TorteDeForm

Kia Franklin

Bah Humbug?

Check out this great article in the Philadelphia Daily News. In the midst of lead-tainted toys and other dangerous and defective products and foods, the author argues that this Christmas feels more like the season to be wary than jolly. The article asks:

What motivates a money-driven corporation to meet safety standards more, the threat of a lackadaisical government employee stumbling upon a faulty product, or a vigilant civil-justice system intent on protecting consumers by holding big businesses accountable? (Read full article here)

The author also writes:

With government taking a back seat, it becomes clearer that the two institutions in our society left to protect consumers are the civil justice system and the news media.
(Now, if only we could find a way to combine the two. Hmm....)

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:20 PM, Dec 15, 2007 in Civil Justice
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Comments

Perhaps I'm too idealistic but it seems as though consumers themselves should be able to protect themselves from such nonsense. The way in which the Daily News article classifies consumers completely strips them of all agency.

How well can the civil justice system protect citizens who aren't willing to stand up for them selves? And further, can the civil justice system do any good unless the America people begin a bigger conversation on how globalization and the corporate 'need' for ugly profits lead to the need for greater consumer protection?

Just a few questions...

Posted by: matthew Birkhold | December 17, 2007 4:02 PM

Thanks Matt.

You're right, the emphasis should be on the people who are using the civil justice system. The CJ system is merely a tool, not the savior of consumers. It is up to individuals to make use of that tool to, as you suggest, protect themselves against corporate abuse.

The civil justice system needs people who are willing to take action and fight corporate abuse. There is both a will and an access problem here, but I think the access problem is more acute. The will problem is that tort "reform" propaganda portrays America as a highly litigious society and discourages people who have legitimate legal claims from pursuing them. This is an individual choice and I respect that, but many people are simply afraid that they'll be labeled an oversensitive victim and so don't pursue recourse they truly deserve and so corporations get off the hook scot free. Media work can address this will/perception problem.

The access problem is more difficult. The civil courts both allow people to be justly compensated and send a bigger message to the corporate world about the consequences of misconduct. Many people try to take action through the courts but are denied that opportunity because of tort "reform" measures (like forcing people into private arbitration which is biased against consumers and kept out of the public's view, or like prohibitive limits on how much a cheated consumer can recover for his/her injuries).

The CJ system is but one way we can shift society's orientation--away from an emphasis on the importance of corporate profits and towards an emphasis on the importance of human interests in safety, economic justice, and fairness. Other avenues are out there too, and that's why civil justice is just a tool but the important actors in the struggle are the people who make use of that and any other tool they see as worthy.

Posted by: Kia | December 18, 2007 12:09 PM

Thanks Kia,
Your explanation helps clarify the issues at work here. You said, "The will problem is that tort "reform" propaganda portrays America as a highly litigious society and discourages people who have legitimate legal claims from pursuing them. This is an individual choice and I respect that, but many people are simply afraid that they'll be labeled an oversensitive victim and so don't pursue recourse they truly deserve and so corporations get off the hook scot free."

If this is the case, why? What forces are at work pushing the CJ system to operate this way? Additionally, is there anything that can be done within the CJ system that makes it more acceptable to be a 'sensitive victim'?

Posted by: Matthew Birkhold | December 18, 2007 5:15 PM

Matt--these are the questions, aren't they? As for the why--that's a question appropriate for a full on conversation. It's a conspiracy! Haha. No. (Well, actually...) BUT some good starting point resources are available on Justinian Lane's CorpReform.Com, Stephanie Mencimer's Tortellini.com, and the Rockridge Institute's website. And of course you can peruse TortDeform!

As for what to do, I think a combination of better media advocacy (not just blogs, altho I love them so, but in the widely read media and media watchdog sources), more sophisticated legal advocacy, and grassroots organizing is the answer. Civil justice advocates have to get more serious and deliberate about this project. This sentiment is growing, but is definitely not as widespread as it needs to be.

More thoughts to come on this. Thanks!

Posted by: Kia | December 19, 2007 6:27 PM