The holiday season means many things to many different families. For most, it includes traditions of sharing meals, laughs, and making fond memories.
Yet, for the American Tort Reform Association this time of year is when they decide to release their annual “Judicial Hellhole” report. Essentially this junk-science report is nothing more than a headline-grabbing effort by a big interest front group to spread misinformation and stoke fires among the community. This report grew stale years ago, but that has not stopped the ATRA from bringing it back out every year.
On one hand, those of us working in the civil justice shouldn’t be too surprised that the group falls back on the same gimmicks year after year. That is no different from the same stale arguments being made again and again in calls for tort reform, even after those arguments are decisively shown false.
The President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association recently issued a rebuke to the ATRA, reminding readers of the truth behind the organization and the push to take away rights of community members. It should never be forgotten who is actually leading (and funding) the efforts to pass tort reform efforts–big business and insurance interests. The ITLA response explains how the major supports of these “reform” groups are a “‘who’s who’ of corporate giants interested in minimizing their financial exposure and avoiding accountability for acts and practices that cause harm and injury, including Altria (formerly Philip Morris), Dow Chemical, Exxon, Aetna, Geico, State Farm, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.”
Sadly, if history is any guide, most of these large entities are more interested in protecting their bottom lines than ensuring those harmed by their actions receive fair redress and support following accidents. Time and again, large business interests have failed to make changes to their products or protocol in order to keep community members safe if those changes cost anything. It is only when they were forced to change–usually by the justice system–that real action was taken.
That court-mandated concern for the well-being of the community is exactly what is spurring much of these tort reform efforts to being with. After all, the justice system has various procedural steps in place to root out all those suits which are without merit. Lawyers must already show that there are genuine factual issues and sufficient evidence available to show liability before even reaching a jury at trial.
But wanting virtual immunity, some big interests are seeking to place even more arbitrary limits or barriers in front of plaintiff harmed by their misconduct. Not satisfied with being held responsible by others, they want to take even more power away from community members and juries. It amounts to a drastic power-grab that no one should support.
“Reports” like the Judicial Hellhole piece are nothing more than misleading puff pieces that completely ignore the real issues at stake. All local residents who believe in equal access to the justice system should recognize these reports for what they are and not be taken in by the propaganda.
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