Bogus National Chamber “Study”: Propaganda Attack Against Civil Justice System

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Bogus National Chamber “Study”: Propaganda Attack Against Civil Justice System - Continues Effort to Eliminate Corporate Accountability for Wrongdoing and Negligence

For Immediate Release: April 25, 2007

AAJ Communications
202.965.3500, x369
media.replies@justice.org

Washington, DC—A bogus study released today by the national Chamber of Commerce claiming to rank so-called “anti-business” state legal systems is yet another baseless attack on the nation’s civil justice system in its campaign to eliminate corporate accountability for wrongdoing and negligence.

“This latest propaganda is a made-up survey primarily of corporate lawyers earning millions of dollars defending their CEOs from being held accountable,” said Jon Haber, chief executive officer of the American Association for Justice. “The Chamber will stop at nothing to destroy the civil justice system in America, which protects the rights of consumers, employees, and shareholders against corporate wrongdoing and negligence.”

As the largest lobby in the country and a front group for corporations seeking to evade accountability for wrongdoing and negligence, the national Chamber of Commerce has led the effort to eliminate access to justice for Americans.

The American Association for Justice today released “The Ten Worst States to Get Sick or Injured In” providing sobering examples of how the national Chamber’s efforts and those of big corporations seeking to evade accountability for wrongdoing and negligence puts corporate greed over public good.

“The Ten Worst States to Get Sick or Injured In’’ shows what America is in store for if the national Chamber and powerful corporations get their way. “Efforts by front groups like the national Chamber to pass laws that allow corporate CEOs to evade accountability for wrongdoing and negligence have eliminated many Americans’ access to justice,” Haber said.

The 10 Worst States To Get Sick Or Injured In:

Don't Get Hurt in Alabama.

It doesn’t matter how seriously an individual is injured, Alabama law limits restitution for every injury or death caused by the government to what’s available under workers comp. If a local governmental entity is held responsible, no matter how great the loss, restitution is limited to $100,000 per person for injury or death, or $300,000 if more than one person is injured or killed in the same incident—no matter how many people were affected. So the more people hurt, the less restitution they receive. Alabama Code §§ 41-9-70, 11-93-2, 11-47-190.

Alaska’s Big Freeze.

In Alaska, restitution for “noneconomic” losses is limited to the greater of $1 million or the injured person’s life expectancy in years multiplied by $25,000. That may not sound bad until one remembers that people can live 50 years or more after they are injured, and these injuries can include something as serious as the permanent loss of urinary and bowel function. Fifty years of tending to the necessary medical needs—let alone the initial treatment—would not come close to being covered by this limited amount. Alaska Statutes § 09.17.010; State v. Johnson, 2 P.3d 56 (Alaska 2000).

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Low.

Restitution for victims injured by a Colorado state employee is limited to $150,000. If two or more people are injured at one time, restitution is limited to $600,000, no matter how many people must divide the amount. In such cases, regardless of need, no one person can recover more than $150,000. For many victims of serious injury, this would never even cover the basic hospital costs. Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-10-114.

Colorado's legislators have also imposed arbitrary limits on the amount of restitution that can be awarded to medical patients, injured through no fault of their own. No matter the facts of the case, how badly the patient is injured, or how much the medical care and rehabilitation has cost in the past or will cost in the future, compensation is strictly limited to $1 million. Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-64-302(1)(b).

Florida’s Gator Bite.

Florida has consented to allow its citizens to hold the state and its employees accountable—up to a point. Restitution in such cases is limited to $100,000 for one person and a total of $200,000 per incident, no matter how many people are injured or the severity of the harm. Personal losses exceeding $100,000 "may be reported to the Legislature," which may or may not do anything at all. Injured individuals can always hope the state agency involved bought liability insurance. If not, there is no recourse. Florida Statutes § 768.28(5).

In 1988 state legislators took away judges’ and juries’ right to determine cases of babies with brain injuries injured during birth. If expecting parents want to ensure a potential birthing center can be held responsible for its mistakes, they are forced to search out a “non-participating provider” in Florida’s bureaucratic “FBRNIC” Plan. But more often than not, expecting parents have no idea they could be signing away their child’s future in the often-confusing documents piled upon them during a prenatal visit. Florida Statutes §§ 766.301 - .316

Illinois Hospitals Run on the Cheap.

