The Institute for Legal Reform, an admitted national campaign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is circulating emails to gain support from the public for tort reform. The email captioned "Does America Need More Jobs -- Or More Lawsuits?" calls for an end to "lawsuit abuse." What it really calls for is corporate immunity for reckless and dangerous corporate behavior that harms consumers, workers, the environment and every other corner of our society.
It is odd timing that the email comes out in the midst of the worst corporate disaster in our nation's history. It is the predictable opening salvo in the inevitable U.S. Chamber and right wing efforts to shield BP, its partners, and other like-minded corporations, from responsibility for the harm their negligence and recklessness cause society.
The email suggests a fictional $1.6 billion tax break for trial lawyers. Of course, the email does not mention the subsidy that taxpayers will provide to BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron for the massive damages caused by the BP spill. Nor does it mention the billions in tax credits awarded to the oil industry each year or the billions more in environmental damage that the oil and gas industry cause each year. It fails to mention that it is the taxpayers that pick up these costs. Most of all, the Chamber fails to mention the thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of residents along the Gulf Coast who have suffered permanent and devastating financial and emotional harm from the BP disaster.
Make no mistake, the Chamber will speak up once those harmed by the spill take legal action beyond the wholly inadequate $20 billion that BP has dedicated to cover the harm it has caused. There will be thousands that accept very small settlements out of economic desperation. Others are completely barred from the funds because they are not close enough to the coast to qualify for compensation. Instead, very strict rules on compensation along caps on damages have been set up to protect BP, not those that were harmed.
Those that refuse to accept less than they are owed and take up legal action will face years of expensive and stressful litigation. In the meantime, many have lost their financial livelihood and way of life. If they are compensated at all for their losses, it will be years as with the 20+ year litigation of the Exxon Valdez.
Yet it is not BP that the Chamber points out as a drain on society, it is trial lawyers. These are the very same trial lawyers that worked for over 20 years to compensate the victims of the Exxon Valdez. And it is same lawyers that will be seeking compensation from BP. It is the same lawyers that will greatly reduce the costs to taxpayers by avoiding what would otherwise be public assistance to pick up the uncompensated losses to those harmed by the BP spill.
It is these same lawyers that finance this litigation at their own costs and do not get paid a dime unless their clients recover that the Chamber fears will bring down our economy. The Chamber calls these lawyers opportunistic. I am not sure what to call the Chamber's behavior. Maybe, we can ask the thousands upon thousands of workers who have lost their jobs as a result of BP what they need most, jobs or lawsuits. Unfortunately, due to the negligence of BP, the answer is they need both.