Innocent people regularly suffer grievous injures because of the negligence of others. Those innocent victims can obtain compensation for their injuries by resort to our civil justice system. The civil justice system is all too often the only way to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. For some time, however, wrongdoers have used lobbyists and public relations campaigns in an attempt to limit an innocent victim’s access to the courts by claiming that a “crisis” exists in the civil litigation system in general and with medical malpractice in particular. Compelling evidence shows that the claims of a “crisis” are simply not true.
In an article entitled “The gloves are off” in the July 2006 issue of Trial, Bill Straub, the deputy director of communications at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, compellingly argues that corporate America’s focus on tort reform has only one goal-the maximization of profits by preventing innocent victims from obtaining compensation from corporate wrongdoers. However, rather than be honest about its aims, big business has instead demonized trial lawyers, the innocent victims’ protectors of last resort, by claiming that trial lawyers are ruining the U.S. economy. Straub asserts that the time has come for trial lawyers to fight back by exposing big business’ true goals.
Proponents of tort reform regularly complain that trial lawyers are “getting rich” by obtaining compensation for innocent victims. Straub points out the hypocrisy of this claim when, in 2005, the head of Exxon was paid $48.9 million, the head of Occidental Petroleum was paid $64.3 million, and the head of United-Health Group, Inc. was paid $37.7 million. (In fact, the pay of a typical CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company was $11.8 million in 2005).
Straub also points to many instances where the desire for increased corporate profits comes at the expense of consumer safety. After all, the evidence is clear that Merck & Co. continued to market Vioxx long after it knew that the drug increased the risk of heart problems and strokes. Moreover, auto manufacturers balked at installing seat belts and air bags. Clothing manufacturers refused to use flame-resistant materials in children’s pajamas. Presented with these examples, Straub poses the question of who remains to protect people. He also answers that question. “The nation’s civil justice system has become the last line of defense-the place where even the most powerful are called to account for their misconduct. It’s the duty of trial lawyers to guide the maimed, the jobless, and families of the deceased through the dense thicket of laws, regulations, and practice rules that lead to fair compensation. And it’s a job that ought to be done unapologetically.”