Judges, Juries and the Politics of Tort Reform

09/17/2015 // Hartford, CT, USA // cttriallawyers // Neil Ferstand // (press release)

The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association ongoing effort to transmit a variety of news items reflecting the importance and extent to which civil justice and the civil justice system enters our lives. This week, legislators learned of a new study out of Roger Williams University School of Law which argues the importance of judges and the civil jury system rather than the draconian tort reforms that stem from misleading and inaccurate information. The article argues that the current system, brings checks and balances on government and corporate abuse, while also instilling community values into the justice system and, in doing so, legitimizes that justice system.  Further news from OSHA reveals some Connecticut employees of a state electroplating company have been exposed to hazardous chemical which the company had been warned previously to fix but failed to protect its employees. Also included this week was the announcement of a new study from Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia that children’s tricycles cause more than 5000 injuries per year with 9000 emergency room injuries reported between 2012 and 2013.


Judges, Juries, and the Politics of Tort Reform

Roger Williams University School of Law


The civil justice system has many repeat players with a deep interest in the civil justice system because they are often the target of personal injury lawsuits, most prominently product manufacturers and physicians, and the companies that insure them. Following a blueprint drafted by leading corporate lawyer Lewis Powell, prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, these deep pocket interests have spent four decades and tens of millions of dollars maligning the civil jury and trying, with notable success, to influence legislators, administrators, and judges, both state and federal, under the catchy, but misleading banner of “tort reform.” These campaigns have been amplified by media coverage of the civil justice system that has been unsophisticated, and at times misleading.

This article argues that separation of powers concerns counsel that we should be cautious about constricting the role of the jury, one of our most democratic institutions. Juries provide checks and balances on government; juries are independent; juries bring community values into the judicial system; juries are fair; juries legitimatize the civil justice system; and, juries generally “get it right.”

Instead of draconian reforms like damage caps, the article argues for the primacy of judges when adjustments to the civil justice system are called for. Judges bring legal experience and knowledge not shared by most legislators and administrators; the nature of the judicial process makes judges predictable and their work transparent; judges are far less likely to be “captured” by special interests than legislators and administrators; and state judges have the best perspective of how the civil justice system works and are thus in the best position to implement reforms when necessary.

The article concludes with a survey of various tools, some time-tested and others novel, by which judges can oversee the work of juries, and the civil justice system more generally.


Employees of Connecticut Electroplating Company Exposed to Hazards

Plainville,CT (WorkersCompensation.com) –  On Sept. 2,  2015, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued two repeat and 11 serious citations to Plainville Plating Co. The repeat citations stem from hazards similar to those identified during a 2010 inspection of the workplace.

OSHA Quote: “Employees at this plant work with highly hazardous chemicals. It’s imperative that their employer take all necessary steps to protect their health and well-being at all times,” said Warren Simpson, OSHA’s area director in Hartford.  “That includes monitoring exposure levels, providing proper and effective protective clothing, and ensuring that employees are properly trained.”


A Juror Bill of Rights

A federal judge proposes a set of reforms to make serving on a jury more attractive.
In trial courts across America, jurors are skipping jury duty. One third of citizens in major California counties like Los Angeles and San Diego fail to serve. InTexas, the two counties surrounding Houston, Harris and Montgomery County, have had no-show rates of 75 percent and 86 percent, respectively. In Philadelphia, 200,000 of 600,000 citizens failed to show up, leading city officials to create a “scofflaw court” for recalcitrant jurors. And in Idaho, Florida, and North Carolina, the “no-show” problem continues to frustrate local courts.


Tricycle Injuries Send Thousands of Tykes to ERs Each Year

Tricycles might seem pretty tame but they send thousands of kids to emergency rooms each year and are even linked to a handful of deaths, new research shows. Here are three things to know about tricycle risks:


More than 9,000 tricycle-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2012 and 2013, or nearly 5,000 each year, according to the study by researchers at Medical College of Georgia and Emory University. Scant previous research on the topic prompted the study, which involved an analysis of data in a national injury surveillance system. The system collects information on emergency room visits for nonfatal injuries linked with consumer products. It is run by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.


US Department Of Justice Targets Corporate Individuals

DOJ announces tough new approach to the investigation and prosecution of corporate officers and employees.

On September 9, in a major change to its approach to the investigation of alleged corporate crime, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a series of new policy directives that prioritize the investigation and prosecution of individual corporate officers and employees in addition to the companies themselves. US Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates issued a memorandum detailing a six-step plan to strengthen the DOJ’s pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoers in both criminal and civil contexts (the Yates Memo). The Yates Memo reflects a very aggressive new stance by the DOJ in regards to white-collar crime in corporate America.


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