Ralph Nader has launched a frontal attack on American trial lawyers. In a 2,500 word open letter to America’s trial lawyers, Nader rips them for being “inept” in the battle against a nationwide “tort deform” juggernaut and for being “steamrolled” by corporate lobbyists.
The focus of his ire is on the Texas trial lawyers, who Nader says have lost “again and again” to corporate lobbyists.
Texas Trial Lawyers Association spokesman Willie Chapman said that Nader’s comments “are not new.”
“He has expressed similar opinions at least since 1993,” Chapman said. “Beyond that, our association chooses to not comment on Mr. Nader’s latest remarks.”
Nader says the Texas trial bar is “the wealthiest trial bar in the country.”
“Yet they lost legislative battle after legislative battle designed to destroy the wrongful injury remedies of injured Texans,” Nader writes. “It started with the weakening of the workers compensation law by an increasingly antagonistic legislature. In drumbeat succession, lawyers for people harmed by negligent or chronically incompetent physicians and manufacturers of defective products were rendered less and less able to pursue the legitimate rights of their clients in the courts.”
“Why have the Texas trial lawyers – no shrinking violets to past contests of power – lost again and again?” Nader asks. “Needless to say they had the arguments, the evidence, the heart-rending cases of avoidable deaths, injuries, illnesses and family anguish. They had the contrast of corporate bosses, with rubber-stamping boards of directors, paying executives huge compensation and bonuses even while these bosses were taking down their own companies, workers and shareholders.”
“Remember Enron? After all, these years of ‘tort deform’ paralleled the greatest corporate crime wave in American history. Weren’t there several dozen trial lawyers each worth hundreds of millions of dollars and even a billion or two who could contribute the money and talent needed to get the truth to the people and mobilize ready and able citizen and labor groups to build the voting power needed to preserve tort law in Texas? It seemed that the very traits of individualism and self-regard that drove them to their courtroom victories – cases involving asbestos, tobacco, medical devices and toxic release – hindered the kind of sustained, collective organization that so many advocates pleaded with them to support.”
Nader points to “the sterling, publicized work of Texans for Public Justice led by Craig McDonald and Andrew Wheat with its tiny budget” as an operating example of “what an expanded public investment would have accomplished.”
“By contrast the ‘tort deform’ lobby spawned many well-funded state-based astro-turf groups against so-called ‘lawsuit abuse,’ and several national groups as well,” Nader wrote.
In 2003, the corporate community in Texas got behind Prop 12, a constitutional amendment that would give the legislature authority to limit non-economic damages. Prop 12 passed 51 to 49.
Nader says that the passage of the constitutional referendum in Texas “was the result of poor strategy, a low advocacy budget, compared to the corporation’s expenditures, excessive delegation by leading trial lawyers to their unimaginative professional association in Austin and especially the exclusion of ideas and participants by their misguided consulting firms.”
Nader ends the letter by calling for call for “a grand, multifaceted mobilization of the American people who believe in their constitutional right of trial by jury and their full day in court based on the principle and affordable practice that every wrongful injury requires a righteous remedy and fair compensation paid by the perpetrators of those harms.”
“This should be a movement for responsibility and accountability for those wrongdoers,” Nader says. “Plaintiff trial lawyers should come out of their cloistered and defeatist corners to lead this community-based restoration and expansion of refereed civil justice and deterrence under law.”