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Big Hypocrites of Legal Reform

November 7th, 2011

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has released an eye-opening report called “Do As I Say, Not As I Sue,” which exposes the lawsuit-happy hypocrites of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). It lists the “top 10” biggest corporate hypocrites, those corporations who work hard to limit our ability to sue them if we become injured by their products or services, and yet use the legal system liberally to sue others when they feel wronged.

Want some examples of the frivolous lawsuits brought by these hypocrites?

1. Caterpillar.

Caterpillar, which has been an ILR Board Member since 2005, manufactures heavy machinery and industrial vehicles (such as bulldozers and backhoe diggers). They have been trying to limit the ability of the public to sue them for defective products, violations of environmental laws, and other financial issues. But their biggest potential lawsuit risk comes from asbestos. According to the AAJ:

Caterpillar has spent at least $25 million trying to avoid liability for asbestos claims over the last few decades.26 Most of Caterpillar’s potential liability for the health effects suff ered by dying men and women exposed to asbestos originates from other companies that Caterpillar bought. Caterpillar, like many of the ILR corporations trying to fi nd a way out of asbestos liability, claims it never manufactured asbestos and should not be held accountable for any related health problems now. Yet Caterpillar bought those companies with full knowledge of their liabilities, and even sought insurance on the prospects of future liability.

Actually, Caterpillar also made some of its own products with asbestos, so its claim that it is innocent of any asbestos-containing products. In 2005, a jury in California awarded a Caterpillar bulldozer operator $2.3 million because he developed asbestos-related cancer just from doing his job using Caterpillar machinery.

Hypocrisy:  Caterpillar sued Disney—yes, Disney—because it felt that the movie George of the Jungle 2 portrayed diggers as too villainous (because, according to the script, they were trying to destroy the jungle). An Illinois judge ruled against Caterpillar.

2. Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson is a pharmaceutical and medical device company. Just about every family in America has a Johnson & Johnson product at home:  Band-Aids, Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl are just some of the products made by Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries.

Johnson & Johnson has had several high-profile problems that exposed it to potential liability. Most recently, the company was forced to recall DePuy hip implants, as we reported in our blog (DePuy Hip Replacement) and video (DePuy Video). The hip replacements have a high failure rate…and Johnson & Johnson allowed the devices to continue to be implanted despite years of evidence of serious problems. The company has been working to limit its liability, and is hoping to not have to answer to tens of thousands of Americans who have had its defective hip replacement product.

Hypocrisy: According to the AAJ report, in 2007, J&J sued the Red Cross– yes, the ever-helpful Red Cross—over its use of the red cross symbol. Johnson & Johnson objected to the symbol’s use on fi rst aid kits and other disaster-preparedness items created by the American Red Cross. The company sought not only the destruction of the kits, but also punitive damages against the charity and payment for its own legal fees. The American Red Cross, which was first established in 1881 by Clara Barton, had amicably shared the red cross symbol with Johnson & Johnson for more than a century.

The American Red Cross responded to the suit by saying, “For a multi-billion dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute that was created to protect the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross – simply so that Johnson & Johnson can make more money – is obscene.” A judge eventually ruled for the American Red Cross.

More Information

We’re in a time when corporations are trying to use political leverage to reduce their liability for products that hurt the average person. They claim that they are fighting to reduce the costs of legislation, frivolous lawsuits, and unreasonable jury awards. And yet, the cost savings benefit only the corporations… and they insist on being able to pursue their own lawsuits. People who are seriously injured, perhaps even fatally, are treated as little more than a nuisance to be dismissed and denied.

Other companies named in the AAJ report are Honeywell, FedEx, Dow Chemical, General Motors, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, and Prudential. Each story seems more outrageous than the last. As the report states:

At the heart of this double standard is their corporate creed that profi ts come before people. It justifi es decisions to keep defective drugs, bulletproof vests, and cars on the marketplace, even when corporations know people may be injured or killed. It justifi es the decision to find a way to profi t off the insurance policies of dead soldiers, to dump harmful pollution, or to deny an individual’s insurance claim. And it justifi es the apparent hypocrisy behind their belief that courts are not for individuals seeking accountability for such decisions, but only for businesses seeking to maximize profits.

It is the right of the corporations of ILR to seek what they believe to be justice in a court of law. However, these corporations must recognize that this right to justice belongs not just to big business, but to all Americans.

We’d like to encourage everyone to read the AAJ report. Then, if you believe (as we do) that this is unfair to average citizens, then please contact the people who represent you in government. Tell them that you oppose legislation that reduces liability for corporations and limits your ability to receive compensation for your serious injuries. You can find the contact information for your representatives here:  U.S. House of Representatives.  And you can find the contact information for your senators here:  U.S. Senate.  For North Carolina state congress, click here: NC General Assembly.

To read the full article from the American Association for Justice, click here:  Do As I Say, Not As I Sue