Monday, October 23, 2006

The People v. Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman uses a classic propaganda technique in his recent commentary about the evils of class action lawsuits.

This time around, his weapon of choice is using a specific, worst-case scenario to imply a wider problem.

Specifically, Hyman attacks the courts of Madison County, Illinois, for their generally pro-plaintiff stance in class action lawsuits, a quality that has led a disproportionate number of such lawsuits to be filed there.

Hyman paints a picture of greedy trial lawyers growing rich while winning settlements that net individual plaintiffs only a few bucks each.

While there’s no doubt that lawsuits lacking merit have been filed, there’s also no doubt that companies have cheated and mistreated customers and employees. The class action lawsuit is one of the few ways such groups can hold corporate behemoths accountable.

Think of it this way: if you found out your bank, energy company, insurance company, etc. had been charging you a fishy “utilization fee” buried in your monthly statement that was nothing other than a way of squeezing a few more dollars out of you without you noticing, you’d be mad. But would you sue? Probably not, given that the few dollars a month you’ve been cheated out of wouldn’t even begin to pay for a lawyer.

So, as long as the cheating they do is minimal, corporations can safely rob customers of millions of dollars, as long as the pain is spread out enough to keep any one customer from filing suit against them.

The class action lawsuit changes this, allowing groups of customers to band together to fight companies. Given the nature of the offenses involved, it’s true that the actual rewards to individual consumers are often small, particularly when compared to the money taken in by the law firm representing them.

But that’s not a fair way of judging the fairness of the suit. A better way would be to measure the *total* amount of money won for all the plaintiffs, and also (and this is important) figure in the costs (real and opportunity costs) incurred by the law firm trying the case.

After all, corporations have deep pockets and can spend millions on lawyers to defend them and drag cases out for years. No law firm will be able to stand up for customers if there wasn’t a substantial reward for them.

Make no mistake: Hyman isn’t simply against the Madison County courts; he’s against class action suits that protect consumers’ rights. This is the attitude that’s behind the evergreen conservative talking point, “tort reform.” In fact, tort reform means stripping away the rights of consumers to hold corporations accountable when they are mistreated or cheated by them.

Why do conservatives favor taking rights away from consumers? Because in their cosmology, what’s good for the corporate world is an absolute good. All the talk about accountability and values go out the window when attention is turned toward corporations. When it comes to making a profit, conservatives believe in the ethic of “by any means necessary.”

And in the case of Hyman, it’s particularly understandable why he’d live in fear of consumers having the power to hold a company responsible. Can you imagine what would happen if Sinclair viewers banded together and brought a class action lawsuit against the company for abusing the public resource of the broadcast spectrum?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.88


At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for that to-the-point commentary and mentioning the ultimate Republican value: corporate profits at all (other) costs.

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, the banks are definitely guilty of illegal money creation schemes, as this was the reason for the class action lawsuit against Canadian banks.

I was fortunate enough to learn all this when I found the Federal Debt Relief System. More people need to be aware of this. They eliminated all my debt in 18 months without hurting my credit score.


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