The giant AIG and Aetna Insurance companies have been spending much of their policyholders’ money recently for full-page advertisements denigrating and distorting the American civil justice system. It is clear that these companies do not like lawsuits by injured people against the perpetrators of their harm. Lawsuits against the clients of these insurance companies mean that AIG and Aetna have to pay out some of those billions in premiums they collect every year.
These insurance company ads complain in very general terms about excessive verdicts, frivolous suits and the sharply rising large number of suits. No figures or citations are given to back up these alarms. And for good reason: the available figures from the National Center for State Courts, the General Accounting Office and the Institute for Civil Justice would refute these allegations.
Unfortunately, civil lawsuits against companies who manufacture hazardous products that injure and sicken innocent people are not increasing in proportion to the harm done. These cases are very difficult to win, given the awesome resources that a DuPont or a General Motors can bring to the courts.
A new jeremiad is creeping into the insurance industry’s relentless drive to limit the liability of wrongdoers to their victims — “global competitiveness.” Taking away the rights of the injured, it is declared, is necessary to keep U.S. companies globally competitive with other nations who give little or no rights to innocent victims to have their day in court. How is that for pressuring downward our country’s legal rights toward the lowest Korean denominator!
One can almost question the patriotism of Aetna and AIG if, that is, they possessed any semblance of allegiance to this country as their business sprawls around the world and they pit other countries’ practices against those of the U.S.A.
Unfortunately, the public is being inundated with such propaganda in what amounts to a campaign of national jury tampering so as to prejudice potential jurors against injured plaintiffs. There is little education regarding the improvements in the safety of products, hospitals and other sources of injury that emerge from a successful jury verdict or settlement.
For example, the national policy to phase out asbestos, that has taken thousands of lives, was prodded by asbestos lawsuits which disclosed documents of the asbestos manufacturers showing that. decades ago these companies knew and covered up the dangers of asbestos.
A popular circular saw was redesigned for safety after a civil lawsuit brought by the relatives of an electrocuted 23-year-old carpenter was settled for a sizable sum in 1974. From converted gas furnaces to safety caps on spray paint cans to better fire warning systems and emergency response plans by hotels to design modifications of escalators that injured small children to safer bulldozers and building cranes, lawsuits in courts of law have been the primary stimulants.
Lawsuits deter future carelessness as well as compensate victims. Following two separate court cases in Texas and Hawaii, federal agencies are awakening from their Reaganite do-nothing stupor and refusing to finance or guarantee the cost or construction of houses that do not comply with building codes.
Other lawsuits have resulted in the removal or recall of dangerous drugs (such as MER/29) from the marketplace, medical device implants or defective motor vehicles.
Bell Helicopter was required to recall a dangerous tailrotor blade system, and to cease making replacement parts that included that design, after a 1975 crash in Corpus Christi, Texas led to a successful jury verdict.
Instead of these legal actions spurring the insurance companies to crack down on their negligent clients, as part of a loss prevention exercise, the Aetnas and the AIGs would rather block the courtroom door to workers, patients and consumers.
The next time you see an Aetna or AIG ad along these callous lines, send them a message. False alarms only hype their insurance premiums upward.