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Rick Shapiro
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American Tort Reform Association: A Hack Organization That Consciously Misleads the Public About the Civil Justice System

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The American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) maintained its standing as the least reputable, overtly partisan, and highly deceptive special interest group in the U.S. with its release of an annual report of so-called “judicial hellholes.”

Newport News, Virginia made the watch list. I live in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, so the list (which I usually ignore due to the stench of deception emanating from the content) peaked my interest.

How does a court make the “hellhole” list? Well, ATRA allegedly reviews decisions coming out of courts across the country and does some sort of analysis where they can determine the court has applied laws and court procedures in an “unfair and unbalanced manner.” On page 56 of their report, ATRA points the finger at judges as the primary factor is assessing the “hellholeiness” of the court.

Here’s the truth: If a case is decided for the plaintiff (i.e. the victim) and not the corporate defendant (i.e., the tortfeasor), ATRA will probably put you on their hellhole list.

Why? Because ATRA is a hack organization funded exclusively by large corporations. They care only about protecting their corporate interests and that means fighting to restrict access to the civil justice system (which is embedded in the Constitution). For example, ATRA members have included representatives of the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto and pharmaceutical industries. Corporations like Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico and Nationwide have all supported ATRA at some point.

ATRA lobbies federal and state representatives for limits on class action law suits, a complete abolition of the legal rule of joint and several liability (i.e., if multiple parties commit an injury, they are all liable for the damages), and arbitrary caps on punitive and non-economic damages.

Not a single legislative initiative backed by ATRA would actually help a middle or low income individual who was harmed by another party’s negligence.

Why did Newport News now make the judicial hellhole list? Because plaintiffs exposed to asbestos have actually had a chance to take their case before juries in this jurisdiction and received favorable verdicts. ATRA points to the high percentage of verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in Newport News and decides that Newport News now is a hole to hell (but only in the judicial sense). ATRA never mentions that exposure to asbestos is deadly and was banned by the federal government decades ago. ATRA doesn’t seem to care that numerous workers exposed to asbestos are now battling with debilitating cancers and other diseases. They care about one thing and one thing only –- whether their corporate overlords are losing profit because they have to pay a jury verdict or settlement.

ATRA’s judicial hellhole list is a joke, a sham, and an embarrassment. It’s so blatantly disingenuous and one-sided that it’s almost comical. I say almost because there will be people who read ATRA’s report and actually believe we have some sort of crisis in the civil justice system. Nothing can be further from the truth, but that doesn’t matter to ATRA. Truth be damned; the corporate overlords must be satisfied.