It's that time of year again. Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's Day. Oh, and the annual "report" on courts by the Big Tobacco front group American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). Their so-called "report" allegedly ranks the worst courts in the United States. And despite its lack of credibility or objectivity, it gets media coverage every year.
ATRA identifies the courts that it believes are "judicial hellholes." Their definition of a hellhole is a place "where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits."[i]
What they really mean is a "Judicial Hellhole" is a place where working people have a fair chance against corporations with products that have harmed consumers.
In truth, this is part of a campaign to limit our ability to sue big corporations.
The release of an annual "report" is part of that campaign, and the mainstream media eat up this propaganda as if it were an objective study. But ATRA's Judicial Hellhole propaganda has been repeatedly debunked.
In 2007, the New York Times published this damning paragraph:
"The question is whether the report's arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. Here the report often falls short. It is, for starters, a collection of anecdotes based largely on newspaper accounts. It has no apparent methodology. There is no way to tell why South Florida is the top hellhole while West Virginia is hellhole No. 4."[ii]
Indeed, even ATRA admits they just make things up. "'We have never claimed to be an empirical study,' said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the association."[iii]
ATRA called Philadelphia their #1 hellhole this year, in part because it allows cases against Big Pharma and asbestos to be tried collectively. Cases involving corporate liability are expensive to litigate, and unless working people can join together in what's called "mass tort," lawyers won't be able to build a winnable case against corporations like Bayer with their untold billions of dollars in resources.
Bayer is the manufacturer of the birth control pill Yasmin, or Yaz, that has been shown to cause blood clots in blood vessels that can lead to death.[iv] According to recent studies, Yaz carries triple the risk over traditional birth control pills.[v]
So what is the response of Bayer, the manufacturer of Yaz? They are trying to prevent women from being able to sue for damages by changing the rules by which plaintiffs can pool their efforts to sue when there is a large number of claims of damages against a product.
There are already approximately 2,000 cases filed against Bayer, with many more to come. Bayer wants to change the rules, effectively separating the cases, requiring 2,000 individual trials in courts across the country. The ATRA "report" is part of the campaign to change those rules and squelch our ability to sue them.
If ATRA and Bayer win, it will effectively end the possibility of a fair trial for women who are making claims that they were injured or killed by Yaz. And it will mean that other corporations, including tobacco and asbestos, will have a new way to avoid responsibility by manipulating our courts.
2) And if you see this "report" in any media outlets, please do two things. First, write a letter to the editor telling them the truth about this "report." Second, write to us and let us know who covered it.
[ii] New York Times, December 24, 2007, "The Worst Courts for Businesses? It's a Matter of Opinion" http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/24/us/24bar.html?pagewanted=all