- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

The lawsuit abuses in our economy have dealt a sledgehammer blow to the job security of countless U.S. workers by driving up business costs and forcing scores of firms into bankruptcy. Yet, all too often, Democratic candidates who are in the hip pocket of personal-injury lawyers claim to be the champions of American working men and women.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) records suggest those claims may be wildly overblown. According to contribution reports tabulated by the FEC, personal-injury lawyers gave more than $60 million to presidential, Senate and House candidates over the five-year period from 1996-2000 and 90 percent of it went to Democrats.
Those contributions stifled a number of attempts to pass reasonable tort reform over the last half-decade, and appear likely to do so again this year. In many cases, candidates of both parties accepted the trial lawyers' contributions, while at the same time they were denouncing lawsuit abuse on the campaign trail.
A prime example of the Democrats' willingness to forsake their once-strong ties to organized labor in return for large campaign contributions from plaintiff lawyers is the Michigan governor's race. There, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm has received more than $426,000 from Michigan personal-injury lawyers or more than the $394,000 she received from 116 other traditional Democratic special-interest groups, including the Teamsters, the National Education Association (NEA) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). In stark contrast, her opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, has received only $2,900 from the lawyers, according to figures on file with the Michigan Secretary of State's Office. Trial lawyers are clearly trying to buy a Granholm victory in the statehouse to support their cause in the courthouse, where they want a repeal of the 1995 reforms that placed a $280,000 cap on non-economic or punitive damages in liability cases.
Personal-injury lawyers have targeted the Michigan gubernatorial race as their top "must-win" election contest. Mr. Posthumus as the majority leader of the state senate tenaciously pushed the 1995 tort reforms through the legislature, and has been the personal-injury lawyers' Public Enemy No. 1 ever since.
Mr. Posthumus' tort reforms slashed the state's liability lawsuits from 35,000 a year to about 25,000, but a return to the pre-reform days would send shock waves through Michigan's vulnerable automotive industry.
Coincidentally, the California Supreme Court in early October let stand a record $290-million verdict against the Ford Motor Co. in a deadly 1993 rollover accident involving a 1978 Bronco. The accident occurred when a family of farm workers illegally crossed over a no-passing stripe to pass a car, and then swerved back and rolled over in an attempt to avoid hitting another car. Three members of one family were killed and two others were injured. Surviving members of that family also were awarded $6.2 million in compensatory damages. In seeking review by the California Supreme Court, Ford called the award "extreme and unconstitutional" noting that the $290 million in punitive damages was 63 times larger than the compensatory damages, and nearly triple the total profits made on worldwide sales of the 1978 Bronco.
Any award to the family would have been outrageous, since the accident clearly stemmed from irresponsible driving rather than a defect in the vehicle. The decision by California's high court already is affecting Ford's bottom line, and almost surely will result in more layoffs of assembly-line workers at some point. In late October, Ford CEO William Clay Ford Jr. announced plans to cut $1 billion in spending after reporting a third-quarter loss of $326 million. Such exorbitant awards also cost American consumers dearly. A study by the president's Council of Economic Advisers found that lax liability rules are costing the average U.S. consumer a staggering $1,854 in higher product prices each year.
Surely, it's time for Ms. Granholm and other Democratic candidates to make the economic connection between frivolous lawsuits and the devastation that is rocking America's manufacturing sector. Until they do, their claims to be the true defenders of the working class will ring fraudulently hollow.

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