Launch of Hypocrites of Tort Reform Series
This post marks the launch of yet another Tort Deform series “Hypocrites of Tort Reform.”
This series highlights the work of the Center for Justice and Democracy in identifying proponents of tort “reform” who have sought to limit access to the courts for others, but who when financially or physically injured waste no time in going to the very courthouse they made inaccessible to others.
As the Center for Justice and Democracy explains:
No one likes a hypocrite. Yet one would be hard pressed to find more hypocrites than in the “tort reform” movement. Take a look at the record of a host of lawmakers, lobbyists and even journalists who complain about lawsuits and argue that the rights of injured consumers to go to court should be scaled back because we are too “litigious.” Yet when they or family members are hurt and need compensation for their own injuries, often minor ones, these same individuals do not hesitate to use the courts to obtain compensation, to right a wrong, to hold a wrongdoer accountable or to obtain justice. The same is true for corporations that have funded the “tort reform” movement. These companies support efforts to immunize themselves from liability for harming consumers. But when these same companies believe they have been wronged by a business competitor, they are the first to sue. In this report we take a look at the cases of several proponents of tort restrictions who do not “practice what they preach.” We examine individuals who have sued sometimes for millions of dollars while at the same time championing damage caps and other severe liability restrictions for others. We also look at corporate litigants who have lent financial or other support to groups like the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), the Manhattan Institute and state business coalitions like New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform (NYCJR).1 Notably, tort restrictions advocated by these organizations virtually never limit the rights of corporations to sue business competitors for commercial losses. This list is by no means exhaustive but merely representative of businesses and other “tort reformers” who say one thing but do another when it comes to the civil justice system.
Our first showcase is our very own embattled Commander in Chief: George W. Bush.
George W. Bush As Texas Governor, George W. Bush was one of the “tort reform” movement’s biggest proponents. One of Bush’s first acts as governor in 1995 was to meet with representatives of nine Texas Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) chapters in a salsa factory outside of Austin, after which he declared a legislative “emergency” on “frivolous lawsuits.” Over his two terms, Bush signed a series of brutal bills that severely reduced injured consumers’ rights to go to court. However, when it comes to solving problems involving his own family, Bush heads straight to court. In 1999, Bush sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car over a minor fender-bender involving one of his daughters in which no one was hurt. Although his insurance would have covered the repair costs making a lawsuit unnecessary, Bush sought additional money from Enterprise, which had rented a car to someone with a suspended license. In this case, Bush seemed to understand one of the most important functions of civil lawsuits — to deter further wrongdoing. The case settled for $2,000 to $2,500.
To read more examples from the Center for Justice and Democracy, click here.
If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy