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Monthly Archives: October 2011

U.S. Chamber’s hypocrisy exposed

As the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) holds its annual summit – a strategy session on eliminating Americans’ access to the civil justice system – a new report exposes ILR’s corporate board members that hypocritically use the courts for their own gain against competitors, customers and even each other.

In its newest report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) exposes the hypocrisy of 10 ILR board members that regularly use the legal system to advance their own agendas, while at the same time advocating legislation that would close the courthouse doors to anyone who would hold them accountable for their own wrongdoing.

“These corporations, like all Americans, have a right to seek justice through the legal system,” said AAJ President Gary M. Paul. “What makes their actions shameful and hypocritical is that these companies are members of ILR’s board for the sole purpose of denying American workers and consumers this same right.”

One ILR board member highlighted in the report is Honeywell International, which has regularly taken competitors to court, but would prefer not to be held accountable for distributing defective body armor to law enforcement personnel across the country, or downplaying the dangers of asbestos exposure.

In return for its financial contributions to ILR, Honeywell has received policy and public relations help when its negligence has been uncovered.  Four days after an Illinois jury delivered a multi-million dollar verdict against Honeywell for conspiring to hide the dangers of asbestos, ILR issued a press release stating that the decision “confirms a troubling trend in the State of Illinois where there is a hostile ligation environment.” Additionally, the Madison County Record, an Illinois-based propaganda-as-news outlet fully owned by ILR, featured an article headlined, “McLean County Continues Inching Closer to Becoming a ‘Judicial Hellhole.'”

The irony does not stop with Honeywell – AAJ’s report also highlights the litigation hypocrisy of ILR board members FedEx, Dow Chemical Company, General Motors Corporation, Caterpillar, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, Prudential and Johnson & Johnson.

Online ads will run this week on major news sites and blogs to promote the report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue: Exposing the Lawsuit-Happy Hypocrites of U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which can be found at www.justice.org/USChamber. You can vie the written report by clicking here.

Civil justice in the age of new media

A new study released today by the national consumer rights organization, Center for Justice & Democracy, finds that news coverage of civil jury verdicts fails to provide an accurate picture of the civil justice system and that certain new media trends are making the situation worse. The study, “Headline Blues: Civil Justice In The Age Of New Media,” follows up on CJ&D’s January 2001 study, Reading Between the Headlines: The Media and Jury Verdicts. That report found the media’s coverage of verdicts to be deeply skewed, fueling common misperceptions that civil juries routinely award plaintiffs eye-popping verdicts for frivolous claims. Headline Blues finds this still to be true but certain new trends are producing even more distorted reporting.

According to CJ&D’s Executive Director Joanne Doroshow, “What people are learning about civil jury verdicts is becoming more and more skewed due to a number of factors. Digital news aggregators like Google and social media like Facebook and Twitter function by communicating only the briefest set of words and often just headlines. These headlines commonly emphasize large monetary awards, which do not reflect typical verdicts, and rarely note the misconduct that led to the verdict in the first place.”

“No matter how someone gets their news, whether from a local TV anchor, an online newspaper or blog, a car radio or a Twitter feed, most initial stories are still being written by journalists and editors at news organizations,” said Doroshow. “However, accuracy in reporting is often not receiving the attention it should. For example, we found that a verdict subject to state law that automatically ‘caps’ damages regardless of what a jury awards, is clearly something about which readers should be told. Yet from our analysis, this is not being done, or at least not being done clearly and responsibly.

“The economic pressures facing shrinking newsrooms, combined with the accelerating speed at which news must be produced, means that the public is being exposed to an overwhelming amount of brief, sensationalized and often incomplete coverage of civil jury verdicts. This is harming the public discourse about the civil justice system and preventing everyday people from understanding how important this system is to them in their daily lives.”

A copy of the full study can be found here.