Tort reform advocates argue Americans are too litigious and aim for limitations on the rights of consumers to sue. Clauses built into consumer product purchase agreements limiting class action rights and mandating arbitration are some of many ways in which companies aim to limit the litigation they are exposed to. News stories are also released purporting to show frivolous lawsuits in order to raise suspicions about the legitimacy of claims based on product defects- even though the facts often show these lawsuits are not actually frivolous at all.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is fighting back against the misconceptions that are being pushed by big business. In a recent interview published in Parade Magazine, Nader argued there are actually not enough cases being brought to hold manufacturers accountable when they cause harm to the public.
Injured Victims are Not Bringing Enough Product Liability Lawsuits
According to Nader, the tort system in the United States is greatly underutilized, in large part as a result of successful propaganda campaigns by the Chamber of Commerce and by big insurance companies. Contrary to popular myths about frivolous cases resulting in millions of dollars in payouts, the reality is only around five percent of wrongful injury cases end up reaching a defective product liability lawyer, and an even smaller percentage of these cases actually go to court. With so few cases being brought, there are actually fewer civil suits filed today per capita than there were back in 1840.
A part of the reason so few cases end up being filed is because it is much more expensive to litigate cases now. In 1840, cases could be filed to collect even on small debts or for minor injuries and damages, because the expense of litigation was not so high. Today, victims usually only bring cases when their losses are significant. While attorneys don’t charge legal fees in product liability cases unless money is recovered for victims, cases for small losses still often do not make economic sense- especially when class action rights are limited.
Nader comments that the number of class action cases resulting from both product defects and medical malpractice have also declined, and the number of jury trials is going down as well. Trial by jury is a fundamental right in the United States protected by the Seventh Amendment, but data from the Center for State Courts shows attacks on the civil justice system and propaganda by big business has successfully reduced numbers of cases being filed and heard by juries.
Class action cases and other product liability claims are very important not only so individuals who suffer harm can be compensated for financial loss, but also as a deterrent. Manufacturers who are fearful of being sued will be less likely to cut corners on manufacture, design, and testing. When the risk of litigation is reduced, this means there less incentive for manufacturers to spend money on ensuring the safety of their products.
Nader has opened a Tort Museum with the goal of helping people to understand how civil lawsuits protect consumers, but ultimately individual victims will need to understand their rights and come forward in order for the civil justice system to be effective at helping to protect the public.
If you are the victim of Massachusetts product liability, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
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