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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Better Business Bureau President On "Trust Deficit": Mr. President, Denounce Tort Reform

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Lawsuit Financial is a member of the Better Business Bureau. The Bureau’s trademark registered tag line is "Start With Trust". It’s mission is to "be the leader in advancing marketplace trust". More detail about it’s mission can be found at the BBB website. The BBB is a wonderful, pro-consumer organization that assists the consumer in locating a reputable company for a particular product or service.

As a member, I subscribe to the BBB’s electronic newsletter, called the "Trust Brief". In the most recent edition, the first of its "top stories" is a blurb about BBB president, Steve Cox’s speech that businesses can "fix America’s trust deficit". As reported in the Toledo Blade, Cox, speaking to the Toledo BBB, said:

"America today is suffering from a "trust deficit," that threatens to undermine social and economic well-being"

Cox cited studies that show that trust has been damaged by the Enron scandal, the dot-com bust and the economic downturn. Said Mr. Cox:


"Scan the headlines of your morning newspaper and you quickly get a sense of the breadth and the depth of the trust violations that are taking place in our society and in our communities…As business leaders, we absolutely care about our country’s economic well-being and cannot afford to accept the current lackluster levels of trust as something inevitable"

Cox expresses concern that our increased reliance on technology and decreased membership in community or religious organizations creates isolation and exacerbates mistrust. To combat this, he suggests that business should increase employee training, place more confidence in its employees, and depend less on technology to communicate with its clients/customers. He cites rising demand, over the past five years, for BBB services, which, he says, shows that consumers are increasingly looking for ways to evaluate the credibility of businesses.

My own areas of concern? That consumers cannot trust businesses or corporations to behave appropriately when their products or services fall below acceptable standards and cause the consumer serious harm. That insurance companies do not act responsibly when legitimate claims are submitted The recent Toyota accelerator problems, the company’s refusal to recall, and, instead, attempt to cover-up the problem is an excellent example of the extent a corporation will go to deceive the public, just to avoid liability. A fall in a store or falling merchandise will almost always create an atmosphere in which the corporate entity (and its insurance company) attacks the victim/consumer rather than admit wrongdoing and assure appropriate compensation and correction of the problem that caused the accident in the first instance. Insurance companies like State Farm tell Hurricane Katrina victims that everything they own has been wiped out by a "flood" and not a "storm so that the company can deny precious coverage on policies that property owners have been paying premiums on for years. And my latest area of concern: That BP will imitate the conduct of Exxon Mobil in its handling of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

This "us vs them" mentality was first advanced by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries when it became apparent that the some of the products of these two Goliath industries were causing harm to the general public and fostering significant and expensive litigation. This was the beginning of the modern tort reform movement. Like an infectious disease, corporate America, quickly caught the "disease" and it now permeates smaller businesses, local and U.S. Chambers of Commerce, the medical community, and, especially, the insurance industry. And, in this arena, there is no credibility, no trust, because of the absurd argument being proffered:

"Tort reform" suggests that we need to place limits or caps on damages in lawsuits brought by those harmed by corporations or medical professionals. Why? Because "greedy trial lawyers" are bringing "frivolous" or "junk" lawsuits, don’t you know? Talk about a credibility gap! Why would a "frivolous" or "junk" lawsuit need a damages cap? On its face, such a case is worthless. Tort reform is not about preventing the filing of ‘frivolous’ lawsuits; it is about limiting justice and compensation in serious lawsuits so that corporations and insurance companies can line their pockets with the savings and the American taxpayer is left to pay for corporate America’s mistakes.

I have never heard the BBB express support or disdain for tort reform. I do not recall the Bureau ever taking a stand, one way or the other. If the BBB really wishes to bridge the credibility gap, really wishes to develop trust with the American consumer, it can denounce corporate profits on the backs of the innocent people that corporations injure or kill. It can denounce corporate profits of companies that pollute, then leave to the community the cost of the clean up. It can denounce the destruction of businesses that rely on clean water, clean air, and a healthy eco-system and demand that those that destroy them pay for the damage. It can call on businesses and insurance companies to be accountable, accept appropriate responsibility, and stop targeting the victims of their carelessness. It can publicly denounce "tort reform". This would go a long way toward eliminating the "trust deficit".