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Tragedies highlight need for strong civil justice system

Headlines from the last month: runaway cars, a mine collapse, an exploding oil rig and a financial institution shepherding the collapse of America’s economy.

It has been a daily occurrence to see the news dominated by the latest example of corporate misconduct. Each saga follows the same pattern: Tragedy occurs, followed by apologies tempered by denials and claims of innocence, and evidence that profits were knowingly put ahead of the safety and well-being of the American people.

In an op-ed in Roll Call, Linda Lipsen wrote, “It has been a daily occurrence to see the news dominated by the latest example of corporate misconduct.” At the same time, “we have also seen how federal agencies lack the resources to adequately protect and safeguard the American people.” Only “after tragic accidents do we closely analyze the agencies and systems that failed, and what must be corrected.

Every time we do so, there is only one institution that consistently protects consumers and holds wrongdoers accountable: America’s civil justice system.” Yet “once these scandals fade away, it will be telling to see whether some lawmakers continue with their fixation on ‘tort reform’ – or handing out immunity to the very same corporations responsible for injuring consumers in the first place.”

Litigation has not only advanced public safety, but has encouraged improvement in products almost too numerous to mention: air bags, seat belts, child safety seats, tires, minivan doors, hot water vaporizers, children’s pajamas, farm machinery, firearms, building materials, tobacco products, intra-uterine contraceptive devices, tampons, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, pain medication, appetite suppressants and many more. Toyota is just another sign of how much work remains to be done.

We only hope that politicians will keep this in mind the next time they are asked by lobbyists to rein in lawsuits.

You can read the complete text of the Lipson piece by clicking here.