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ABF Research Professor Stephen Daniels Quoted in FairWarning News

January 24, 2019, ABF news, FairWarning Inc.

American Bar Foundation (ABF) Research Professor, Stephen Daniels, was quoted in a recent article on FairWarning.org, a nonprofit news website focusing on public health, safety, environment, and business and government accountability. The article discussed the heated, and often false, campaigns waged between corporations and organizations of plaintiff lawyers on the legitimacy of lawsuits brought to court against corporations. 

The article, titled "With Smack-Talking Invective, Lawyer Groups Appeal to Public as One Big Jury Pool," written by Stuart Silverstein on January 24, 2019, discusses the American Tort Reform Foundation's annual Judicial Hellholes reports, which claim to document the various abuses conducted within the civil justice system by judges who apply laws and courtroom procedures in an unfair manner. But really, according to Silverstein, the reports use "withering invective to pummel plaintiff lawyers, courts, state legislatures and others branded as hostile to business."

On the other side of the debate are organizations like the American Association for Justice, a nonprofit organization for plaintiff lawyers, that has responded to these corporate attacks with their own reports, including the "Worst Corporate Conduct of 2018," which accuses big corporations of wrongdoing, from relying on child labor to failing to denying their role in climate change.

The focus of Silverstein's article, however, is to show how both sides are guilty for their lack of objectivity and the form of propaganda that their campaigns have taken. However, the pro-business side, Silverstein explains, can be more harshly critized for its use of hyperbole and distortion. 

Daniels is quoted prominently in the article, taking specific issue with how these corporate campaigns use the term "tort reform" to mean limiting payments for pain, suffering and punitive damages, and curbing lawsuits for civil wrongs, when such reform is really meant to serve business interests only. 

"Calling it 'reform," Daniels says in the article, "is a wonderful, symbolic device.  Who’s against reform? It means if there’s something really bad, we’re going to fix it, and it’s to everybody’s benefit," adding that when it comes to tort reform, "it’s about changes that serve someone’s interest — in this case, businesses."

Daniels also refers to the 2017-18 edition of Judicial Hellholes and how it unfairly likened California's plaintiff lawyers to the "Symbionese Liberation Army," an American militant organization in the 1970s that committed bank robberies, murders and various other crimes.

In the article, Daniels says, "Equating California plaintiff lawyers to the Symbionese Liberation Army 'should be a clue as to what the game is. It’s getting our interest out there and trashing the other side." 

According to Michael MacCann, a University of Washington political scientist who is also quoted in the article, corporate campaigns increased after "corporations suffered legal setbacks in the 1960s and 1970s that made them more vulnerable to lawsuits over issues such as auto and consumer product safety." They launched aggressive campaigns to shift the attitudes of the public. Whereas from the 1960s-80s, juries were more inclined to trust victims suing corporations, the 1990s saw the climate change, with the presumption that corporations were being victimized by plaintiffs and lawyers trying to take advantage through frivolous claims. 

According to the article, the number of tort cases around the country has decreased throughout the years, with recent figures from the National Center for State Courts showing that new tort suits were filed by individuals and businesses at a rate of 2.08 for every 1,000 Americans in 2017. 

"With Smack-Talking Invective, Lawyer Groups Appeal to Public as One Big Jury Pool" has also appeared on Salon.com and in the Tuscon Sentinel.  


Posted by Danielle Gensburg.

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