Remember Trent Lott? He railed and railed against lawsuits and for tort reform. But, when his $400,000 house was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and his insurance claim was denied, he went straight to the county courthouse, with a famous trial lawyer in tow, and sued his insurance company. And how about the doctors? If an HMO, health or auto insurance company treat them unfairly, they file lawsuits while, at the same time, lobbying for limitations on their patients’ rights to sue them for malpractice. Let’s look at conservatives and their so-called principles: They believe in personal responsibility, right? Well, tort reform relieves wrong-doers, usually large corporations being sued by members of the public, of personal responsiblity for their misdeeds. They believe in less government, right? But, tort reform shifts responsibility from the private sector (liability insurance paid for by the tortfeasor) to the taxpayer. It also restricts a free-market approach to corporate responsibility. And, what about the protection of ‘born’ children from those who preach for protection of the unborn? Tort reform will often penalize an injured or deceased child in a negligence or wrongful death case, causing untold family devastation.
The ultimate and most outspoken critic of trial lawyers and proponent of tort reform has been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This anti-consumer, pro-big business outfit has been pushing for local and national tort reform forever. The Chamber has pumped millions into marketing and politicial campaigns; it has even contributed to judicial campaigns in an effort to stack courtrooms across the country with pro-business, anti-consumer judges. But, when the EPA. announces that it plans to declare that emissions of noxious gases from automobile engines contribute to air pollution, endangering public health and welfare, what does the Chamber do? You guessed it, it threatens to sue the EPA.
The Chamber has filed a petition with the EPA, asking for a recorded "proceeding with an independent trier of fact" (aka "trial"). This would allow environmentalists and business groups to "engage in a credible weighing of the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health" (is there any issue out there that the Chamber considers more important than corporate profits?). Forget the fact that the EPA has already held two public hearings on the issue and received hundreds of thousands of public comments on the issue.
Bill Kovacs, the Chamber’s Vice President on the Environment (among other responsibilities) envisions a modern version of the Scopes Monkey Trial (this was the famous 1925 "evolution vs. creation" trial featuring Clarence Darrow and Williams Jennings Bryan, that resulted when a teacher had the audacity to try to teach evolution in a public school); he wants to put the science of global warming on trial. Now, there’s a great use of taxpayer dollars and Chamber dues and fees.
But, Kovacs is undeterred. After all, if greenhouse gases are declared "pollutants", the Clean Air Act would permit the EPA to regulate industry:
"An endangerment finding would make the EPA the regulator of the U.S. economy"
Mr. Kovacs is not concerned that these gases are actually harming the environment and causing harm to our people, he’s concerned that, if true, it will be bad for business. EPA Deputy Press Secretary, Brendan Gilfillan scoffs at this nonsense and indicates that science "overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare". And, he calls the Chamber’s attempt to debate the science a
"frivolous legal challenge"
That’s right, folks: FRIVOLOUS! And what does the Chamber say to this charge?
"Litigation is a certainty, regardless of EPA’s next move…what we’re asking for is a trial on the science"
How about that? The minute the Chamber doesn’t hear what they want from the scientific community, what does it do? It runs for the courthouse! It asks for a"trial on the science". Never mind that there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that global temperatures are increasing and the consequences, if not reversed, will be harmful to human life. Few would argue that climate change is not harmful. Fewer would argue that it is not real. But to argue that a finding that it is harmful to humans is "bad for business" is the height of frivolity.
As a pro-justice advocate, Lawsuit Financial supports the Chamber in their pursuit of a trial on their issues; we also support "bottom up" reform. If the Chamber pursues this litigation and it is found to be "frivolous" and fails, the Chamber should be responsible for all of the costs of the litigation and should be sanctioned, severely for wasting the EPA’s time and the taxpayers’ money. Contributors to the Chamber should consider whether they want their contributions to support this farce. The Chamber’s version of tort reform has always been "top down" reform; it seeks to restrict citizen awards against big business by placing damage "caps" on serious lawsuits. Why? Because it is bad for business This is, and has always been, the big lie of the tort reformers. Who cares about injury or death of our citizens if it is bad for business?
But this proposed lawsuit isn’t about damage caps; this lawsuit exposes hypocrisy. The Chamber says: "No frivolous lawsuits…welll….unless its ours!
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.