Any political battle is also a public affairs fight. In an ideal world both sides of any issue would provide fair, accurate, and honest information about their position, respond fairly to valid points made by the other side, and concede when those opposing arguments are stronger. Unfortunately, we do not live in that world. Instead, misinformation, distractions, and “gotcha” one-liners dominate the landscape. That means that many community members are drastically misinformed about the real facts about any situation.
The sad reality is that this dynamic means that dangerous and downright harmful legislation is passed. Many of these bills take away rights and harm communities as a whole–only benefitting certain powerful interests. The ability of lobbying arms for those interests to convince community members otherwise is the key factor that allows this bad legislation to become law.
For evidence of this we need to look no further than the actions of those pushing for “tort reform” laws. One of the most headline-grabbing (but least informative) example of this is the “Judicial Hellhole” report filed annually by the American for Tort Reform Association. To be sure, the “report” is nothing more than a stale attempt to garner headlines and present the image of a problem without much logical evidence.
The President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association recently issued a response to the report. He noted how the report “employ[s] junk research to stoke public fear and foster misperception about how the legal system works.” The legal system is undeniably complex, and it is shameful that tort reform groups seek to capitalize on that complexity by misleading community members about the system in an attempt to take away their access to that very system.
The truth is that this and other “tort reform” groups are primarily funded by a few very large corporations. These big businesses are pushing for tort reform laws for one simple reason: to maximize their bottom line by not having to pay for the consequences of their errors.
In their disinformation campaign these big companies claim that they just want to weed out “frivolous” lawsuits, usually smearing attorneys in the process. Of course they never explain the many different procedural rules that already exist to ensure the few claims without merit do not advance far in the justice system. The ITLA President explains the truth:
“What they fear are meritorious lawsuits: actions brought by citizens against corporations producing unsafe products, polluting air and water, swindling their employees, or otherwise acting irresponsibly.”
Finally ending the cycle of disinformation and passage of laws that harms consumers will not be easy. There remains widespread confusion about how the civil justice system works and the consequences of making changes to the current structure. With skewed reports like this one continually making the rounds, community members are understandably unsure about what is true and what isn’t. Our best bet is to repeatedly share accurate information and pressure policymakers to make decision based on facts and fairness and not the talking points of biased corporations.
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