United Corporations of America

Watched a fabulous HBO documentary, “Hot Coffee,” on Monday night.  If you don’t have HBO, get this in your Netflix queue.  Seriously.

It uses the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit (what you think you know is probably wrong) as a jumping off point to look at tort reform.  Basically, companies have decided they don’t want to be held accountable for gross negligence of malfeasance, so they have convinced must states to put caps on lawsuits while decrying the scourge of “frivolous lawsuits.”  Here’s the thing: frivolous lawsuits don’t get $2 million settlements; they get thrown out by a judge.  If you’re getting $2 million, chances are pretty good you deserved it (i.e. McDonald’s ignored over 700 complaints that their coffee was too hot and the victim had unbelievably nasty burns– they show them).  In Nebraska, if a doctor makes a mistake that means you’ll need $5 million in life-time medical expenses, tough luck.  $1.25 million cap no matter what.  Ain’t that nice for the insurance companies.  In a number of states, Appeals courts have declared these caps to be in violation of state Constitutions.  Next step?  Run incredibly well-funded and scurrilous campaigns to take advantage of the absurd fact that most states rely on elections for their judges.  And, when all else fails, have people sign contracts for binding arbitration in which case, you the company, choose the arbitrator and the victim losing all other legal recourse.  Oh, and the arbitrators basically always side with the company or they never work in arbitration again.  If you are Halliburton subsidiary KBR, you can just house a young women in a dormitory in Iraq with hundreds of men, ignore her complaints about harrassment, “lose” the rape kit, and then lock her up after she reports that she’s been drugged and brutally raped.  And she has no legal recourse beyond KBR’s arbitrator.

Welcome to the United Corporations of America.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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