As ThePopTort readers know, we regularly paraphrase Jay-Z. No, we’re kidding. This is the first time. But it seemed apropos in light of PR Watch’s incredible new report finding that in the first six months of 2013, 71 ALEC “tort reform” bills were introduced in 30 states.
ALEC, you may recall, is the influential, secretive organization that writes state bills to promote the agenda of major corporations, many of which have been hauled into court for killing and injuring people. As PR Watch notes, an example of this is when a Koch Industries pipeline exploded and killed teenagers. (Not to get too far down the Koch road, but you must read this fascinating investigative article about the grip Koch has on academic institutions and other non-profits, ultimately benefitting the company’s bottom line by closely coordinating these donations with their lobbying and political money. Koch has long been involved in funding “tort reform" too, and George Mason U, the academic institution receiving the most Koch money, hosts Congress’ very active "tort reform” caucus.)
Anyway, in addition to more “well-know” tort reforms like caps on damages, PR Watch focused discussion on some ALEC bills that sometimes get lost in the “legal weeds” but would have great consequences for the bottom lines of major industries. For example:
Ten states introduced the “Trespasser Responsibility Act,” which would largely absolve landowners from a responsibility to maintain safe premises, and tends to benefit large landowners like railroads, utility companies, and big agriculture. These large corporations would be absolved from their duty to act responsibly, and would be immune if a person accidentally wanders onto their property and are injured by poorly-maintained electrical boxes, dangerous chemicals or farm implements.
Nice. Another is ALEC’s “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act,” something we have been covering here particularly because of the parallel effort at the federal level, recently denounced by the New York Times editorial board. Writes PR Watch:
A big priority for the Chamber this year has been legislation narrowing access to the courts for asbestos victims. The ALEC “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act” was first adopted by members of the ALEC Civil Justice Task Force in 2007 and was introduced in four states in 2013, in many cases supported by testimony from Shook Hardy & Bacon attorney Mark Behrens on behalf of the Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform. The effort would benefit corporations like Crown Holdings, a Fortune 500 company with over $8 billion in annual sales that has worked with ALEC for years to legislate its way out of compensating asbestos victims, as well as ALEC member Honeywell International, which has faced significant asbestos liability in recent years.
The piece draws interesting parallels between this bill and ALEC's Voter ID laws, because both wipe out rights under the guise of countering “fraud” despite the fact that no evidence of fraud exists.And as the Center for Justice & Democracy's Joanne Doroshow finally notes,
“[The ALEC tort reform bills] offer nothing for consumers and in fact, would do them great harm.… And they create frameworks, easily amended by future lawmakers, that could result in even worse damage to the public.”
Meanwhile, back to Jay-Z, you may know that he named his new album “Magna Carta... Holy Grail.” Guess where the right to trial by jury came from, or at least gained major prominence? The Magna Carta! Clearly, we should be citing Jay-Z more often.