Robin Hood is alive in court, say those seeking lawsuit limits

USA Today
Monday, March 8, 2004

For doctors, drugmakers and sellers of everything from tobacco to frozen chickens, America's civil justice system can seem like Sherwood Forest.

But advocates for consumer lawsuits counter that the threat of big-money penalties is the best way for U.S. consumers to discourage misbehavior and neglect by corporations. Lawyers in Madison County, where many residents have factory jobs, point to cases such as that of a plant worker who got a large settlement after he was severely burned by molten copper.

But liberal groups say pushing such cases into federal courts would stack the deck against consumers because federal courts have more restrictive rules for class actions.

"Federal courts are a judicial hellhole for consumers," says Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer group Public Citizen. She and other consumer advocates note that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago recently denied class-action status to people who allegedly were harmed when Firestone tires blew out on their Ford Explorer SUVs.

The campaign against big consumer lawsuits being waged by pro-business groups is designed to "turn the American public's mind against the civil justice system and to breed fear, anger and contempt about plaintiffs' rights to go to court," says Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy in New York City.
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