If the courts are terrified, imagine how the people must feel…
Foreign courts are "terrified" by punitive damages imposed by U.S. courts against foreign companies, according to the NYT. The issues at stake in many of these cases, however, reveal the far more terrifying implications involved in not adequately punishing corporations for cutting corners and jeopardizing people's safety, financial security, or rights.
In the global context, other countries offer better protections, tighter regulations, and better enforcement than the U.S. does. But in the U.S., the waning efficacy of federal regulatory agencies, which may or may not be (all up) in corporate America's pockets, means that we need something that's going to hold corporations accountable.
I went to a great conference today on Justice and the Role of Class Actions in which a variety of perspectives-- from die-hard public interest lawyers to equally fervent pro-business tort "reform" suporters --were represented. One dynamic speaker made the insightful point that corporations can't have their cake and eat it too--have lax regulations on the front end and lax punishments on the back end of their negligent and often reckless actions. And not only that, but equally important is that individuals who suffer because of corporate misconduct actually have access to redress for the personal costs they incurred as a result of that negligence or reckless conduct.
While tort system debaters go back and forth about "enterprising" plaintiffs lawyers and evil corporations, and while the newspapers give human emotions to the ("terrified," "shocked," for example) courts, one has to wonder: what about the actual human beings whose quality of life is at stake here?
The NYT does a better job than others. They present a few perspectives that contemplate the interests of the actual victims in this debate over punitive damages. And they at least show the photo of the woman who for two decades fought a recalcitrant corporation that refused to pay, despite a court ruling, for designing and selling an ineffective helmet that contributed to the death of her 15-year-old son.