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Greg Webb
Greg Webb
Attorney • (800) 451-1288

"Excessive Litigation" Crisis? More Laws to Protect CEO's? . . . See The 7th Amendment

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As lawyers, we strive to protect our clients, to help make our clients whole,to fix what can be fixed, and help what can be helped. To balance the harms of our society. When manufacturing plants dump chemicals in rivers and the water people drink becomes poisoned—everyone loses. The harm to the individual and his or her family can be balanced in the only way our system provides. It is only right and fair that such a corporation can and should be held accountable for its choices, for its wrongful behavior, for needlessly endangering the public. Responsibility and accountability not only apply to people, but to businesses as well.

When a company manufactures plastic gas cans (turning a huge profit)—and makes the choice not to insert a flame arrester—and sells these cans to individuals, and a fire occurs resulting in painful burns, disfigurement and scars to a child, it is only fair and just that the manufacturer be held accountable for choosing not to install the flame arrester. The company should make good on the medical bills and pain and suffering that the child undergoes each day of his life. This company went by Blitz, USA.

Yet, there are some in this country who do not believe that negligent manufacturers, corporations, and other entities, should be held accountable for their conscious decisions to value profits over safety, because to exact financial reparations from them may slow down the economic recovery. These people believe in immunity, or some form of it, for these businesses. These people then throw out the buzz words "business friendly". When you hear "business friendly", that is code for greasing the skids for favorable tax rates, favorable treatment and favorable laws that necessarily take away something from the the average American. If immunity for wrongful conduct is given to businesses, then something is taken away from the citizenry. That is the give and take. Maybe that "business friendly" environment means that Workers Compensation benefits are harder for workers to get (or earned benefits are slashed), or businesses are effectively given immunity when their decisions and choices create unsafe conditions in factories, plants, neighborhoods, highways, or the environment.

Hearings were held on March 5, 2013, before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice on “Excessive Litigation’s Impact on America’s Global Competitiveness.” In his opening statement, The Hon. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Chairman of the Subcommittee, stressed it is every congressional committee’s duty to help “get America moving again” and blamed what he termed excessive litigation for high costs holding back global competitiveness. (Where are his facts coming from? Maybe he should go back and read about all of the recalls over the past decade or so for defective and dangerous Chinese products.). Rep. Goodlatte is using code words ("global competitiveness", etc.) – he wants to give to corporate profits while taking from regular Americans. (www.takejusticeback.com/node/119 ) Corporate profits and capitalism are good things, to be sure, but not at the expense of needlessly endangering, maiming or killing Americans.

I suppose "excessive litigation" is in the eyes of the beholder: if you are the victim of a corporation's choice(s) that causes injury, then the litigation is not "excessive" or frivolous; but if "you" are the corporate executives, perhaps anyone that dares question you or your conduct may fall into the "excessive" or "frivolous" category. Perhaps Mr. Goodlatte would take a different position should he be in the former position, suffering injury or maiming not of his own wrongdoing. But that is hard for him and those like him to see when they are likely receiving funding for their political campaigns from some of those very same corporations, or the trade groups of which they are members, or the political action committees they form.

Goodlatte pointed to what he calls a “tort tax” (or added costs of litigation) on every product Americans purchase or service consumed. Goodlatte would like to see a civil justice system that he says, “doesn’t entertain meritless litigation.” Goodlatte noted, however, that the civil justice system doesn’t always fairly compensate victims who have to wait “too long to get a case to trial and receive an average of only 46 cents of every dollar spent in litigation” when they do win. (Where, exactly, is he getting his "facts"? How many of these cases does he litigate and understand?) Does Mr. Goodlatte object to businesses suing businesses, which account for the overwhelming majority of litigation in our country, clogging up our courts?

Mr. Goodlatte has turned logic on its head. One would hope that American manufacturing corporations would make and sell good, useful and, above all, safe products for their consumers to use. The vast majority do just that. If this cannot be done, we all lose. Who pays for the damage resulting from dangerous products (those injured, maimed or killed)? Taxpayers? Or should the responsible entity pay? If the average citizen cannot access the courts, and his or her Seventh Amendment rights to a jury trial (yes, it is a Constitutional right, often forgotten by so-called "reformers" like Mr. Goodlatte and his cronies), then how can he or she combat the wrongs of another person or company? Who will provide those checks and balances? Can we rely on our government to protect us and provide fairness and restitution when we are harmed? Many think our judicial system is abused . . . until a catastrophe befalls them.

I suggest that those like Mr. Goodlatte walk a mile in the injured's shoes, instead of taking a ride in Mr. CEO's corporate jet.