Thanks to constant political oratory against "frivolous lawsuits" and "jackpot justice" it is widely known that there's a legal crisis in this country. President Bush never misses an opportunity to call for laws that would bring more "common sense" to a legal system that, he claims, is out of control, wrecking the economy, driving doctors out of their practices, bankrupting small businesses, and costing American jobs. Journalists repeat the charges without examining them. As a result, the lawsuit issue has moved to the political front burner, and in the past three years, state after state has responded by limiting citizens' rights to sue. Just this year alone, the Republicanled Congress has passed restrictions on class action lawsuits and is steps away from enacting limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. But is there really a crisis? National data show that the number of civil suits is falling, not rising, and that the average damage award is also going down. Despite intense media hype to the contrary, the number of personal injury lawsuits filed every year has been tumbling for the past decade. Upon closer examination, the stories of ridiculous lawsuits usually turn out to be false or badly misleading. The crisis, in short, appears to be a phantom. So how do we explain the scary headlines? Who's behind the "tort reform movement" and what are the real goals? Blocking the Courthouse Door will show that the movement against so-called greedy trial lawyers and irresponsible plaintiffs is the result of a concerted and successful campaign by large corporations to get this issue on the table and thus limit their own vulnerability in the civil justice system. They have spent decades, and many millions of dollars, on focus groups and Madison Avenue public relations research. They have funded institutes, sponsored academic research, bankrolled politicians
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Stephanie Mencimer is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly. She was previously an investigative reporter for The Washington Post and a staff writer for Legal Times. A native of Ogden, Utah, and a graduate of the University of Oregon, Mencimer won the 2000 Harry Chapin Media Award for reporting on hunger and poverty.
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