By Martin Bosworth
You’re probably familiar with the case of Roy Pearson vs. the Chung cleaners over a pair of damaged pants that were allegedly worth $54 million. Here’s a recap for those who don’t know what the current state of affairs is.
The Chungs now owe over $100,000 in legal costs from the suit, which Pearson is refusing to pay pending appeal. So there are fundraisers being held to pay for their expenses. Sounds great, right? Perfectly noble.
But if you look closer, all’s not what it seems.
The major Chung fundraiser is being underwritten by the Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest and fervently anti-consumer lobby groups around. If you’re wondering why it is that every contract you sign–from cell phone contracts to homeowner agreements – has a clause in it that prevents you from suing for damages and being forced into expensive one-on-one negotiations with the other side, well, you can thank the Chamber for their efforts.
Under the guise of wanting to rein in “frivolous lawsuits” and the like, the Chamber and its astroturf allies have done everything in their power to restrict, limit, or outright destroy the right of consumers to sue for fraud, malpractice, or damages:
Malpractice â€œreformsâ€ are only the thin end of the wedge for a much bigger agenda. Lined up behind the doctors are most of the Fortune 500, a formidable coalition led by insurance and tobacco companies, far-right think tanks and dozens of well-heeled pressure groups, many of them fronts for corporate interests. Buoyed by the conservative tide flowing through the country, this coalition has stepped up the pressure to enact damage caps and other measures. Before unleashing its campaign ads, the Chamber of Commerce had already poured $100 million into an antilawsuit lobbying and publicity blitz that claimed product liability suits add a â€œtort taxâ€ of $809 per person every year to the cost of goods and services. Stories highlighting the lawsuit abuse â€œproblemâ€ have become a staple in Readerâ€™s Digest and the newsweeklies.
Think about this when you hear about pet food recalls, data breaches, asbestos leaks, birth control failures–these are things that can literally harm and kill thousands, and without the power to seek redress in a court of law, people are essentially left to just shut up and take it. Every time you bitch and moan about “frivolous lawsuits,” you need to ask yourself what you would do when it happens to you.
Luckily, both that LiveJournal audience and the readers of DCist were savvy enough to see that the Chungs’ plight–which is legitimate and undeserved by any standard–is now being converted into a right-wing talking point, and the CoC fundraiser is being underwritten by unsavory elements like local D.C. right-wing rag The Examiner and conservative blog Townhall.com.
Extreme cases like Roy Pearson’s mania should not be used as an excuse to dismantle the rights of Americans to demand accountability from business. It’s not enough to simply say you’ll shop elsewhere. Not when your pets die, your babies are harmed, when you’re at risk for cancer, or you lose your life savings to data thieves–or any one of a million other wrongs that would not be redressed if we couldn’t get our day in court.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not point out that not only are trial lawyers a huge bastion of support for Democratic campaigns, but that John Edwards himself was a successful trial lawyer before running for the Senate. Anything that would limit Democratic power bases is something the GOP goes for–so attacking Dem supporters using “tort reform” is a major part of the playbook.
So if you want to support the Chungs, don’t let yourself be fooled into handing over money to an organization devoted to making your life miserable. Give to them directly, or if you’re in D.C., stop by and throw some business their way.