We look back with pride, and with some amazement really, at these great civil justice wins during the past decade. It hasn't been easy, and there are many to thank. (You know who you are!) Here are Center for Justice & Democracy's Top Ten Civil Justice Triumphs Of the Decade (in no particular order):
1. Utter Failure of President George W. Bush to Extinguish Patients' Rights. Yes, we're still hearing about this in the context of health care, but no president came to office more determined to limit the rights of patients injured by medical malpractice than George W. Bush. With Karl Rove's determined help, this issue, almost unbelievably, became one of W.'s most important domestic policy goals. The Center for Justice & Democracy organized a massive network of patients, who felt especially threatened because the Senate was led at the time by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), a doctor whose family hospital and insurance business, HCA/HCI, would have benefited from Bush's agenda. Indeed, Frist brought at least five bills to the Senate floor to severely "cap" compensation for patients, among other things. Each went down to resounding defeat during the earliest stages of debate.
2. Rights Restored for Victims of GM and Chrysler Defects. When GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the Obama Administration facilitated both companies' desire to simply wipe out all past - and future - claims by anyone injured by defects in the tens of millions of their cars on the road. Through a great team effort involving victims, lawyers and consumer advocates, including several victim demonstrations and news conferences organized by CJ&D, this position became untenable and both companies reversed themselves. All post-bankruptcy defect claims can now go forward. The only group of defect victims still left in the cold are those with claims at the time the bankruptcies were filed. Hopefully Congress fixes this injustice soon.
3. Repudiation by the U.S. Supreme Court of Bush "Preemption" Policy. We're not saying the U.S. Supreme Court has been all that great for plaintiffs this decade. (See, for example, Stoneridge, Iqbal, and Medtronic.) But in 2008, the court issued an astoundingly good decision, Wyeth vs. Levine, rejecting the argument that companies should be unaccountable for killing or injuring someone just because their product is regulated by the government - in Wyeth's case, by the FDA. The decision doubled as a strong rebuke to the Bush Administration and it was followed by another strong rebuke from the Obama Administration.
4. Washington State Turns the Tide, Twice. It's been a bit painful to see civil justice systems weakened all around the country due to the sheer financial and lobbying force of corporate special interests. But we found at least a partial cure for that pain in Washington State. In 2005, civil justice supporters beat back I-330, a typically cruel initiative pushed by the medical lobbies that would have severely limited the legal rights of patients injured by medical malpractice. The "No" vote was so strong - 57 percent - that doctors in other states backed off plans to try similar campaigns. Then in 2007, Referendum 67, the insurance industry's cynical initiative to force voters to "confirm" that they wanted a insurer "bad faith" law to take effect, passed by a similar percentage.
5. Finally, Arbitration Gets the Bad Name it Deserves. Unfair arbitration agreements- those clauses in credit card agreements, employee contracts, even health insurance policies that prevent consumers who are harmed from gaining access to the courts - took a big hit in 2009. Both the National Arbitration Forum and American Arbitration Association said they would not take part in credit card collection disputes. Then, a class action lawsuit against several huge banks led to a number of them agreeing to drop these clauses altogether, for now at least. And thanks to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), sexual assault victims working for military contractors cannot be forced into arbitration, either.
6. ThePopTort is Born. There aren't many blogs focusing on support for the civil justice system, and one was surely needed. So in 2008, CJ&D's founded ThePopTort, and by December of that year, the editors of the ABA Journal had selected it as one of the country's top 100 legal blogs, an honor again repeated in December 2009! We are mighty proud of that, and hope you'll add your vote to make ThePopTort the #1 legal blog (Vote through December 31 - you don't have to be an ABA member to vote!)
7. A New Batch of Books Put the Lie to "Tort Reform" Myths. Blogs aren't the only way to communicate these days. Remember books? Well, this decade saw publication of some great books that savagely debunk the so-called "tort reform" movement and its many myths. Our favorites include Blocking the Courthouse Door by Stephanie Mencimer , who first covered the issue for The Washington Monthly; The Medical Malpractice Myth by Tom Baker ; In Defense Of Tort Law by Thomas H. Koenig and Michael L. Rustad; and Distorting the Law; Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis by William Haltom and Michael McCann.
8. Insurance Reform Works! Consumer groups, including CJ&D project Americans for Insurance Reform (also founded this decade), have long argued that the reason medical malpractice insurance rates rise periodically is because of market forces and dropping interest rates (not because jury awards or payouts have suddenly increased), and that reforming and regulating the insurance industry is the only way to fix this problem. In case there was ever any question about this theory, the evidence gathered this decade, including admissions from the Illinois Division of Insurance, should remove all doubt.
9. Big Problems at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's got to be a little embarrassing. The biggest lobby group in the country and vicious advocate for corporate immunity began losing its grip on government in 2008. By 2009, the group starting taking bizarre views on legislation, was personally attacked by the President and began losing significant members over its environmental policy.
10. The Center for Justice & Democracy's Made It! The Center for Justice & Democracy was founded shortly before this decade began, and I'll admit there have been a few shaky times. With offices pretty near the World Trade Center, on 9/11 we evacuated not knowing if or when we'd be returning, what had happened to our friends and neighbors, or how we would survive financially. We were lucky and we made it through. And somehow we are surviving the recession too! Thanks very much to all of our friends and supporters. We wouldn't be here without you. Here's to another decade of civil justice for all!
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