Who Says My Baltimore Is a Judicial Hellhole?

There is an entity called the American Tort Reform Association. It says that its primary purpose is “to educate the general public about: how the American civil justice system operates; the role of tort law in the civil justice system; and the impact of tort law on the public, private and business sectors of society.”

Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? That sounds like it might be something good for society. Well, I was educated in Catholic Schools, and one thing I was taught was to be skeptical and to consider the source of the information I am given. So let’s see- who are the nice folks that make up the ATRA?

According to the ATRA website, here are some of the members: The American Medical Association, State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, Medical Mutual Insurance, Pfizer, Physician Insurers Association of America, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, American Trucking Associations, and Wyeth, among others.

See any consumer groups? Nope. How about representatives of victims of dangerous drugs or medical malpractice? Yeah, me either. It looks like the members seem to be comprised of giant insurance companies, big business, doctors’ insurers and associations, and pharmaceutical and manufacturing giants. Totally unbiased, I’m sure.

The ATRA publishes a yearly list of “Judicial Hellholes.” This must be part of the “education” the ATRA offers the public.

The 2008 list includes Baltimore, Maryland as a jurisdiction on the “Watch List”. This is because of high verdicts in Asbestos and Lead Paint cases, and because Baltimore personal injury lawyers are challenging Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages. There is no mention of the horrific injuries leading to these verdicts. There is no mention that asbestos manufacturers knew their products were harmful, or of the hundreds of millions of dollars they made on the backs of the workers they poisoned. Or of the slum landlords repeatedly renting dwellings containing hazardous lead paint while they hide behind corporate entities that own only one run down building. Or of the horrifically injured who are deprived of their constitutional right to a jury trial by Maryland’s unjust damages caps.

You’re right. I’m not exactly unbiased. But I’m not out here pretending to be anything but what I am: a Baltimore personal injury lawyer who fights on the side of the average person against the business and insurance giants that make up the ATRA. But do me a favor and consider both sides before you reach a conclusion on issues involving legal reform.

Every verdict the ATRA complains about was rendered by a jury of six regular people from Baltimore. These juries are made up of us. The ATRA is saying the people of Baltimore, Maryland can’t be trusted to do the right thing in deciding the lawsuits that they are asked to judge. The ATRA advocates taking these decisions away from regular people and limiting the decisions juries are allowed to make.

The right to a fair trial by jury is so fundamental in the United States that it is written into the Constitution. Wake up. If the founding fathers trusted us to do the right thing, why is big business trying to take that away? Go ahead, don’t believe me. But check the facts on both sides- Keep an eye out for a press release on this issue by Wayne Willoughby, President of the Maryland Association for Justice.