JUSTICE, AMERICAN STYLE….Halliburton, it turns out, is immune from criminal prosecution when its female employees are gang raped in Iraq, and recently a Texas judge ruled that they’re immune from civil suit too. Why? Because their employment contracts contain a binding arbitration clause. So no matter how egregious their conduct, Peggy Garrity writes that you’re probably out of luck if you want compensation:
This is a preview of the demise of the jury system intended by the innocuous-sounding tort reform movement. “Tort reform” is a deliberately deceptive term coined in the 1980s by tobacco, pharmaceutical, insurance and gun lobbyists and lawyers who set about to transform our civil justice landscape by eliminating corporate exposure to civil liabilities. After years of an all-out campaign, at the heart of which was relentless media propaganda, judicial selection and legislation, the courthouse doors are rapidly being closed to average citizens, who will be shunted off into a lucrative private legal system presided over by retired judges employed by alternative dispute-resolution providers.
Word. Elsewhere in this morning’s paper, we learn that having already decided that injured patients can’t sue medical device makers, the Supreme Court is likely to extend that ruling to apply to makers of prescription drugs too:
The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled last month that patients injured by most medical devices can’t sue their manufacturers. And this fall, a similar case could extend the same legal protection to the much larger pharmaceutical industry — a frequent target of lawsuits.
….In recent years, documents and e-mails uncovered in court cases have shown that some companies kept safety issues involving their products from the FDA. “Without the tort system, what reasonable assurance do we have we will learn about the bad actors?” asked David Vladek, a law professor at Georgetown University.
Well, that’s sort of the whole point, isn’t it? If you’d like to learn more, I have two reading suggestions. First is Blocking the Courthouse Door, by Stephanie Mencimer, a comprehensive look at the business community’s relentless attempt to shield itself from liability for just about everything. (Review here.) If that sounds a little too heavy for your taste, try John Grisham’s latest opus, The Appeal. Sure, it’s John Grisham, so the quality is a little iffy. But The Appeal features an evil corporation buying justice in Mississippi, a Karl Rove-like campaign manager smearing a liberal Supreme Court justice for fun and profit, and the religious right cast in a supporting role as dupes of the business community that really calls the shots in the Republican Party. It’s great liberal porn for your next trip to the beach.