Washington, D.C. — A new study released today by the Center for American Progress finds that as corporate campaign cash floods judicial elections around the country, individuals who have been injured or wronged by the mistakes of corporations, such as a negligent hospital, an unsafe employer, or a callous insurance company, are finding it harder to hold these wrongdoers accountable in court.
The report, titled “No Justice for the Injured,” analyzes 1,499 cases that came before the six state supreme courts that saw the most campaign cash from 2002 through 2012 and finds that these courts ruled in favor of corporate defendants and against injured individuals 70 percent of the time. In 2011 corporate defendants had an 83 percent success rate in the cases studied.
According to the report, the trend toward pro-corporate rulings is growing more pronounced in part because large corporations have spent millions of dollars over the past few decades to win the political battle over laws that limit damages in personal-injury suits. Through an enormously successful public-relations campaign, corporations have convinced the public that our system is suffering from an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits. In reality, however, no evidence exists of an explosion in the kinds of frivolous lawsuits that would make limits on personal-injury suits necessary. Thus, the move toward capping damages hasn’t eliminated unnecessary lawsuits, but it has limited Americans’ right to sue negligent corporations and hold wrongdoers accountable.
Big business has succeeded in electing judges who voted to limit liability for wrongdoers in Texas, Alabama, Ohio, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Louisiana. These victories for big business have real impacts on individuals seeking justice. “As a conservative Republican, I believed the ads that were constantly run over the airwaves,” said Bill Putnam, an advocate from Texas whose father died because of a negligent health care provider at an event today at CAP. “But what we didn’t understand was that tort reform was really nothing about frivolous lawsuits, it was about protecting the interest of the lobbies that actually wrote them.”
As the report details, the impact of limiting liability on injured citizens has been immeasurable. But the trend of courts becoming increasingly unfriendly places for injured consumers and workers is not inevitable. To ensure that judges decide cases based on facts and the law—not politics or campaign cash—the report advocates for:
- Strong recusal standards that ensure that judges do not hear cases involving corporations or trial lawyers that donate to their campaigns
- Merit selection and retention election systems that minimize the opportunities to politicize and influence the judiciary
- Public financing of judicial races that holds judges accountable to the public, not wealthy campaign contributors
“Before big business declared war on the right to a jury trial, an individual who was injured by a defectively designed product or an industrial plant spewing a toxic substance could rely on the courts to hold the wrongdoer accountable,” said Billy Corriher, CAP legal expert and author of the report. “With unlimited corporate money pouring into judicial races, this principle is less true with each passing election.”
To speak with CAP experts, attorneys, or individuals impacted by the issues raised in this report, please contact Madeline Meth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.741.6277.