In a previous blog post, we discussed how major corporations have developed and funded separate organizations that purport to provide education on the need for tort reform. In reality, such organizations exist solely to limit access to the civil justice system and shield corporations from personal injury lawsuits over harm caused by their products.
An interesting example of this is the tobacco industry and how for years it hid its knowledge of the deaths and serious illnesses caused by its products. However, in the 1990s, plaintiffs’ attorneys were able to hold Big Tobacco responsible for the cost of tobacco-related illnesses. Although many individuals and families finally received some measure of justice, the tobacco companies used this as a wake-up call and began fighting to limit the ability of state attorneys general to join forces with plaintiffs in tobacco (or other) cases.
Large tort cases, such as tobacco cases, are often too complex and expensive for state-funded legal offices to handle. The trend has been for state attorneys general to use outside counsel. The benefit of this strategy is significant: State taxpayers do not have to front the costs, because outside counsel does this as part of its contingency fee arrangement. States also receive the benefit that experienced trial lawyers with significant resources can offer.
The use of outside counsel has become a target for the so-called tort reformers; they do not want states to develop relationships with trial lawyers that could ultimately harm major corporations. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of the shadow groups advocating on behalf of large corporations, has been pushing states to adopt legislation that limits the ability of states to hire outside counsel; this type of legislation has become law in at least 10 states. Other groups, including the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) support similar initiatives.
Although the names of the groups and their specific targets differ, the goal is the same: To limit the ability of the states and federal government to sue corporations on behalf of citizens. Taking away the ability to hire outside counsel is one way tort reformers can accomplish this goal. If they succeed, the result will be growing numbers of injuries and deaths caused by corporations who can sell dangerous products with impunity.
Source: Trial, “Reclaiming Justice: Battling Tort ‘Reform’,” Dec., 2012.