If you get injured as a result of negligence by a state employee or agent—like a physician working at a state-operated hospital—restitution will be limited to $100,000 no matter how serious the injury or how expensive the recovery. Illinois Statutes Chapter 705 § 505/8(d).

Don’t Get Sick in Indiana.

Legislators imposed an arbitrary limit of $1.25 million for injured patients’ restitution, no matter how bad the injury or how much it will cost to provide future care. Although future care for a badly injured person—like a baby with brain damage—can last for decades and cost millions of dollars, Indiana healthcare providers (in reality, their insurance companies) are liable for only the first $250,000. That’s a sweet deal for the insurance companies, which pass the rest of the bill on to the state taxpayers. Ind. Code Ann. § 34-18-14-3.

A tragic example of this limit’s impact can be found in the experience of Frank Cornelius, a lobbyist who helped convince Indiana lawmakers to adopt it. After helping pass the limits, Cornelius was the victim of four separate acts of negligence in the course of routine surgery and post-operative care. He wrote a poignant article in 1994 stating that, at age 49, he was confined to a wheelchair, was in constant pain, his marriage ended, and he had amassed medical bills of more than $5 million. Due to the limits, his restitution was limited to $500,000.

Oklahoma’s Not OK for Injured Patients.

Oklahoma legislators have imposed a complicated system on injured patients, which resembles a game of poker more than it does access to justice. For example, a guilty party can make an “offer of judgment” before trial—if they offer to settle the case, forego trial, and, if the injured patient will accept their offer, allow a judgment for that amount to be entered against them. If the patient declines the offer of judgment and proceeds to trial, and does not secure a judgment for at least 1½ times the amount offered before trial, any noneconomic compensation is limited to $300,000. Oklahoma Statutes, Title 23, § 1- 1708.1F-1.

Texas: Dead on Arrival.

Legislators decided to let the families of dead patients fend for themselves. Even if a family has lost its breadwinner, if they sue for restitution, they are limited to an amount of $500,000 (to be adjusted to track the consumer price index). The limit applies to each patient killed, no matter how many medical centers, doctors, or other healthcare personnel were responsible for his/her death. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 74.303.

Virginia May Be for Lovers, but It's Not for Injured Children.

Virginia has a separate system for cases where babies are brain damaged during birth. Such injuries can result from oxygen deprivation or mechanical injury. Babies who suffer them can be permanently disabled, and may need assistance with daily living activities, up to and including round-the-clock care for life. In some cases they need care long after their parents have died. The bureaucratic “VBRNIC” Program is charged with providing lifetime care for injured babies, related expenses and compensation for a child’s lost earnings. Once a baby is injured, the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission decides whether the baby will be covered, and the claim is never seen by a court unless the Commission’s decision is appealed. Once the Commission decides to cover a baby, the child and his/her family are prevented from ever holding the healthcare provider responsible for the baby’s condition, or for any harm coming to the mother.

Not only does this treatment go against the basic respect for human life, but it also forces an undue burden onto state taxpayers. The program’s expense is borne not by those who caused the injury, or even by their insurance companies. It is borne by every Virginian who purchases any kind of liability insurance—even homeowner and automobile insurance. What’s worse is that the program costs more to operate than the tort system it replaced, juries and all. Virginia Code §§ 38.2-5000 to -5021.

West Virginia, Almost Heaven?

In West Virginia, as long as a healthcare provider has malpractice insurance with at least a $1 million limit, no victim of his/her negligence can recover restitution of more than $500,000 for a "noneconomic" loss. However, "noneconomic" is defined to include a number of conditions that can have major economic consequences. Such losses include permanent, substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, loss of a bodily organ system, or a permanent physical or mental injury that leaves the victim unable to care for himself/herself independently and perform "life sustaining" activities. West Virginia Code § 55-7B-8.

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