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Tort Reformers Collect Huge Sums While Claiming to Oppose Lawsuits

February 19, 2014

This blog has covered the United States Chamber of Commerce before, calling it in 2011 a“misleadingly named collection of businesses considered the largest pro-corporation lobbying group in the U.S.” We also pointed out that among its Board of Directors are executives from some of the largest companies in the world, like Pfizer, Dow Chemical, and the Altria/Philip Morris tobacco conglomerate.

In still another post, we quoted a publication from the American Association for Justice that really sums up their current position: “On one hand, the Chamber spends an unrivaled amount of money lobbying to restrict access to the courts for everyday Americans. On the other, it files copious lawsuits and briefs in defense of the likes of AIG, Wal-Mart, Firestone and a slew of pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Every company that holds a seat on [its] board or participates as a member stands to gain monetarily from the organization’s agenda of blocking the courthouse doors…[T]he corporations that participate in the Institute for Legal Reform are actively trying to deny those same rights to their own customers.”

In another case of hypocrisy the Chamber’s President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue confirmed that his organization sues the government about 150 times per year. As pro-civil justice blog ThePopTort.com notes, this is three lawsuits every week, clogging up the courts and taking up both time and money in our already overburdened judicial system. In a speech he gave just weeks ago, Donohue claimed (disingenuously) “Our Institute for Legal Reform is fighting the expansion of lawsuits on all fronts–in the Congress, in the federal agencies, in the states, and even around the globe where U.S. companies are getting sued.”

Perhaps deflating two of the Chamber of Commerce’s claims, the first that “jackpot justice” is responsible for massive payouts to those filing so-called “frivolous lawsuits,” and the second that the Chamber itself is actually fighting against lawsuits, Bloomberg reports that the top jury award in 2013 was a price-fixing case against Dow Chemical, a major participant on the Chamber’s board. The top three awards in 2012 were patent cases involving the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm. On the whole, “awards of $100 million and up by U.S. juries fell one-third, to 20 in 2013 from an unusually high 31 in 2012.” (It’s also worth noting that a Florida jury awarded a $900 million verdict in a nursing home liability case, but this was an outlier, as the defense attorneys oddly “stopped defending the case in 2010” after an attempt to delay the trial.)

The same Bloomberg article claims (as does ThePopTort) that “Pfizer won a $2.15 billion settlement over its heartburn drug Protonix,” which, had it been a verdict and not a settlement, would have “dwarfed all the 2013 patent verdicts and was twice as high as the largest in 2012.” As the Chamber of Commerce continues its “tort reform” effort and works to “fight the expansion of lawsuits on all fronts,” the companies that make up that very organization are collecting billions of dollars through the civil justice system they claim so vehemently to oppose.

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