Columns » Editorials

Reform this


"Tort reform" is a scheme to protect rich corporations from the consequences of wrongdoing. Those such as we who’d prefer that the wealthy be called to account for their sins are accused of "bashing the rich" and "waging class warfare." Generally speaking, the corporate media do not allow criticism of those who possess great wealth, corporate or individual. There is one striking exception to this rule, and that is trial lawyers. Right-wing pundits are furious that John Edwards and people like him have made money practicing law. Why, they ask, shouldn’t these troublesome plaintiffs’ attorneys have to get out and hustle for their bread, the way that corporations do — making automobiles that blow up when bumped, or selling cancer-inducing tobacco products, or bilking the public, their shareholders and even their own employees while jiggering the energy market. When a corporate lawyer from New York came to Little Rock to debate tort reform, his opponent, trial lawyer Chip Welch, carefully pointed out the man’s many corporate clients, including tobacco companies, Enron and Newsweek, which devotes whole issues to promoting tort reform and quotes its own lawyer as the chief expert on the subject. Welch ate the guy up, incidentally, and it’s said the New Yorker was unhappy with his hosts for not scheduling a weaker opponent. Maybe he’ll sue them. Contrary to the propaganda about trial lawyers causing a landslide of lawsuits, it is corporate lawyers who file most of the lawsuits, and they file them against other corporations. President Bush said last week that "frivolous lawsuits" and "trial lawyers" were a threat to the economy, because they burden American businesses. But a report by the nonpartisan group Public Citizen shows that "American businesses file four times as many lawsuits as do individuals represented by trial attorneys, and they are penalized by judges much more often for pursuing frivolous litigation." A Public Citizen survey in parts of four states found that businesses were 3.3 to 5.8 times more likely to file lawsuits than were individuals. The findings are particularly enlightening at a time when businesses (including corporate-owned newspapers and TV networks), politicians and medical doctors are campaigning to limit ordinary citizens’ rights to sue over everything from medical malpractice to defective products. Public Citizen notes: "By way of comparison, the number of American consumers (281million) outnumbers the number of businesses in America (7 million) by 40 times." Clearly, it’s these business lawsuits that that are clogging up the courts, burdening the economy, and creating a fair number of rich lawyers too. Contract reform is what we need. Millions of dollars, maybe billions, could be put to productive use if it weren’t squandered on promiscuous suing. New and cheaper drugs might be discovered. Companies might even be able to bring back some of the jobs they’ve shipped off to Asia and Latin America.

Add a comment