Limiting Lawsuits

December 19, 2008 • Volume 18, Issue 44
Is business pushing too hard to restrict litigation?
By Kenneth Jost


A wheelchair bound Mayola Williams in front of the Supreme Court (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Mayola Williams is fighting to keep the $79.5 million in punitive damages she won after her husband died from lung cancer after smoking cigarettes for more than 40 years. Williams' suit claimed Philip Morris had knowingly lied about the link between cigarettes and disease. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court for the third time. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Business groups are continuing their decades-long war with trial lawyers and consumer groups over the U.S. litigation system. Business lobbies led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce contend that companies are beset by lawsuits that are often unjustified, jury verdicts that may contradict federal regulations and punitive damage awards that may reach into the tens of millions of dollars. Trial lawyers and consumer groups claim that business interests exaggerate the number of suits and the frequency and size of jury awards. In addition, they contend that companies are simply seeking legal protection for wrongdoing that results in injuries to workers and consumers. The Bush administration has backed business in urging federal preemption of some state court suits in areas regulated by federal agencies, such as drug safety. The administration has been largely unsuccessful in pushing legal reforms through Congress, but President Bush's two Supreme Court appointees have strengthened the court's pro-business tilt on litigation issues.

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