Financing Tort Reform
It is not a secret that there is a movement in favor of tort reform. And, in order for a movement to be successful, there usually has to be a source providing financing. That source, however, doesn’t necessarily need to be in the spotlight. So, who might be funding the tort reform movement?
Backing Provided By Major Tobacco Companies and Large Corporations
A report released by the the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in 2000 revealed that major tobacco companies and some of America’s biggest corporations provide funding and strategic assistance to so-called "lawsuit abuse" groups, typically called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (“CALA”) throughout the country. The groups use the financing to masquerade as "grassroots" citizens groups spontaneously manifesting citizen anger against what they deem to be "lawsuit abuse." The groups work to incite public hostility toward the civil justice system, juries and judges. Their actions are an effort to pave the way for the enactment of laws shielding corporations from liability for actions that harm consumers.
"This report reveals how corporations are deceiving the public to shield themselves from lawsuits by consumers that are injured by their products," stated Pamela Pressley, staff attorney of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) and advocate for FTCR’s Fair Justice Project, a project dedicated to exposing corporate abuses of the justice system. "By forming a national network of phony "citizens" groups, self-serving mega-corporations are able to work behind the scenes to deny Americans access to the courtroom and to create a legal environment that protects corporate wrongdoers from being held accountable."
The authors of the report learned about the financing from major tobacco companies and corporations from tobacco industry papers uncovered in connection with state lawsuits against the five major tobacco companies. In addition, they examined other public documents and interviewed lobbyists, elected officials and paid consultants.
The report revealed a wealth of important details. Some of those details include:
**Since 1991, "tort reform" advocates have set up dozens of tax-exempt groups in at least 18 states (currently there are 27 active groups) to plant their spurious "lawsuit abuse" message in the media and the public consciousness, and to influence legislation, the judiciary and jurors. These groups claim to speak for average Americans and represent themselves as "grassroots" citizens groups determined to protect consumer interests. But their tax filings and funding sources indicate that they in fact represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers.
**A huge cache of documents made public in the late 1990s during state litigation against the tobacco industry reveals that Big Tobacco spent millions of dollars annually supporting the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), its grassroots lobbying firm, APCO & Associates, state CALAs and other activities to weaken tort laws in many states. ATRA and APCO supply the CALA groups with strategic guidance, media training and pre-produced radio, television, print advertising and billboards designed for maximum media exposure and legislative impact.
To read about more of the findings you can click here.
Advocates of tort reform want limits on compensation that injured plaintiffs can receive no matter if the person is suffering from major health issues caused by a dangerous product, major burns, serious brain injuries, or quadriplegia cases. These "hard caps" are problematic because each case is different.
Every time I ask a panel of jurors whether there should be a cap, I normally hear the response that it depends on the facts of the case. That is why a one-size-fits-all cap is not always fair. Without caps, juries have the opportunity to analyze each case on an individual basis. If there is ever a runaway jury, the trial court and appeals court can use the legal principle of remittitur to reduce the award or strike it.
Taking away the ability to review situations on a case-by-case basis is a key priority for tobacco companies because tobacco is inherently dangerous. Tobacco is known to cause health problems and tobacco companies are funding groups like CALA for a simple reason: they want their prospective liability to be limited no matter how severe the individual plaintiff’s injuries. The question is will these tobacco companies be successful?