Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Chamber, Lawsuits And Jobs: If Only The Truth Mattered...

Every Superman has his kryptonite. Take, for example, the monolith known as The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, considered to be Superman by some and a bully by others.

"Jobs, not lawsuits." This is their mantra. According to the StarChamber, our legal system kills jobs. Less lawsuits equals more jobs.

It's a simple and attractive premise. It's an easy message for The Chamber to disseminate in a never ending cycle of rinse, spin, and repeat through website videos, press releases, "reports," and e-mail alerts.

Their solution? Massive legal "reform." It's an "all you can eat" appetite for reform with a wish list as long as the Kardashian kids' Christmas list. At the top of the list are one size fits all, government imposed caps or limits on damages you can recover if you're maimed by a drunk driver, have the wrong organ or limb removed during surgery, or ingest tainted food or drugs. "Govermnent--bad. Government imposed legal reforms--good."

Now for the kryptonite. For the last decade, The Ohio Legislature has done the Chamber's bidding. It has passed lawsuit limits on all Ohio personal injury lawsuits, including nursing home, medical malpractice, and products liability cases, and even cases where Ohioans are injured by drunk drivers. We also have punitive damage limits in all cases too. A "model" of tort reform that the Chamber would be very proud of. The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of virtually all of these reforms.

And now we also have some solid court statistics coming from The Supreme Court Of Ohio. And the numbers are illuminating:


Case Designation Number Filed * Percent of Total Civil Cases
Evictions/ F.E.D. (Municipal/County) 109,346 14.52%
Foreclosures 99,199 13.18%
Products Liability 263 0.03%
Professional Torts 1,705 0.23%
Civil Torts 27,666 3.67%
Workers' Comp. 8,698 1.2%
All Other Civil Cases 506,007 67.21%
Total Civil Cases 752,884 100.00%

(Sorry, but I could not get these columns to line up and gave up after 47 or so attempts)

Compare these numbers to 2002, shortly before The Ohio Legislature passed the beginning of many of The Chamber's lobbied for reforms. Notice the HUGE drop in "personal injury" type lawsuits (in bold) in 2009 as compared to the "pre-reform"
numbers in 2002:

Case Designation Number Filed * Percent of Total Civil Cases
Evictions/ F.E.D. (Municipal/County) 106,313 16.36%
Foreclosures 59,719 9.19%
Products Liability 629 0.10%
Professional Torts 3,448 0.53%
Civil Torts 45,020 6.93%
.Workers' Comp 8,707 1.34%
All Other Civil Cases 426,069 65.56%
Total Civil Cases 649,905 100.00%

So there's no confusion, here are some definitions of the types of cases shown above:

Civil Torts – Suits brought by a party to recover for personal injury or property damage. These do not include claims based on a breach of professional (e.g. medical or legal) duties by professionals, and also exclude claims for products liability, workers’ compensation, and claims for civil rights violations.
(This would be your average auto accident, slip and fall, etc type lawsuit)

Eviction/F.E.D.* – “Forcible Entry and Detainer.” A summary proceeding initiated under R.C. 1923 or 5321 for restoring possession of real property to one who is wrongfully kept out or is wrongfully deprived of possession, including suits by landlords to evict tenants.

Foreclosures – Actions involving or arising from the foreclosure of property, usually resulting from an alleged default by a homeowner on a mortgage.

Other Civil Cases* – Civil actions not included within any of the other listed categories, including contract claims, small claims suits, and suits designated at “other civil” by the county, municipal, and state courts.
(For example, one business suing another business for a breach of contract, for example)

Products Liability – Actions based on an allegation that a product with manufacturing, design, or warning defects caused personal injury or property damage.

Professional Torts – Civil tort actions based on the alleged failure of a professional to act in accordance with a professional standard of care.
(Not limited to medical malpractice cases, and would include claims against architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, and other professionals)

What do the numbers tell us? Foreclosures, kicking people out of leased properties, and business to business lawsuits constitute about 81% of all civil lawsuits. Since the enactment of endless "reforms," all personal injury lawsuits in Ohio have decreased by approximately 50%!

Ohio's population is approximately 11 million. Yet, we had a mere 1,705 professional liability lawsuits and a paltry 263 products liability suits in 2009. Does this sound like a litigation explosion or a state bogged down with "too many lawsuits?"

Conclusion: personal injury lawsuits are trending down precipituously every year. But according to the Chamber, if lawsuits have dramatically dropped, it stands to reason that jobs should be exploding in Ohio, n'est pas?

So where are all the Ohio jobs created by tort reform? How does "less lawsuits, more jobs" sound now? Ohio's economy is reeling, unemployment has never been higher, and the dreaded "personal injury lawsuits" are dropping significantly every year.

Perhaps the Superman analogy was a bad one after all. The more I think about it, The Chamber's drivel is more akin to Linus waiting for The Great Pumpkin.

In the meantime, our legislature has traded your legal rights for this rickety promise. So put your heavy coats on as you sit in the pumpkin patch waiting for all these jobs. It gets cold here in the Fall, and from the sounds of it you're going to be there a while...

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