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Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

Time Event
6:26a
.


The devastating LEGAL consequences of a
Republican government on the working class


Index

History of how courts have treated the working class...
The frightening new Republican trend...
Why we need trial lawyers: The Ford Pinto
More on the Ford Pinto
Excerpts of the 10 Worst Corporations of 1988
Web Articles: Attack on trial lawyers is really an attack on citizens' ability to sue corporations
American hypocrisy and foreign law

History of how courts have treated the working class


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Why we need trial lawyers: The Ford Pinto






In September of 1977, the fledgling Mother Jones magazine exposed how Ford Motor Company, deliberately and with shocking disregard for human life, produced the Pinto, an automobile it knew could turn into a burning deathtrap. Documents obtained by Mother Jones revealed that Ford executives knew very well they could save the lives of the 28 people who ultimately burned to death in Ford Pintos—if they just spent about $10 per vehicle to protect the poorly designed fuel tank, so vulnerable that it was easily punctured in rear-end collisions of just 30 miles per hour.

The most shocking evidence was a Ford internal document with a cost/benefit analysis in which the company weighed the cost of a human life (appraised at a tidy $200,000) against the cost of repairing the Pinto fuel tanks—and concluded that the cheaper option was to let Ford customers die.

So what happened to Ford after this devastating report? And what has Ford been up to since then?

The Mother Jones exposé led to the largest and most expensive auto recall in history at that time. Within a month of the article's publication, pressure from the media, angry Pinto owners, and grassroots groups formed by Ralph Nader led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to re-test the 1971-1976 Ford Pintos. In May 1978 the Department of Transportation announced that the Pinto fuel system had a "safety related defect" and called for a recall. Ford agreed, and on June 9, 1978 the company recalled 1.5 million Pintos.
---Click here for the full article: Safety Last


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Web Articles: Attack on trial lawyers is really an attack on citizens' ability to sue corporations


Excellent, excellent article on the Republican attack on lawsuits.
reclaimdemocracy.org:
The attack on trial lawyers is really an attack on citizens' ability to sue corporations

“The situation may be paradoxical, but is also universal. For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant. They are shacking their fists at the sons of privilege….They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills (a wealthy suburb in Kansas) , hoisting the black flag, and while the millionaires tremble in their mansion, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. ‘We are here,’ they scream, ‘to cut your taxes.’”
---What’s the matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Page 109)


"Tens of millions of Americans, who neither know nor understand [their own country’s bloody historical struggle for the material benefits they all enjoy today], march in the army of the night with their Bibles held high. And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason."
–--Alteration of a quote by Isaac Asimov


Corporate America has succeeded to a great extent in buying up our legislators and capturing regulatory bodies. We must not let them wrest control of the judicial system as well.
--McDonalds Hot Coffee Lawsuit and Beyond: The Tort Reform Myth Machine


Other articles on the subject:

Boston Globe: Now, Smearing the Trial Lawyers

Newsday (New York, New York): 'Greedy' Lawyers Are Often the Public's Allies

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice web page

California passed a tort reform bill, limiting what one can recover in a lawsuit, in 1975 and waited expectantly for insurance premiums to go down. They nearly tripled in the next 12 years, finally leveling off in the early '90s. And, amazingly enough, California just happened to have passed strict insurance regulations in 1988.
---Creators Syndicate: Health Care Crisis: Sometimes the Sheer Stupidity of Our Choices is Amazing


Tort reform is little more than a legislated escape from accountability; a free pass to abuse consumers so that business can march on unfettered by those nasty little attempts to hold it responsible in a court of law for negligent actions. When it comes to molding our judicial system, the corporations know few limits to their contempt for Americans right to trial by jury. They do demand that corporation remain free to sue anyone without restrictions.
--Ralph Nader:The Public Deserves to Hear the Facts on Tort Reform


