Want product liability and lawsuit reform? Here's your answer.
The Chamber of Commerce, insurers, and conservative "think-tanks" such as the Heritage Foundation regularly clamor for product liability and lawsuit reforms. Frequently, their claims misuse statistics or simply ignore the truth, in order to demonize victims and their attorneys. The Chamber regularly pledges millions of dollars to judicial candidates who share their pro-business, anti-consumer philosophy. Perhaps they look to one of our commercial competitors for an ideal court system: Communist China allows the Communist Party to operate its courts, and under pressure to promote fast economic growth, these courts are notoriously passive and hostile towards consumer complaints. The recent deaths and injuries suffered by infants as a result of intentionally-tainted milk products provide a good example.
One of China's largest milk producers, Sanlu, has been identified as one of the companies selling milk tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical used to artificially enhance the protein count in raw milk. It is the same chemical that contaminated petfood, causing a spate of animal deaths and recalls around the world, and it is used for the same purpose: to facilitate selling watered-down product. At least four babies have died of melamine poisoning and literally thousands have been made sick. Hundreds have been hospitalized. Sanlu knew of the problem and refused to recall its baby formula.
Now, two of the three death claims filed in the country's courts seeking compensation have been rejected and the third is pending a decision. Provincial officials of the government have met with local lawyers to discourage them from assisting the parents of dead children in filing claims. The Ministry of Justice, which licenses lawyers and disciplines misconduct, has barred lawyers from assisting in cases where there are "multiple victims" or "delicate issues". It also bars them from placing briefs on the internet and requires that they report to the government any conversations with victims. (Note that the government is usually involved in the ownership and governance of any significant commercial operation.) Class action cases are virtually excluded by rules adopted by the Ministry of Justice and the Chinese All Lawyers Association.
Jobs are essential in every nation. Chinese economic growth has improved the lives of many of the nation's people. Nevertheless, while civil rights cannot be allowed to crush economic activity, economic activity also cannot be allowed to crush civil rights. A problem arises when politically-connected or wealthy producers are able to influence the government to create an imbalance in favor of economic interests and to the detriment of citizen victims. In China, that imbalance is inherent in the Communist Party and it destroys the potential remediating impact of the Chinese Courts. In our country, the Chamber of Commerce and wealthy insurance companies are having the same impact, through the selection of judges, "preemption" of state law claims by the federal governement, and "reforms" that eliminate entire classes of injury claims and victims. Hopefully, our downward spiral in this matter will be interrupted before we reach the Chinese state of sacrificing our victims and their families entirely, "for the good of the economy".