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.
There are many laws and regulations aimed at protecting seniors, yet government agencies, non-profit watchdogs and media organizations consistently report that serious problems exist in our nation’s nursing homes. The same is true of insurance companies that mislead and defraud vulnerable seniors. Insurance industry regulators protest that they can do nothing. Even when they do raise their hands, they more often than not strike deals to keep fines to a minimum and settlements secret.
With the regulatory and legislative bodies unable to cope with a groundswell of neglect and abuse, the civil justice system has stepped into the breach. Attorneys who represent our nation’s seniors, and their families, play a critical role in uncovering abuse and neglect, and are the most effective force to compel corporate nursing homes to fix their conduct.
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.