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Research

Research

Trial attorneys have long been on the front lines of the environmental movement, opposing corporate plans to wipe out forests, cut down mountain tops, and destroy entire ecosystems. When corporate acts have resulted in devastation for ecosystems and communities, the initial outcry of politicians and regulators has often died out as time has gone by. However, the attorneys seeking justice for such acts fight on, sometimes over decades and against the most powerful corporations on the planet.

When the environmental movement was born in the 1960s and 1970s, a slew of laws were passed to protect the outdoors. But lax enforcement left corporations little incentive to comply. Ultimately, trial attorneys sought justice for communities destroyed by corporate polluters. The BP oil spill will undoubtedly result in long-term devastation. Given the history of corporate behavior in the wake of such disasters, it is clear trial attorneys and the civil justice system will play a vital role in holding BP accountable and helping to return the Gulf to the state it once was.

Few have ever heard of it, but the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is the ultimate smokefilled back room. On the surface, ALEC’s membership is mostly comprised of thousands of state legislators. Each pays a nominal membership fee in order to attend ALEC retreats and receive model legislation. ALEC’s corporate contributors, on the other hand, pay a king’s ransom to gain access to legislators and distribute their corporate-crafted legislation. So, while the membership appears to be public sector, the bankroll is almost entirely private sector. In fact, public sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but in fact its free-market, pro-business mission is clear. The result has been a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols. Thanks to ALEC, 826 bills were introduced in the states in 2009 and 115 were enacted into law. Behind the scenes at ALEC, the nuts and bolts of lobbying and crafting legislation is done by large corporate defense firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. A law firm with strong ties to the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, it has long used ALEC’s ability to get a wide swath of state laws enacted to further the interests of its corporate clients.

In the wake of Toyota’s sudden acceleration scandal, automobile safety is once again a hot-button issue. After internal documents showed Toyota knew about potential defects, hid them from regulators, and even bragged about saving money from limiting its recalls, Toyota received the largest fine ever levied against an auto manufacturer. After 50 deaths and 8.5 million recalled cars, this saga is yet another example of regulation as an incomplete safeguard and manufacturers that put profits over safety. Unfortunately, this scenario has been repeating itself for decades.

In the 1960s, court cases began highlighting the dangers of car design and the willful negligence of manufacturers in designing cars that they knew to be unsafe. Since then the civil justice system has worked hand-in-hand with regulation to protect Americans, while spurring generations of safety innovations. Litigation will ultimately play a key role in identifying what went wrong with Toyota. 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 spur safety innovations, as it has done for half a century.

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.

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