Self-proclaimed “advocacy journalist” John Stossel would like us to believe that trial lawyers are damaging the country through lawsuit abuse that robs innocent companies of hard-earned money while keeping desperately needed products out of the marketplace.
“What wonderful products will we never even hear about because the lawyers have created a climate of fear?” Stossel has asked, suggesting that so-called “frivolous” lawsuits are the main reason companies decide not to sell exciting new prescription drugs and other ostensibly life-saving products. It’s a myth, he says, that lawsuits work to protect the public.
Let’s just take a second to explore that so-called “myth,” with the example of cars. As president of the American Association for Justice, Gibson Vance, has pointed out:
…litigation and the civil justice system have served as the most consistent and powerful forces in heightening safety standards, revealing previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses and deterring manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits.
Put another way, without the civil justice system, gas tanks would still explode in rear-end collisions, seat belts and airbags would not be standard, and cars would roll over onto roofs that would be easily crushed. –Gibson Vance
As Vance notes, auto accident deaths in the United States are currently at their lowest level since 1949—not because we’ve all become much better drivers, but because so many safety features have been added to vehicles sold in the U.S. These features weren’t added just because the auto industry decided their cars should be safer. In fact, U.S. manufacturers have often neglected to make important safety improvements because government standards don’t require them.
As power windows became more common, so too did instances of children being strangled. Seven children died within a three-month period in 2004. Manufacturers were aware of the issue, and the fix was relatively simple and inexpensive. In response to regulations in other countries, European and Asian cars already used a safer switch — one that must be pulled up to raise a window — and so did many U.S. manufacturers on cars they offered to foreign markets. Yet incredibly, U.S. manufacturers did not install the safer switches on domestic cars because NHTSA had no rules governing power-window safety. –Gibson Vance
It’s crucial that we recognize the rule civil suits play in improving the safety of all consumer products. Almost no industry is going to voluntarily incorporate expensive safety features if it doesn’t have to, and the government (influenced, of course, by lobbyists from the industries it’s charged with policing) isn’t going to establish new safety rules without persistent pushes in the form of litigation.
If there’s anyone out there creating a culture of fear, it’s John Stossel.