NEW YORK -- March 9, 2001 -- Lawsuits brought by injured consumers have saved millions of lives and prevented innumerable injuries, according to a major new report released today by the Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D). Joanne Doroshow, CJ&D's Executive Director, said the report, Lifesavers: CJ&D's Guide to Lawsuits That Protect Us All, examines over 80 personal injury lawsuits, each of which led to major safety improvements benefiting large numbers of people. Said Doroshow, "Time and again, lawsuits have caused culpable manufacturers, polluters, hospitals and other entities to stop their negligent behavior or misconduct."
Said Doroshow, "The report's release coincides with renewed national attention on so-called 'tort reform'--laws that immunize corporations from lawsuits, considered one of George W. Bush's pet issues. Corporate lobbyists are swarming Congress and state legislatures around the country, asking lawmakers to block injured consumers' access to court by claiming personal injury lawsuits are ' frivolous' or 'lack common sense.' Lifesavers stands as irrefutable evidence that far from 'lacking common sense,' lawsuits save lives, and we as a society would suffer tremendously if our civil justice system were weakened in any significant respect."
Lifesavers' co-author Emily Gottlieb called Lifesavers, "the most comprehensive compilation ever assembled of lawsuits that have led to specific safety improvements benefiting large segments of the population. It includes cases that have resulted in the redesign or recall of a product, a changed hospital procedure, a safer workplace, a more secure public area, the bankruptcy of a hate group or a cleaner environment. And because we know there are thousands of additional cases out there, we hope to publish annual updates of Lifesavers in future years."
Among the cases examined in Lifesavers are the following:
- A 23-month-old baby suffered permanent brain damage and paralysis after his shirt became entangled on his crib's corner-post knob and he choked. As a result of this case, the crib can no longer be made or sold.
- A 22-year-old civilian employee of the United States at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was thrown from a lawn mower while cutting grass, causing an arm injury and finger amputation. After the verdict, the company recalled and retrofitted the lawn mower.
- A 79-year-old woman was crushed to death after a Home Depot forklift operator knocked over lumber and other merchandise stacked above her. After the case, Home Depot announced plans to change its merchandise-stacking policies.
- A 41-year-old testicular cancer patient with a 90 to 95 percent survival rate died after receiving a chemotherapy dosage four times the correct amount. After the case, the hospital implemented new policies to ensure that doctors and nurses better document and cross-check medication orders.
- A 15-year-old high school freshman baseball player was raped with a broomstick by classmates during a hazing ritual. As part of the settlement, the school district implemented a strict anti-hazing policy and yearly training for coaches and vice principals.
- A running escalator in a Philadelphia subway station tore off the foot of a four-year-old child; the case led the transit authority to fix all broken escalators and to change the way it handled accident investigations.
- A 78-year-old woman, admitted to a nursing home for short-term hip and wrist rehabilitation, died after suffering severe pressure sores, malnourishment and dehydration. As part of the settlement, the company changed its patient monitoring and care procedures in each of its 65 nursing homes.
- Three employees of the Union Butterfield/Dormer Tools plant in North Carolina were killed by a former employee on a shooting rampage. After a lawsuit, the company instituted new security measures, and architects now design facilities with limited secured access to lobby and front office areas.
Doroshow said, "Lifesavers also underscores the fact that an incalculable amount of money is saved as a direct result of the deterrence function of lawsuits -- injuries prevented, health care costs not expended, wages not lost and so on. Some have estimated this savings to be perhaps a trillion dollars a year. The right to sue is a precious, constitutional right which benefits us all, whether or not we ever go to court."