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Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
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Big Business vs. The Little Guy

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It never ceases to amaze me how big insurance companies and corporations do everything in their power to prevent people from being able to make injury claims when they get hurt.

Big businesses use all of their money and leverage to try to pay as little as they can get away with paying in all regards. One of the easiest things for them to do is to limit the rights of regular citizens, “the little guy.” One example of how big companies take advantage of consumers to prevent justice in personal injury cases is called “federal preemption.” What happens is that an industry like the railroad industry gives lots of money to President Bush for his reelection. Then, once he is in office, the railroads have him put friends of theirs in charge of the federal agencies charged with regulating railroads. Typically, these are hand-selected people who used to work for the railroads. Now, the agency puts in a bunch of language in the regulations saying that you cannot bring a case against the railroads in state court, even when they dump toxic chemicals, but can only bring your case in a federal court, thereby limiting the injured person’s access to court. Further, the preemption doctrine is used to say that you cannot even bring some kinds of claims under state law because the industry controlled agency has already made rules favorable to the railroad and does not want anyone else to have a say in consumer safety. This kind of special treatment for big business to get corporations out of responsibility for their actions harming people is routine.

Another example of the well off, special interest groups feathering their nests to the detriment of regular individuals comes in the context of medical malpractice cases. Here, if a doctor testifies in favor of an injured person that another doctor or hospital violated the standard of care in their treatment of the patient, then the big medical associations go after that doctor. This has happened in various places in the country where the medical associations gang up to harass and punish medical experts who are willing to testify against other doctors. The punishments include loss of staffing privileges at hospitals and expulsion from medical societies. The doctor groups do this to prevent anyone from breaking the code of silence about medical errors. Any doctor brazen enough to help individual families who are hurt by medical mistakes is risking his own livelihood and reputation by taking on the medical establishment. This makes it much harder to find good experts to testify on behalf of injured people in these cases, thereby limiting injured families’ access to justice.

What can you do? As far as the preemption issue, you can elect government officials who are in favor of consumer and worker rights, typically Democrats. You can go to doctors who are true patient advocates and take the time to listen and help their patients. Finally, when you hear other people criticizing the civil justice system over phantom problems like “frivolous lawsuits”, you can educate yourself and others that cases involving compensating individuals for wrongful death and injury is not a significant problem, as the jury system works reasonably well.