Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Over the past two decades, special interest groups have waged a campaign designed to limit the average American’s access to the courts and particularly our right to a trial by jury in civil cases. This assault on our Civil Justice System was purportedly in response to claims of frivolous lawsuits, runaway jury verdicts, and jackpot justice. Our nation has long held dear its Civil Justice System as the finest in the world, providing those persons wronged by the act of an individual or the largest of corporations the opportunity to receive justice in the Civil Justice System. A jury’s award compensating an individual who has been wronged not only provides justice for that individual, but also serves as a means to prevent others from committing similar wrongful acts. Lawsuits filed against Ford Motor Company as a result of the “Exploding Pinto” cases forced Ford to redesign that vehicle, thereby saving lives. Lawsuits brought by injured persons are responsible for numerous safety features, now common in automobiles, highway design, and many consumer products. Such things as seatbelts, guardrails, and the safety valves on pressure cookers all came about when injured persons sought justice though our Civil Justice System.

Nearly every American would find it abhorrent if a person charged with a serious crime did not have the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. Today in Pennsylvania and in other states, legislators are continually limiting our right to trial by jury particularly in the Civil Justice System. The reasons given by many lawmakers who support restrictions on Americans’ access to Civil Justice are simply without foundation, in truth or fact. Personal injury lawsuits represent only 1.3% of all civil cases filed in the United States, yet many legislators would have you believe that personal injury lawsuits are clogging our legal system. In fact, according to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice, a well respected think tank, there has been a 52% decline in personal injury cases filed from 1992 to 2005, only 10% of persons injured by the negligent and wrongful act of another seek compensation and only 2% actually file lawsuits. Tort cases generally reflect only 6% of all cases filed in the United States Civil Courts. The frivolous lawsuit claim is simply a myth and does not exist.

The special interest publicity campaign designed to limit all Americans access to Civil Justice has been based on characterizations and exaggerations. The idea simply stated is that Corporate America can get a better deal if cases brought against large corporations are heard by Arbitrators and not common citizens that serve on juries. Ironically, in America today, a jury of your peers can decide whether you live or die, but in many states cannot decide whether you have a right to a refund when your health club suddenly shuts down, or you have been fired from your job without just cause.

Our Civil Justice System, including our right to a trial by jury, is one of the cornerstones of our free society. This system, existing for more than 200 years, has helped to transform America into a much safer and consumer friendly society. The agenda of special interest groups to limit our access is entirely self-serving, based upon fiction and not fact and, if successful, will have a far reaching effect on society. Everyone should be outraged when a person elected to the legislature thinks he or she is in a better position to settle our disputes or arrange for a professional arbitrator to do so and not those people who serve on juries, the same people who elected that legislator.

James T. Davis, Attorney at Law
107 East Main Street
Uniontown, PA 15401

No comments: