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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Wrongdoers Lobby Prevailing on Tort Reform

When Members of Congress return from their spring break they will begin deliberations on legislation designed to limit the rights of judges and juries to punish corporate and individual wrongdoers.

The attacks on the powers of judges and juries have no foundation. There is no evidence that judges and juries are out of control. There is no evidence that judges and juries are unjustly punishing wrongdoers and unfairly rewarding people injured by defective products or practices. And, there is no evidence supporting the notion that Congress should preempt state law. Alas the debate about civil litigation is not based on facts, but, is being driven by misleading anecdotes packaged by the wrongdoers lobby and repeated by a handful of misguided or unscrupulous elected officials. Unfortunately, if the wrongdoers lobby prevails, the local control that judges and juries have had over wrongdoers will be severely limited.

Now is the time to contact your U.S. Senators and ask them if they are planning to advance the corporate wrongdoers agenda, limit the powers of local judges and juries, and cut off the rights that injured parties currently have in state courts.

Keep the following points in mind when you contact your Senators:

1. There aren’t too many lawsuits. According to the Rand Institute, only about 10 percent of those injured by a defective product file a claim for compensation. Moreover, according to the National Center on State Courts, since 1990 the number of tort cases has decreased by 2 percent.

2. Products liability suits are not wrecking the economy. Products liability insurance costs amount to 1/4th of a penny on every dollar purchase. And, all products liability verdicts and settlements, both federal and state, average less than $3 billion a year — less than the amount Americans spend on dog food each year.

3. Plaintiffs don’t have an easy time winning a suit. Between 1987 and 1993 a plaintiff’s chance of winning a products liability lawsuit dropped from 59 percent to 41 percent.

4. Punitive damage awards are not out of control. Between 1965 and 1990 only 355 punitive damage awards were made in state and federal products liability cases. Of this total 91 punitive damage awards involved asbestos cases. This means that on average there were only about 11 punitive damage awards a year in this time period.

5. Joint and severable liability is rarely used against deep-pocket corporate defendants unless the corporate defendant is partly responsible for the victim’s injury. Joint and several liability can only be applied to a defendant if the defendant’s actions caused the entire injury or were an essential factor in causing the injury.

Before your Senators vote on tort deform they should know the facts and know what the impact of changing these laws will be on the victims of the wrongdoers lobby.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate, MIT professors Nicholas Ashford and Robert Stone said that tort liability promotes safety and health, encourages safer innovation, and discourages unsafe innovations. They also noted that strengthening existing liability laws would produce safer products and workplaces and would encourage more socially desirable innovation.

Tell your Senators that downgrading the rights of injured consumers to receive fair compensation for injuries caused by dangerous products is bad for our civil justice system, it is bad for consumers and it is bad for taxpayers. Less deterrence will mean more injuries, more uncompensated victims and greater overall costs to society. The horrors that countless victims live with as a result of asbestos-related disease, or dangerous products such as the Ford Pinto and Dalkon Shield, illustrate the need for a stronger, not weaker civil justice system.

Your local telephone book will have telephone numbers for your U.S. Senators and you can also call them in Washington at 202-224-3121.