08192017Headline:

Vancouver, Washington

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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
Contributor •

Corporate bottom line and consumer safety

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Capitalism is good. Profit is good. Free enterprise is good. It seems we all want to make money and we all want to pay less for the things we buy. If a company can sell the same quality item cheaper than their competitor, why shouldn’t they? Especially if it means the competitor loses sales and they end up profiting as a result by selling even more of the discounted item. That’s the way our system operates. That’s the way America’s economy stays strong. So how do you sell an item for less than your competitor? You cut costs. You use cheaper materials. You use foreign labor. As long as the quality of the product is the same, why not? But what if it isn’t? What if cutting corners causes people to get hurt or sick using the product? Under our American system, you become responsible. And if you try to avoid responsibility, Americans have a right to use our justice system. A system that uses the collective wisdom of 12 ordinary citizens to apply the law and decide whether or not you should be responsible for making people sick or injured. The same 12 people we trust to decide life or death in a criminal case. The right to trial by jury is so important it is contained in our Bill or Rights and is a centerpiece of our American justice system. But many companies both foreign and domestic as well as their lobbying arm, the national Chamber of Commerce don’t like our system. They want to reduce your right to use the courts and reduce your right to have a jury decide justice. They want to create roadblocks and obstacles to your ability to seek damages when a company’s product makes you sick or injured. They even have an initiative on the Oregon ballot in November making it more difficult for you to hire a lawyer. Unlike corporate America, most consumers can’t afford to hire a lawyer by the hour. The only way to compete with a large corporation with an unlimited legal war chest is through the contingent fee system. A system where you and you lawyer agree to pay the lawyer a percentage of what you recover, in most cases a third. The lawyer is paid noting of you lose. He also has to invest his own money into the case to pay for all the court costs and expert witness fees necessary to put on a trial. Fees that often go into the many thousands of dollars and which most consumers can’t afford to invest in the case. And if the case is lost, the lawyer not only ends up working for free, his investment is lost too. But an initiative brought to Oregon voters in 2008 will reduce what you can agree to pay your lawyer on a contingent fee. It will set an artificial limit of 10% for any contingent fee after the first $25,000 recovered. The reason we need this law? Backers say it’s needed to put more money in the victim’s pocket and reduce frivolous lawsuits. And who are the backers? Coalitions of consumer groups? People made sick or injured by companies that cut too many corners to make a profit? Just the opposite. Business groups and insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, product manufacturers and companies that make consumer items overseas using cheap labor. Companies who can afford lots of lawyers and can pay unlimited legal fees to try and avoid responsibility if you sue. Companies who don’t want any limit on what they can spend on legal fess, just on what you can spend. The same companies that are responsible for 25 million toys being recalled because they are laced with lead paint. The ones who imported 1 million tubes of toothpaste containing anti-freeze and 60 million cans of pet food peppered with rat poison. I guess they must have your best interests at heart.