Lobbying activity and the legislation that resulted from it, in three southern states, should cause every citizen who cares about civil rights, civil justice, and the rights each of us as citizens share, deep concerns.
In Tennessee, the General Assembly adjourned over the holiday weekend, leaving the state and the nation with the clear message that Republicans are pro-business and have no regard for citizen’s rights. The only thing near and dear to their hearts is more corporate profit and CEO/Executive compensation.
Republican and Conservative Democrats voted for major bills that leave reason for concern. Among those bills passed was a cap payout from successful medical malpractice cases. With the backing of influential business interests, Governor Haslam capped jury awards and imposed other new restrictions on lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions, from medical malpractice to auto accidents. Other legislation included the requirement that teachers to be on the job for five years instead of three before they may receive tenure in local schools, and corporations may make direct contributions to political candidates for the first time in Tennessee history.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry signed the Texas “loser pays law”, under which "some plaintiffs who sue and lose will be required to pay the court costs and attorney fees of those they are suing. Texas trial lawyers agreed to support the Senate version of the bill after the provision that allows judges to immediately dismiss frivolous lawsuits was added.”
In Alabama, the House approved three bills to curtail what some call lawsuit abuse. The bills limit where wrongful death lawsuits can be filed, reduce a plaintiff’s collectable interest while a verdict is being appealed, and reduce the statue of limitations for filing a suit against an architect. The House is expected to debate a third bill on Tuesday, which "would put restrictions on who could testify as an expert witness in lawsuits and limit what critics called ‘junk science’ theories of how the crime occurred.”
All these bills leave reason for concern as they hinder our access to justice. Powerful special interests groups spend millions of dollars seeking to influence the legislature. “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature,” said Andy Berke (D) – Chattanooga. These groups are mainly huge corporations that fund politicians for corporate benefit and against citizen interest. They do not represent the average citizen like they claim. Why do so many citizens fall for this nonsense?
This phenomenon is not just happening in southern states. My own state, Michigan, is already, perhaps, the most tort reformed state in the country. And, look what is going on in some northern states:
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker (when he is not trying to dismantle public unions and the right to bargain in good faith) passed a bill to 1. cap punitive damages at $200,000 or two times compensatory damages, whichever is greater; 2. place limits of $750,000 on non-economic damages for long-term care providers; 3. effectively immunize a health care provider from criminal prosecution for death or bodily harm to a patient resulting from essentially negligent.
Pennsylvania’s Fair Share Act was approved by the House last week; this bill will leave accident victims vulnerable to insurance companies. It would change Pennsylvania’s doctrine of joint and several liability so that defendants who are apportioned responsibility for causing a plaintiff’s injuries at 60 percent or less would only pay the portion they were found liable for, rather than being fully if other liable defendants can’t pay their portion of the plaintiff award. Who should bear this burden? One of the wrongdoers or the innocent victim?
The Utah State legislature passed a tort reform bill that gives hospitals immunity for hiring and retaining bad doctors, even when the hospital knows the doctor has hurt numerous patients in the past.
In Maine, doctors seem to be among the few to recently oppose tort reform. Perhaps that is because they realize tort reform not only hurts patients, but it is not in the best interest of punishing and weeding out those who harm the reputation of the medical profession as well.
Tort reformers seek to limit our constitutional rights. They fail to protect those who are injured from defective products, toxic chemicals, medical malpractice, and auto accidents, and they seek to eliminate victims’ rights to a fair trial. By doing so, tort reformers challenge your freedoms. Think it won’t happen to you? Think again! Why are we rewarding big businesses for manufacturing defective and unsafe products? Why are we willing to not hold them fully responsible for negligence?
Citizens are being deprived of their civil rights, and sadly, the majority of us will sit back and do nothing. I don’t understand it. Do we want to tender our precious civil rights to corporate interests who don’t care about us? Do we want to vote for politicians who put corporate profits ahead of citizens rights? It is time to wake up America. We are not powerless. We have rights; we have power to make change when we vote. Our future is at risk; our democracy is at risk. Don’t throw away their constitutional rights under the facade of tort reform.
Educate yourself prior to the upcoming election, put the pressure on; fight to restore our civil justice system; fight for your rights. If you don’t, you will find yourself “outflanked, overwhelmed, and ultimately beaten Remember – the Constitution states “For The People” not “For The Corporations.”
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.