Research

Research

Every day there is another recall or warning of a product that turned out to have design flaws or unexpected problems - a drug with an unanticipated side effect, a toy with a sharp piece that can injure a child, or a popular food product that may have been contaminated in production. These recalls and warnings are so frequent that consumers are no longer surprised. What would surprise consumers is the fact that sometimes those who are responsible for these dangers know about the problem and do nothing about it. People find it hard to believe that anybody would cover up a product's danger and then market that product to the very people it is likely to kill or injure. Yet, that is exactly what happens time and time again. The following pages contain true stories of corporations that have known their products were dangerous, sometimes deadly, but continued to push them onto unsuspecting consumers.

Insurers are increasingly using tough tactics against cash-strapped consumers to boost profits, according to a new report that investigates claims data, policies, and news accounts. The report details tactics that target policyholders, insurance companies that are engaging in these practices, and what consumers can do to prevent abuses and fight back. The current economic turmoil, which is greatly affecting the insurance sector, will likely spark insurers to use these tactics to maximize their bottom lines.

In a stealth effort coordinated at the highest levels of the Bush administration, multiple federal agencies were repeatedly ordered to usurp state law and undermine consumer protections, according to documents obtained through repeated FOIA requests by the American Association for Justice (AAJ). The documents detail how helping corporations escape accountability for dangerous products has been the administration’s top priority. The FOIA documents detail a Bush regulatory strategy called preemption. In short, the Bush administration has decided that federal rules should usurp – or preempt – the rights of states to protect their citizens with stricter safety standards. In turn, consumers can no longer use the state protections when harmed by negligence or misconduct, giving total immunity to corporations instead.

To identify the worst insurance companies for consumers, researchers at the American Association for Justice (AAJ) undertook a comprehensive investigation of thousands of court documents, SEC and FBI records, state insurance department investigations and complaints, news accounts from across the country, and the testimony and depositions of former insurance agents and adjusters. Our final list includes companies across a range of different insurance fields, including homeowners and auto insurers, health insurers, life insurers, and disability insurers. One company stood out above all others. Allstate’s concerted efforts to put profits over policyholders has earned its place as the worst insurance company in America.

Following the Supreme Court’s influential decision in Geier v. American Honda, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has claimed that a number of new federal safety standards preempt state tort law. Meanwhile, auto manufacturers have attempted to convince state courts to dismiss lawsuits filed by injured motorists, claiming that the suits are impliedly preempted by existing safety standards. If federal courts start accepting these arguments on a broad scale, consumers will be deprived of the important protections provided by state common law. The Center for Progressive Reform’s report, The Truth about Torts: Using Agency Preemption to Undercut Consumer Health and Safety presents an overview of the preemption movement that has taken root in Federal regulatory agencies.

In recent years, the Bush administration has launched an unprecedented aggressive campaign to persuade the courts to preempt state tort actions. Widespread preemption of state tort law would significantly undermine, if not eliminate, the rights of individuals to seek redress for injuries caused by irresponsible and dangerous business practices and to hold manufacturers and others accountable for such socially unreasonable conduct.

This report evaluates a proposal to replace the current civil justice system for compensating patients who have been injured by medical malpractice with a system called “health courts,” in which claims that were not settled in response to an apology and offer of settlement on behalf of providers would be adjudicated by medically-trained decision-makers employing pre-established guidelines and schedules. The report concludes that the health court proposal is ill-conceived, that it would be unfair to patients, that it would be unlikely to achieve its objectives, and that such of its goals as are reasonable can be achieved more fairly and with greater efficiency under the existing civil justice system. This report was prepared under a grant from the American Association for Justice Robert L. Habush Endowment. The authors of the report are Maxwell J. Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law and Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and Professor of Bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; and Dale A. Nance, Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, leaving historic levels of death and destruction in its wake. The storm caused an incredible $135 billion in damages, leaving thousands homeless, jobless and bereft of hope. Facing their darkest hour, many of the survivors found themselves victimized a second time by an insurance industry offering pennies on the dollar, refusing to honor many agreements, and claiming that the destruction had nothing to do with wind damage, which is covered under most policies, but was caused by floodwater, which is not. Shockingly, in the two years after the nation’s worst natural disaster, insurance companies have reaped more than $100 billion in profits.

Cover of Pattern of Greed 2006 pdfIn the year since Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, leaving historic levels of death and destruction in its wake, some in the insurance industry still haven’t made good on their promise to compensate area residents who find themselves near ruin. While the insurance industry enjoys record profits and bulging bank accounts, too many people are left waiting for the settlements that will help them get back on their feet. It’s no surprise. As this report relates, the insurance industry has made a practice of collecting billions of dollars from policyholders over the years and then stiffing them in their time of greatest need. Hurricane Katrina is just the most recent example.

This report demonstrates that the premise on which the insurance industry based its “tort reform” campaign of the last several years--that malpractice claims payments have been increasing--is false. Specifically, the data reveal that the amount the leading malpractice insurers project they will pay out in claims in the future has declined; that the amount they have actually paid out in claims has declined; and that their surplus--the extra cushion they have accumulated over and above the amount they have set aside to pay claims in the future--has increased to an all time high. In addition, the data reveal that notwithstanding the record surplus and profits of these carriers, they have generally declined to issue any dividends to their policyholders.

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