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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Quayle – Civil Justice Reform

He was a curiously, automatic minion even then in the Seventies. The scene was the House Commerce Committee voting on several amendments to the consumer protection office bill designed to watchdog federal regulatory agencies that fail to uphold consumer protection laws. Each time, this young legislator took the cue from the business lobbyists and voted against even modest provisions offered to make surer that such scandals as the S&L debacle would be detected and stopped.

He hailed from a wealthy family in Indiana and he is now at it again as Vice President J. Danforth Quayle.

In mid-August, the callous corporate lobbyists and their allies in the Bush regime dispatched Quayle to address the American Bar Association (ABA) convention in Atlanta. His message was even too reactionary and cruel for many of the corporate lawyers who were a majority in the large hall.

Quayle was peddling an “agenda for civil justice reform” garnished with falsehoods, deceptions and a plutocratic animus against the most vulnerable Americans — the sick and injured children, women and men whose human damage is caused by wrongdoers both reckless and criminal, and whose rights to sue these wrongdoers are woefully inadequate.

Quayle, of course, took the abstract route of rhetoric. The broken bones, toxic injuries and other forms of violence that proceed from street crime, corporate crime, unsafe vehicles, pharmaceuticals, household products, factory equipment, pollution and myriads of other hazards that annually produce millions of human casualties were not his concern.

Quite the contrary, Quayle long ago signed on to the Reaganite view that just because life-saving laws and regulations are on the statute books, it doesn’t mean that they have to be enforced. So protection of patients, motorists, and other consumers was crushed by deliberately taking the federal cop off the consumer, workers and environmental safety beats.

Here is a brief glimpse of Quayle’s courtroom america. Declining to cap his salary (he received a $45,000 a year raise in January) he has been on record as wanting to legislatively cap the compensation of the most seriously injured victims. Never mind that neither he nor his cohorts receive and weigh the evidence as do judges and juries in the courtroom. Quayle and his corporatists know better how to federally regulate state courts and juries and they’ve been pushing this demand in Congress for years.

In Atlanta, he was intent on placing nearly insuperable obstacles in the path to the courtroom that injured and sick people search for to obtain compensation from their wrongdoers and deter future injury producing wrongdoing.

Quayle did not reveal his whole hand, as a simple reading of his past statements could document. Before the ABA, Quayle simply wanted to make injured people pay much of the defendants’ legal expenses if the plaintiff loses the case. Translated, that means if you take the bold move of suing General Motors for injuries that you believe come from a vehicle defect, you pay GM’s lawyers if you don’t win. No need to elaborate the motive behind that idea.

If you do persist in suing GM and want to use traditional “discovery” rights to require disclosure of GM engineering tests, memoranda and other data, Quayle wants to make sure that you could be required to pay GM’s search fees for much of this information.

If you learn that most of the experts you need to testify about your injury claim, based on a vehicle defect, are working or consulting for the auto companies, Quayle has a surprise for you. Don’t be too successful in locating maverick experts who buck the powers-that-be, for Quayle will have them disqualified as not using “widely accepted” theories. Gee, Archimedes and Einstein would have been disqualified by Quayle for a goodly portion of their careers.

And should you discover and prove that GM was engaged in a willful coverup and refusal to alert many innocent motorists of this vehicle defect’s risk to them, Quayle would limit your punitive damage recovery to the same dollar amount as your compensation award and destroy any deterrent effect on this giant corporation.

It is one thing for Quayle to be mean, but he is also dishonest in making his case. He complains of the nearly 18 million new civil cases filed every year. Most of them are lawsuits between businesses, spouses for divorce, etc. Only one million cases are for personal injury claims (a fraction of the wrongful injuries), yet Quayle directs his destructive agenda against those injured plaintiffs.

He uses figures that are fictitious about the costs of civil litigation, cites a case that was thrown out of court, ignores studies by the Rand Institute of Civil Justice, the National Center on State Courts, the General Accounting Office and even the corporate funded Conference Board that rebut his wild assertions.

Instead of improving the highway for aggrieved people to use the courts, Quayle blames what rights people do have as weakening our global competitiveness with other harsher nations who deny their own people’s rights to be judged by a jury of their peers and to pay their lawyers only if their lawyers win their cases.

Quayle is not the only politician who is soft on street and corporate crime and negligence, when it comes to independent civil courts and juries holding these perpetrators accountable. Bush and other high administration officials are on the backs of the same Moloch.

These imperious Washington politicians, bent on over-regulating judges and juries with campaign finance-greased statutory straitjackets, want us to believe that there is too much justice in America for ordinary people and that this excessive justice handed out by American juries and judges, carefully supervised by appellate courts, is diminishing our exports overseas.

To call Bush and Quayle unpatriotic on this important subject is to engage in understatement.