In a January 15 editorial, The Oklahoman uncritically pulls material from a pro-corporate lobbying group's website in support of the proposition that “ridiculous” lawsuits are rampant in the U.S. However, the editorial fails to mention that the source of this information, the Institute for Legal Reform, has spent millions in successful lobbying efforts to close the courthouse door to plaintiffs seeking redress for real harms.
The Oklahoman draws examples from the Faces of Lawsuit Abuse website, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's legal arm, the Institute for Legal Reform. The site's front page showcases a video about gas can manufacturer Blitz USA, detailing how “a wave of costly litigation took its toll, and lawsuits finally drove the company out of business.”
As The New York Times pointed out, the video “ducks the complexities of the product liability cases surrounding Blitz by making no mention of the dozens of casualties linked to explosions while people used the cans in recent years.” In fact, a jury in one of the cases awarded the plaintiffs $4 million in damages for the injuries the gas cans caused.
By accepting the Institute for Legal Reform's PR campaign lock, stock, and barrel, The Oklahoman failed to disclose that it is a powerful legal arm of the corporate lobby, spending $6.03 million on federal lobbying in one fiscal quarter, including for limits on products liability cases.
For example, ILR promoted a bill, modeled after conservative American Legislative Exchange Council legislation, to limit relief for individuals harmed by asbestos. The Chamber and ILR also pushed an NRA-backed law to shield gun manufacturers from liability for the harms their products cause. This powerful lobby has promoted flawed analysis in support of its attacks on access to justice for plaintiffs. ILR and the Chamber also develop and promote initiatives to limit access to justice at the state level.
The Chamber has not only been active in legislatures, but before the courts--where they are winning. The Chamber applauded the Supreme Court's Wal Mart v. Dukes decision, in which the court barred female employees of the company from joining together to sue the company for widespread discrimination in pay and promotions. The decision will make it significantly more difficult for individual workers to bring civil rights cases against large employers--an outcome that the Chamber called “the most important class action case in more than a decade.”