Saturday, February 13, 2010


Carl Parker sez:

The recent fiasco with the Toyota recall, along with the Honda recalls, shows exactly what is wrong with the anti-jury trial movement in the United States.  The anti-jury trial movement is sometimes self-proclaimed as the Tort Reform Movement.  Republican politicians almost unanimously want to take judgment out of the hands of juries and either cap damages or place artificial limits on the value of life. 

Under the guise of saving millions of dollars of medical payments, the Texas Legislature capped damages for medical malpractice at $200,000, in general, and Republican congressman keep touting the same type legislation as a way to improve medical care in the United States.  While the Texas legislation did in fact save money in the hospitals and insurance companies, it saved precious little, if any, to the average citizen of this state.  Capping damages is not the only method used by this group to rob American citizens of their right to trial by jury. 
One of the long standing methods of robbing Americans their right to have disputes settled by a jury of their peers is the proposition that if the government sets a standard and a manufacturer meets it, it should preclude a lawsuit.  The recent Toyota and Honda recalls of hundreds of vehicles show exactly why this type of policy is wrong.  Several people have died as a result of manufacturing defects in the Toyota accelerator.  When they rolled off the assembly line all these cars presumably met federal standards.  If Republicans had their way, these defective government-approved vehicles which could lead to death or severe injuries would leave victims with no option to seek recompense in a court before a jury.

There are several things wrong with the idea of simply insulating manufactured goods in the United States from responsibility in a court at law if they pass government standards.  First of all, in most industries, the standards are generally set or unduly influenced by the manufacturers themselves.  Look how long it took to overcome the inertia brought about by automobile manufacturers to simply put in safety devices such as seat belts and airbags.  Another glaring example of how the automobile industry has controlled standards was a lawsuit complaining about the collapse of an automobile seat in a rear end collision.  Tests, photographs and movies show clearly that in a modest rear end collision, automobile seats with few exception, almost instantaneously collapsed backwards.  Anytime the automobile industry is sued over such an occurrence, it will site the seats meet or exceed federal standards.  In one case that I know of, an engineer constructed a seat out of cardboard that met or exceeded federal standards in this respect.

The oversight of agencies such as the Federal Drug Administration and the agency that oversees the safety of automobiles are woefully under staffed.  The agency dealing with automobiles has fewer then 700 employees to oversee the safety of automobiles manufactured or imported into the United States. 

These industries are not concerned with adequate safety.  They are concerned with money.  They do not want to be liable for shoddy construction or manufacturing.  They spend millions on lobbyists getting drugs approved prematurely.  Weaknesses in manufactured goods such as automobiles, is overlooked or blessed.  Most of all, they do not want to face a jury of ordinary citizens in order to justify their short comings or wrong doings.  While some would argue that good regulation is enough, the best regulation against unsafe products or goods is the threat of a good trial lawyer and a jury of honest citizens.  Which do you think is most likely to keep the attention of a multi-billion dollar corporation, a slap on the wrist by a regulatory agency for manufacturing something of poor quality or a mean competent trial lawyer holding them accountable in terms of thousands, if not millions of dollars? 

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