is that dangerous products can be sold on shelves for years before the public has any idea of their hazards. In the face of such risks, and with so few resources at hand, the nation has come to rely on parents, consumer groups and the civil justice system to serve both as an early warning system and an enforcement mechanism against negligent corporations and their dangerous toys.

For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has led the charge to undermine and destroy America’s civil justice system. The Chamber has spent hundreds of millions of dollars financing efforts to close the courthouse doors to American consumers through massive lobbying campaigns, advertising and bankrolling anti-consumer political candidates. It 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, entering lawsuits at a rate of twice weekly. The hypocrisy is striking. In almost every case, the Chamber’s litigation on behalf of corporations has come at the expense of Americans’ health or financial security.

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