Each night on the news, and in all the daily newspapers, we hear of things like runaway cars, massive vehicle recalls, coal mine collapses, exploding oil rigs, natural gas pipe line explosions, serious safety problems with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, financial institutions in trouble, and the list goes on. It has become a common occurrence to have the news dominated by the latest example of corporate misconduct. Each saga follows a similar pattern: a tragedy occurs, followed by apologies tempered by denials and claims of innocence, and evidence that profits were intentionally put ahead of the safety and well-being of the American people. This sort of thing has become so common that we almost know the script by heart.
The public is now beginning to see how federal agencies lack the resources to adequately protect and safeguard the American people. Folks have finally come to realize that powerful corporate lobbyists control Congress and that’s not good for ordinary folks and really not good for businesses. Large corporations brag about the millions of dollars saved by limiting their recalls and they ignore industry guidelines in spite of the need for consumer safety. Millions are spent on public relations efforts to make bad conduct look and sound good. A case in point is BP’s handling of the ongoing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.
Americans are entitled to safe products, fewer preventable injuries and a restoration of checks and balances that give people a fair chance to obtain justice when a corporation is guilty of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, it’s only after tragic accidents that our government closely analyzes the agencies and systems that failed. It is only then that emphasis is put on taking the necessary steps to correct things. There is only one institution that consistently protects consumers and holds wrongdoers accountable and that’s the American civil justice system. This system has constantly been under attack with the so-called “tort-reformers” focusing on “trial lawyers” and a system they claim is “broken.” They know that the victims of corporate wrongdoing and abuse can’t be attacked, so they do the obvious – they attack the lawyers who represent them, and attack the jury system.
There is no shortage of examples of corporations letting profits override safety and basic consumer protections. The marketing arms of the companies continue to run over sound safety engineering judgment. You can list corporation after corporation that have committed massive wrongs and tried their best to get away with it. Large corporations like BP, Toyota and Massey Energy put lives at risk, expecting no real consequences. They attempt to evade accountability for their actions. Yet once the scandals of these corporations fade away, it will be telling to see whether some lawmakers continue with their fixation on “tort reform” — or hand out immunity to the very same corporations responsible for injuring and killing consumers in the first place.
The barons of Corporate America, and their hired guns at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have dedicated millions of dollars to demonize trial lawyers. Yet each corporate scandal and dangerous product show that when the first lines of defense fail to protect the safety of consumers, that leaves only the civil justice system to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and restore justice. At the end of the day, it is trial lawyers — not the big corporations that put profits ahead of safety — who speak for ordinary citizens and seek justice for victims of corporate wrongdoing and abuse.
Meanwhile, the tort system is now, and always has been, a vehicle for effecting change, enhancing safety, and holding wrongdoers accountable. The next time cries of “tort reform” ring out from the usual suspects, remind those hired-guns about BP, Toyota, Wall Street, Enron, Massey Energy and the legions of corporate wrongdoers. Americans should think twice before they let Congress and state legislative bodies continue to shield corporate profits at the expense of their own safety and well-being.
Source: American Association for Justice
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