Why do trial lawyers matter? Here's the answer.

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice

In today's Wall Street Journal, there is a great opinion article entitled "Why We Need Trial Lawyers" that answers all of the questions about trial lawyers.

The author points out that regulation is important to the creation of a level playing field for consumers, particularly with growing corporate power.  But regulation alone has never been enough.  Federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have long been swamped by large work loads.

Consider the FDA. By the mid-2000s, the FDA's caseload extended to more than 11,000 existing drugs a year, some 100 new drugs a year and a breadth of products from food to vaccines to medical devices that comprise 25% of all consumer spending.  A 2006 report on drug safety by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that the FDA could not ensure the safety of new prescription drugs. The FDA is only one example.

Product liability lawsuits have played a critical role in ensuring public safety, encouraging manufacturers to put safety first. A 1988 survey of 264 CEOs of manufacturing companies found that a third had improved their product lines as a result of the threat of litigation, 35% had improved product safety and 47% had improved warnings to consumers.

A case in point is Toyota.  We've  learned that car owner complaints were minimized or ignored by Toyota and by the regulatory agencies that were supposed to police the company. In one review of federal records, the Los Angeles Times found 2,600 complaints of sudden acceleration from 2000 to 2010 by Toyota and Lexus owners. According to CBS, recently released internal company documents indicate that as far back as 2005, Toyota was tracing its sudden acceleration problem to its software, not to floor mats.

However, for nearly a decade, neither Toyota nor federal regulators addressed the problem. Toyota is now likely to face a tide of class action lawsuits as consumers look to their only remedy: the courts.

Litigation has not only advanced public safety, but has encouraged improvement in products such as air bags, seat belts, child safety seats, tires, minivan doors, hot water vaporizers, children's pajamas, farm machinery, firearms, tampons, sleeping pills, pain medication, appetite suppressants and many more.

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