Center for America

Speaker's Resource: 2. Lawsuit Abuse, p 3

 

 

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Key Reference Citations (KRC)

 

Activist Judges

  • “One of the most important aspects of legal reform is the selection of judges who interpret the law and leave lawmaking to legislative bodies.”

  • “When selecting judges, the criterion is easy to state but hard to find – judges who will follow the law.  It is universally acknowledged that the legislature it the “policy-making” body and the judiciary is the “interpretive” body.  Legislators are representative of the people and their processes are organized to afford transparency so all manner of interests can be vetted.  In contrast, the judiciary is neither meant nor organized to be representative … .Whenever the judiciary asserts itself into the policy-making function…it thwarts fundamental democratic process.” (KRC: Washington Legal Foundation, “Conversations With …, Hantler, p. 6)    

  • “The success of state tort reform efforts requires supreme courts with rule of law majorities.”

  • “By usurping the rightful role of the legislative and executive branches, the judiciary is trampling on the fundamental principle of separation of powers.  As a result, there is no doubt that our liberty interests are being threatened.  All this is happening because we are in danger of having a government not of laws, but of jurors.”  (KRC: Hantler, “Seven Myths…” p. 19)

  • “The best piece of tort reform legislation is only as good as the next supreme court that declares it unconstitutional.”  (KRC: Washington Legal Foundation, “Conversations With …, Hantler quoting Engler, p. 6)    

  • “We have seen several activist state supreme courts ignore the constitutionally expressed will of their state legislatures and strike down tort reform legislation.”  (KRC: Washington Legal Foundation, “Conversations With …, Hantler, p. 6)    

  • Too many tort reform statutes have fallen victim to the trial bar’s “judicial nullification” project and activist judges who ignore the will of their legislatures.

  • “Judges who perpetuate “lawsuit abuse” in their courts have changed their behaviors after significant and persistent media and public attention.”

  • “Last year in the political arena, the legal reform community sent a strong message to activist judges who abandon the rule of law and yield to the temptation to legislate from the bench.  Activist incumbents and candidates for state supreme court were turned away by voters in [seven states].” In several states, activist state supreme courts ignore the constitutionally expressed will of their state legislatures and strike down tort reform legislation.  (KRC: Washington Legal Foundation, “Conversations With …, p. 1)

  • While most judges honor their commitment to be unbiased arbiters in the pursuit of truth and justice, Judicial Hellholes judges do not.  Instead, these few jurists may favor local plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients over defendant corporations.  Some in remarkable moments of candor, have admitted their biases.  More often, judges may, with the best of intentions, make rulings for the sake of expediency or efficiency that have the effect of depriving a party of its right to a proper defense.  (Richard Neely, The Product Liability Mess: How Business Can be Rescued From the Politics of State Courts 4 (1998))

  • When an electronic bingo machine at a Macon County gaming park malfunctioned and erroneously paid out 40,000,000 credits for a patron’s 25-cent play of the game, two Macon County judges saw a real opportunity to stand up for “jackpot justice.” They awarded the plaintiff $10 million – even though the machine had a clear label stating that its maximum potential payoff was $10,000.  Regardless of the judge’s specific intent, the decisions to disregard the machine’s posted maximum payout, deny the defendant a chance to present evidence of a malfunction, and bump a convened jury out of the picture at the last minute all speak to the rough justice civil defendants can expect in Macon County.  (David White, Dog Track Ordered to Pay Woman $10 Million, Birmingham News, Sept. 4, 2008, at 1 at 2008 WLNR 1684317) (Editorial, Third World Justice in Macon County Circuit Court, Mont. Indep., Oct. 9, 2008 at 10.)

Ridiculous Jury Awards Illustrate

 A System Out of Control

  • In 1995 a Mississippi jury handed down a $500 million verdict against a Canadian funeral home chain in a case involving breach of contract over the plaintiff’s exclusive rights to sell funeral insurance through the defendant’s funeral homes. The plaintiff retained an extremely high profile, flamboyant attorney who successfully turned a routine commercial dispute into a high stakes morality play involving an American war veteran and a foreign conglomerate. The parties eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.  (KRC: Olson,  The Rule of Lawyers, pp. 210-215)

  •  The occupants of a 1979 Chevy Malibu, who were severely injured when their car was rear-ended by a drunk driver, were awarded $4.9 billion.  The award exceeded the GNP of 11 UN member states combined and prompted an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, Casino Justice, which said that it “makes the tort system into a kind of lottery in which clever trial lawyers and a few victims get very rich at the cost of society’s confidence in the justice system”.  The award was subsequently reduced to $1.2 billion. (KRC: Olson, The Rule of Lawyers, pp. 237-238; “Casino Justice”, Washington Post (editorial), July 13, 1999)

  •  “In 1999, a New Orleans jury awarded $3.4 billion in punitive damages for a fire caused by leakage from a train car. No one was killed in the accident; the plaintiffs’ claims were for fear, suffering, evacuation, medical expenses and property damage. The case was eventually settled while it was on appeal.” (KRC: Olson,  The Rule of Lawyers)

  •  In 2001, a Louisiana family sued ExxonMobil because a small portion of the family’s property had been contaminated by the company’s longstanding industrial operations in that area. ExxonMobil was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $1 billion despite the fact that the cost of cleanup was valued by Exxon at $46,000 and the land was valued at somewhere between $500,000 and $1.5 million. (KRC: Olson, The Rule of Lawyers, p. 210)

  • Embarrassed by frivolous lawsuits filed in West Virginia, the state legislature passed a law that prohibits claiming a specific dollar amount for damages in personal injury or wrongful death complaints.  The law came about in response to a headline-making lawsuit filed in 2007 when the plaintiff, after biting into a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, alleged he suffered an allergic reaction to melted cheese and claimed $10 million in damages.  (H.B. 4120 78th Leg., 2d Sess. (W. Va. 2008))  (Jake Stump, Law Prohibits Figures in Some Suits, Charleston Gaz. & Daily Mail, Apr. 16 2008 at 1A, at 2008 WLNR 7188015)

  • In 2004 a Macon County jury, after a three-day trial and just one hour of deliberation, awarded a mind-boggling $1.6 billion to an individual plaintiff who had lost $3,000 when an insurance agent continued to pocket her monthly payments on a lapsed life insurance policy.  (1.6 Billion for Nonexistent Insurance Policy – Plaintiff Paid $3,000 in Premiums for phony Policy, Top Ten Jury Verdicts on 2004, Lawyers Weekly USA, at http://www.lawyersweeklyusea.com/usa/1topten2004.cfm)

 

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