We are joining the Wisconsin Association for Justice to welcome filmmaker Susan Saladoff for a special screening of her powerful and illuminating documentary, "Hot Coffee." It's about how corporations are distorting the truth and the law to limit the rights of people hurt by corporations. We think it is a must-see film!
If you've been following our reporting on the American Legislative Exchange Council, you know that the first bill ALEC alumnus Scott Walker signed into law this year was far-reaching, so-called "tort reform" legislation that echoed some key ALEC model provisions and limited the rights of Wisconsin citizens injured or killed by corporations. Recent ALEC award winner Rick Perry, Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate, is touting similar changes he signed into law that protect corporate wrongdoers at the expense of injured Americans.
On October 23, 2009, Harrison "Harry" Kothari celebrated his second birthday by blowing out candles on a cake decorated with a giant airplane. At age two, Harry could ride a tricycle, stack blocks, and say words like "mama," "airplane," and "thank you." A month earlier, surgeons at a Houston hospital had removed a benign cyst from Harrison's head without problems. In follow-up visits, nurses drained cerebrospinal fluid to test for infection, and following normal protocol, wiped the area around the drain with what they assumed were sterile alcohol wipes. On December 1, Harry was dead, his tiny brain swollen by a Bacillus cereus infection apparently caused by contaminated alcohol wipes.
When Republicans talk about how the American health care system should be reformed, they typically mention two things: allowing insurance firms to sell policies across state lines, which I wrote about last week; and malpractice reform.
Newly-elected Republican governors, like Bill Haslam in Tennessee, are also pushing malpractice reform at the state level. They contend that such reform — favored by businesses and medical associations — would not only bring down the costs of health insurance premiums, it would also bring doctors flocking to their states to practice. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering another run for the White House, has touted malpractice reform as one of the primary "solutions" he would pursue if elected president. He claimed during a GOP-sponsored panel last week that malpractice reform would nearly eliminate unnecessary care that results from all those tests doctors order and drugs they prescribe just because they fear being sued. "The cost of defensive medicine," he claimed, "is $800 million a year."
The Wisconsin State Capitol has erupted in a torrent of lawlessness this week that schoolchildren will be reading about for years. No, I don't mean rowdy protests resulting in mass arrests. Even though some 300,000 people have visited the capitol in the last two weeks, the crowds have been peaceful and fun; and only a few arrests have been reported. I mean the convulsion of lawlessness that has seized Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican leadership -- a track record that would make Richard Nixon proud.
The American Tort Reform Association, a front group for big chemical, tobacco, insurance, pharmaceutical and other companies whose products or pollution have been known to make people sick or kill them, has released its ninth annual "judicial hellholes" report which attacks judges and juries who hold their members accountable in court. This year's top "hellhole" is Philadelphia, which won in part due to its Complex Litigation Center, which was created exclusively to handle complex, mass tort cases like those regarding asbestos, hormone replacement therapy, nursing home litigation and suits against drugs like Avandia, Paxil, Phen-Fen and Risperdal. The Center's most recent cases involve pharmaceutical defendants who are being sued over birth control pills in the Yaz/Yazmin/Ocella mass tort. Plaintiffs allege that the pills caused injuries like pulmonary embolism, blood clots in the legs, heart attacks, strokes, gall bladder and kidney disease.
The current debate over health insurance reform has led to renewed calls by conservatives for tort reform, which they point to as the best way to decrease the cost of medical malpractice cases. "Tort reform" refers to any changes in liability laws that place higher burdens on people injured by products or services, erect barriers to keep their grievances out of the court system and generally tilt the legal playing field in favor of big businesses. Ample information, like that put out by Public Citizen, SourceWatch and investigative reports from other news sources have demonstrated that the so-called "tort reform movement" is actually a massive, corporate-funded, fake "grassroots" campaign perpetrated by American industry to try and restrict citizens' access to the legal system for redress against harms caused by defective products and negligent practices.
Justice Dale Wainwright, a sitting Republican member of the Texas Supreme Court, is up for election later this year.
Kevin Anderson, blog editor for the UK Guardian, was bemused by an advertisement posted in the Washington DC subway. "This ad of a man's beer belly stuffed with bills railing away against trial lawyers probably makes little sense to the average American. ... Figuring out who is behind ads like this is even more interesting. The ad highlights an innocuous sounding website www.ConsumerFreedom.com (because who would be against consumer freedom?). What is this group?
When the major American tobacco companies signed the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the 46 states who sued to recover the costs of treating sick smokers, the companies agreed to nominal advertising restrictions and massive yearly payouts to the states.