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Tort reform

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Tort reform is a term propagated by companies -- such as those in the tobacco and asbestos industries -- vulnerable to legal actions seeking damages for the impacts of their products. Proponents use the term to refer to legislative measures designed to limit the ability and potential damages available to individuals who take legal actions against companies.

Tobacco industry involvement in creating the "Tort Reform Movement"

The so-called "Tort Reform Movement" started as an internal project of the Philip Morris (PM) tobacco company around 1992 and turned into a large-scale, corporate-funded effort led primarily by Philip Morris to alter the American judicial system in favor of big business. A privileged and confidential PM document titled Tort Reform Project Budget from 1995-96 shows how well-funded and ambitious PM's "Tort Reform" project was; it lists all the consultants, organizations, individuals and law firms the industry funded to promote alteration of the legal system in 1995-96.[1]

In 2002, the consumer advocacy organization Center for Justice & Democracy investigated the roots of the U.S. "tort reform" movement and found that the "movement" was actually a massive national PR effort initiated by the tobacco industry to reduce or eliminate exposure to liability law suits. The report was co-released by CJ&D and Public Citizen. [2] The tobacco industry enlisted the participation of other industries like chemical manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, automobile manufacturers, insurance companies and others to alter the U.S. system of laws ("tort") that give sick and injured consumers access the court system. The movement has been propelled ahead by massive tobacco industry funding; the same PM budget document reveals that the tobacco industry alone budgeted $21.8 million for the corporate tort reform effort in the single year of 1995.[3]

Part of PM's Tort Reform Project involved hiring the international public relations firm Apco Associates to clandestinely form local chapters of fake "grassroots citizen groups" called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALAs) in all 50 states. The groups have names like "Louisianans for Lawsuit Reform" and "Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse." R.J. Reynolds and PM placed money to pay for these efforts into a "coalition" account administered by the law firm Covington and Burling, and APCO Associates was paid almost $1 million in 1995 alone to implement these efforts, according to the previously-mentioned Budget. [4]

Another Philip Morris tort reform budget document from 1993 discusses the 1994 budget and written by David Laufer, PM's Regional Government Affairs Director. It states, "APCO has been setting up ... Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse chapters ... I would argue that it is important to continue because grass roots agitation for tort reform helps us to protect our interests in SB 241 [a tort reform bill before the California legislature]." [5]

CALAs implement phone banks, polling, direct mass mailings and other techniques aimed at generating apparent "grassroots pressure" on legislators to enact laws restricting people's access to the court system for injuries caused by products. Philip Morris and RJR continued to fund the CALA's activities by channeling the money to APCO through the law firm Covington and Burling (C&B).[6]

The tobacco industry has hidden its involvement in creating and perpetuating the so-called "tort-reform movement." A January 1995 "privileged and confidential" memo from Covington and Burling (a long-time tobacco industry law firm) states that, to be effective, media activities promoting tort reform "must not be linked to the tobacco industry."[7]

Yet another "highly confidential" 1994 Philip Morris memorandum titled "Turning Back the Tide" discusses the importance to the tobacco industry of hiding behind other companies in implementing tort reform efforts:

Our success in the tort battles in the past two years has resulted in part from our ability to find non-tobacco industry messengers to head the fight. Our success in battling [Florida-type Medicaid legislation] will come in part from our ability to [use] the more acceptable public face of key business association or coalition leaders."

The tobacco industry's efforts at tort reform became all the more urgent after Mississippi and Florida filed lawsuits seeking reimbursement of Medicare and Medicaid funds spent treating sick smokers.[8]

Tobacco industry documents on tort reform


PRWatch.org articles on tort reform

Other SourceWatch resources

External links

References

  1. Covington and Burling Tort Reform Project Budget Budget, chart, tables, graphs. October 3, 1995. Bates No. 2047648299/8307
  2. Public Citizen The CALA Files: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights Report. 67 pages. Undated; accessed August 17, 2009
  3. Covington and Burling Tort Reform Project Budget Budget, chart, tables, graphs. October 3, 1995. Bates No. 2047648299/8307 at page -8307
  4. J.K. Doss, K.A. Teel, Covington and Burling Budget Projections Letter. August 16, 1993. 5 pp. Bates No.2025773219/3223
  5. David Laufer, Philip Morris Tort Reform Budgets Memorandum. October 25, 1993. Bates No. 2048619562/9563
  6. J.K. Doss, K.A. Teel, Covington and Burling Budget Projections Letter. August 16, 1993. 5 pp. Bates No.2025773219/3223
  7. Keith Teel, Covington & Burling Possible Expanded Budget for Tort Reform Program Memo. January 24, 1995. 4 pp. Lorillard Bates No. 91881092/1095
  8. Neil Cohen, Chuck Wall TURNING BACK THE TIDE [Privlog: HANDWRITTEN NOTE PREPARED BY PHILIP MORRIS IN-HOUSE COUNSEL AND SENT TO FILE, PROVIDING LEGAL OPINION AS TO RAMIFICATIONS OF CERTAIN PIECES OF FLORIDA AND LOUISIANA LEGISLATION (REDACTED: P. 2047639169)] Memorandum. Formerly privileged content. 7 pp. June 12, 1994. Bates No.2047639169/9175
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