What do labeling standards for hazardous materials have to do with birth injury lawsuits?
Perhaps not much directly, but legal principles used in one case may eventually impact many seemingly unrelated areas. It all has to do with the many faces of tort reform. Some mistakenly believe “damage caps” and “tort reform” are synonymous. That is not the case. Instead, arbitrary caps on damages are just one of many ways that certain big corporate interests seek to tilt the playing field and make it harder for those hurt to recover for their losses.
Beyond damage caps, and perhaps even more invidiously, tort reform can also take the form of changes in the law which limit who can sue at all, on what grounds, and what legal standards are applied when judging liability. Using a variety of theories, many corporate front groups are advancing arguments in many different types of cases all with the same goal.
For example, the President of the American Association for Justice recently wrote a letter explaining the group’s latest action to protect consumer rights against attacks from tort reform groups. She explains how a lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA). This is an entity charged with maintaining safe workplaces. OSHA recently made changes to preemption language in its “Hazard Communication Standard.” This “standard” sets forth rules regarding proper labeling and warning about hazardous materials.
One of the nation’s largest corporate front groups, the American Tort Reform Association, recently filed a petition challenging the preemption language change. The underlying claim was that the OSHA standards should “preempt” state tort laws and common laws on the same subject. In other words, they were trying to lower the safety standards so that those hurt by a failure to warn have less ability to recover for their losses in a court of law.
These principles of preemption are clearly harmful to consumers, lowering safety standards and minimizing the incentives for those in a position to keep workers safe from doing all that they can. In addition, as always with legal claims and legislation pushed as part of a “tort reform” agenda, the underlying principles, if accepted, may have far reaching consequences. Any time a court, agency, or legislative body caves to lower standards to please tort reformers, the door is opened for similar arguments being used to take away rights in other legal settings.
Preserving the Right to Demand Accountability
As we have pointed out time and again, birth injury lawsuits specifically (and medical malpractice cases generally) are usually ground zero for tort reformers. That is because the financial consequences of preventable birth injuries caused by negligence are so high–easily reaching millions of dollars when a lifetime of extra care is needed.
Corporate interests have much to gain by seeking to limit an injured child and their family’s right to file a lawsuit and seek full recovery. That is why those of us who believe in fairness and equality under the law must be diligent in countering all misleading legal arguments and public claims which may be used to take away those critical rights.
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