Jackie Smith has a hard time with the idea that suing over her mother’s rape in a nursing home is “frivolous.
Smith voted against Proposition 12, a constitutional amendment on the Texas ballot in September 2003 that capped medical malpractice awards. No state in history had ever taken the radical step of changing its constitution to restrict lawsuits. Nevertheless, Proposition 12 passed by a razor-thin majority...It fell to Frank Ivy, an Austin lawyer, to explain that tort reform in Texas had made her suit almost impossible financially no matter how negligent Heritage had been. Since the assault took place in the course of delivering medical care, it was considered malpractice—but that wouldn’t help Smith. A nursing-home patient can’t sue for loss of future income, a type of award that had been separately capped. Punitive damages were unlikely because the standard of proof was raised under then-Governor George W. Bush, requiring Smith to prove that Heritage intended to harm her mother, the so-called “malice” standard.”
--The Nation: Look Who's Behind 'Tort Reform'


U.S. Businesses File Four Times More Lawsuits Than Private Citizens And Are Sanctioned Much More Often for Frivolous Suits. But Corporate America and Their Political Allies Bush and Cheney Campaign to Limit Citizens' Rights to Sue
--Public Citizen


Associated press: Gun Industry Close to Winning Nationwide Exemption From Liability Lawsuits

Eroding Americans' Last Defense: The Civil Justice System by Ralph Nader

Greg Palast: The senate votes to grant immunity from law suits to gun makers



American hypocrisy and foreign law


Mr Bush has pulled America out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto agreement on the environment, ignored international laws of war and sent terrorist suspects into legal limbo in Guantánamo; yet America is among the strongest backers of global rules on trade, finance and international investment...

George Bush senior...was quite keen on the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the World Court), calling it “a central and indispensable element of an international legal order”. By contrast, at a crisis meeting in the White House after the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 (admittedly strong provocation), his son is reported as saying: “I don't care what the international lawyers say. We're going to kick some ass!” And so he did. There followed a string of violations of international humanitarian law, including the indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The infamous “torture memos” were part of this tendency. In them, administration lawyers argued that the president, as commander-in-chief, had the “inherent constitutional authority” to approve any interrogation techniques needed to protect the nation's security—regardless of the 1949 UN Convention Against Torture, ratified by America in 1994. Human Rights Watch, a non-partisan monitoring group, claims that America's abuse of detainees was the “predictable result” of Mr Bush's decision to circumvent the law.

In virtually every other country in the world, an international treaty or convention, once ratified, overrides domestic law. Not so in the United States; it simply becomes part of the ordinary body of American law. As such, it can be ignored by the president or Senate if national security, or even ideology, seems more important.

After the World Court found against the United States in 1986 for mining Nicaragua's harbours, President Ronald Reagan is said to have told his advisers to tear up the relevant treaty giving the court jurisdiction. When informed that this required two years' notice, he reportedly told them to tear up that provision too.

...For court conservatives, such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, [making passing reference to foreign sources] is anathema. The court should not impose “foreign moods, fads or fashions” on Americans, argues Justice Scalia, who may succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice. To him, the practices of the “world community” are irrelevant: “Either America's principles are its own, or they follow the world; one cannot have it both ways.”

Yet Americans are happy to impose their own “fads and fashions” on others. Last week, a London court ruled that Ian Norris, the former head of Morgan Crucible, a British engineering firm, could be extradited to the United States because of price-fixing by two of the firm's American subsidiaries. The alleged offences took place between 1989 and 2000, when cartel activity was not a criminal offence in Britain. Mr Norris's lawyers said the case, the first involving extradition for an alleged antitrust offence, meant that no English executive with American subsidiaries or operations could any longer feel safe.

Under a treaty that came into force last year, extradition rules have been eased between Britain and the United States. America no longer has to present supporting evidence against someone it wants to extradite from Britain. It simply has to claim that an “extraditable” offence—one carrying a prison sentence of at least a year—has been committed. But because the Senate has so far declined to ratify the treaty, the new rules do not apply the other way round. If Britain wants to extradite a suspect from America, it still has to make out a prima facie case against him.

America's crackdown on white-collar crime goes further. Under its wire-fraud laws, anyone using an American internet server to contact colleagues or clients could face extradition, even though the alleged offence did not take place in America or involve American victims.

Foreign companies are getting worried, too, about the use of America's Alien Tort Claims Act, passed in 1789, which grants jurisdiction to American federal courts over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States”. This is increasingly being invoked by foreigners in America to sue international companies for alleged wrongs suffered outside the United States. One can imagine the rumpus if such a law were invoked, abroad, against an American company.

---Economist "The insidious wiles of foreign influence" Jun 9th 2005

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