Big tobacco, insurance companies, and corporate interests are leading the tort reform charge.

Insurance companies, manufacturers of dangerous products and chemicals, the tobacco industry and other major industries have been engaged in a nationwide assault on the civil justice system. In nearly every state and in Congress, corporations and their insurers have waged a relentless campaign to change the laws that give sick and injured consumers the ability to hold their offenders responsible for the injuries they cause.

– Joanne Doroshow,
Executive Director,
The Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School

Tort reform advocates have worked diligently – and deceptively – to lend credibility to their argument by cloaking the special interests behind it. Big business, recognizing that their “plight” is less than sympathetic, have launched front groups of “concerned citizens” to champion its cause. Disguised as a grassroots movement of ordinary Americans concerned with protecting our courts from frivolous lawsuits, a coalition of insurance, pharmaceutical, and tobacco companies have attempted to influence a nation of potential jurors into anti-lawsuit crusaders.

The truth is that the tort reform battle is being waged by insurers and Fortune 500 companies that want to insulate their profits from lawsuits.

In 2000, the Center for Justice & Democracy released a report that uncovered the special corporate interests behind the “grassroots” tort reform movement. “The CALA Files: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights” studied Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups in 18 states. CALA groups advertised themselves as spontaneous outpourings of anger at an increasingly litigious society, but in reality, these groups were the brainchild of big business lobbyists.

Drawing on tobacco industry memos, public documents, and interviews, the report outlines how corporations bankrolled CALA groups in a scheme to manipulate the media, state legislatures, and the American public. Though CALA groups claimed to be “sustained by small donations from ordinary citizens, the money trail from many of these groups leads directly to large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations, and auto manufacturers.” In one year alone, Big Tobacco contributed $15 million to support various tort reform organizations.

The biggest and most influential tort reform organization is the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). Even though ATRA is a coalition of more than 300 major corporations and trade associations, it parades itself as a consumer protection think tank. Every year, ATRA releases pro-tort reform reports and lobbies for legislative changes to our court system. These “reports” are widely ridiculed for lack of empirical evidence.

Tort reform was created by the very people who stand to benefit from it. Offering radical solutions to imagined problems, corporate interests are trying to persuade jurors and legislators to sign away our rights to justice. Even though they use “ordinary Americans” as the mouthpiece for their campaign, ordinary Americans have the most to lose in the tort reform battle.

Now that you know who’s behind tort reform, debunk the myths in our Fact vs. Fiction section.