Speaking of bad timing, the PR firms that run the corporate “tort reform” front groups known as “Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse” have apparently deemed this week “Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week.” Mind you, when they speak of “lawsuit abuse” problems, they aren’t referencing the fact that the largest “tort reform” corporate lobby in the nation – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - itself sues the U.S. government on average three times a week.
Or the fact that while personal injury cases are tanking around the country, harassing debt collections are skyrocketing and in fact, dominate the civil justice system today.
No, they’re talking about adding to the misery of the sick, injured, defrauded and violated who struggle to even get into civil court today. Their specific goal is to add to the hundreds if not thousands of so-called “tort reform” laws that have already passed around the country in the last 30 years, supplemented and enhanced by a series of recent Supreme Court decisions that have stripped everyday people of their legal rights (including providing corporations with the ability to ban all class actions).
Perhaps even more startling, these “CALA” groups do not seem to care that rank and file businesses, whom they supposedly represent, don’t even care about this issue – according to their own surveys! In case you missed it, the National Federal of Independent Businesses’ latest survey Small Business Problems and Priorities (August 2012) ranks "Costs and Frequency of Lawsuits/Threatened Lawsuits" at #71 out of 75 issues, a lower rank than how to use Twitter. In looking only at concerns about costs as a problem cluster, “Costs and Frequency of Lawsuits/Threatened Lawsuits” ranked last among cost issues. In fact, NFIB calls this issue, one of the “10 least severe problems for small-business owners of the 75 business problems assessed...”
But back to the timing issue. While these corporate PR firms and lobbyists have decided that this is the ideal week to dump on our access to the civil courts, the entire civil docket in the federal court system is now in jeopardy. As we’ve noted before, civil cases are always the first to go when court budgets are cut. Same’s true at the federal level, where the Dept. of Justice has even asked that its own cases prosecuting corporate wrongdoing be stayed.
But there’s more to it than that. Today (Tuesday), Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee are having a “forum on the impact of the federal shutdown and sequestration on the provision of justice in the U.S.” Among speakers will be the President of the American Bar Association, a retired federal judge, Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice and a great civil justice advocate, and lawyers for all kinds of people needing court access, from voting rights to sexual assault victims.
This shutdown is having a devastating impact on court access and justice for victims of both criminal and civil violations. That’s how I’d define “lawsuit abuse.” And my timing, by the way, is perfect.