Guardians of Justice

By Ralph Cook
Posted 4/17/07

I suppose it was in the spirit of April Fool's Day that a "study" was released claiming civil justice attorneys and personal injury cases cost the United States $865 billion a year, via a so-called "tort tax." There is no such thing as a "tort tax," …

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Guardians of Justice


I suppose it was in the spirit of April Fool's Day that a "study" was released claiming civil justice attorneys and personal injury cases cost the United States $865 billion a year, via a so-called "tort tax." There is no such thing as a "tort tax," and the "facts and figures" contained in the "study" are outrageous, misleading and downright false. Consumers take heed: It may be April, but don't be fooled by the "study's" claims.

The truth is, civil justice attorneys are America's guardians of justice, helping ordinary citizens without fame, money or power stand against big and powerful corporations. This makes society safer for everyone. For instance, consider the following:

Because of civil justice attorneys, our children sleep and play in greater safety, free from the threat of burns (or worse) from pajamas catching fire. Their toys and clothes are now safer and flame retardant. In addition, lead has been removed from paint forever, and just the other day, millions of key chains and "Groovy Grabber" children's bracelets containing high amounts of lead were recalled. Clearly, there is still work to be done.

Because of civil justice attorneys, our family cars are safer. Airbags, seat belts and safer gas tank placement save lives every day. Were it not for the work of civil justice attorneys, the sale of dangerous vehicles still would be allowed.

Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications are safer because of civil justice attorneys. By forcing big drug companies to be accountable for dangerous products, these goods have been kept off the shelves and out of our homes.

Because of civil justice attorneys, fairness in the workplace has improved. Thanks to them, corporations can no longer discriminate on the basis of color, race, religion, sex or age. This alone has helped millions of Americans get the salaries and job levels for which they are qualified.

Pacific Research Institute, the entity that released the "study," is a think tank bankrolled by big corporations and the oil and insurance industries. It spends its time constructing phony reports, books and studies in an effort to erode the civil justice system. And who can blame it? Chipping away at the system that holds the "institute's" parent companies accountable for their negligence is in the group's best interest and might soon become its mission statement.

The "study" contains fuzzy math, unsubstantiated conclusions and numbers pulled out of thin air. The "tort tax" is a fabricated figure meant to scare American citizens into believing they are personally paying for lawsuits out of their pockets. The corporations found to be responsible for negligent products and practices have no desire to pay money to the people their goods or policies have harmed because doing so would affect their bottom line.

Those corporations want to diminish their damages or shift the harm they cause to the injured and/or to the public through Social Security and other public- assistance programs. To that end, they will employ every means, including releasing misleading information about a tax that doesn't exist.

We should scrutinize closely any claims that suggest when citizens seek adequate, fair and reasonable compensation for injuries and damages sustained, the result is a so-called "tort tax." If wrongdoers are not held accountable for injuries and damages they inflict, you and I will become responsible, in the form of a real tax - public-assistance programs - and the wrongdoer, essentially, will get a tax subsidy.

Organizations like PRI are helping their parent corporations get filthy rich by hacking away at the American civil justice system. If consumers who purchase the corporations' goods do not have the right to hold them accountable for defective and unsafe products or praºctices, there would be no check or balance on the corporations.

Regulatory laws, civil justice attorneys and the American civil justice system place people above profits and without those laws, big corporations would have nothing to restrain them. Many of us bear witness to this lack of restraint in the form of incredibly high fuel prices and denied insurance claims to honest, hardworking individuals who pay sky-high rates for premiums.

Look for more unfounded "studies" from PRI and others in the future that are just as ridiculous as the phony "tort tax." Rumor has it that spokespeople being considered for future "studies" are the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. Unlike the "tort tax," at least their existence would add a little credibility to the "institute's" claims.

Ralph Cook, president of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, is a former justice on the Alabama Supreme Court. E-mail: