Be Careful What You Wish For

In August 2011, the Sacramento Business Journal reported that a survey had found that two-thirds of California voters “think the number of lawsuits filed against businesses or public entities in California has hurt the state’s economy.” More than seven out of 10 voters thought California’s liability laws make it harder for employers to succeed in the state, and 74 percent thought enacting lawsuit reform is an important part of improving the business climate. The survey of 600 California voters was performed for California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a “grassroots” organization that just happened to be primarily funded by cigarette maker Philip Morris.

California was recently ranked second on the annual list of “Judicial Hellholes,” as determined with seemingly no methodology by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). Even though the Los Angeles Times reported in 2007 that California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, enacted in 1975 increasingly prevented families from getting their day in court, tort reform advocates continue to push for more and more caps that will further limit the options available to California resident.

Lists of “Judicial Hellholes” is one method, but another involves repeating anecdotal evidence such as the story of Stella Liebeck, the woman who infamously sued McDonald’s after a cup of coffee she spilled on herself caused third-degree burns and required skin grafts. As our colleagues at the Indiana personal injury firm Doehrman Buba recently noted in a blog post about “the myth of tort reform,” filmmaker Susan Saladoff recently appeared on Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central program and effectively debunked many of the myths about so-called “frivolous lawsuits”:

This issue extends far beyond just employment law. As our colleagues noted, “every person has the 7th amendment right to a trial by jury, and this is exactly what tort reform legislation is intruding upon.”

Have you seen the “Hot Coffee” movie? What effect did it have on your opinion about tort reform and supposed lawsuit abuse?

Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment lawyers