CAOC Takes on Governor's Tort-Reform Tactics
 
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempts to drag his tort-reform proposals into the budget process drew a sharp rebuke from the Consumer Attorneys of California during a Senate Budget Committee hearing Feb. 3.
 
Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), the committee chairwoman, and other members of the panel questioned Schwarzenegger’s efforts to use the budget process to push through fundamental changes in California’s system of civil justice.
 
Nancy Drabble, CAOC CEO and Chief Lobbyist, told the committee that there is no explosion of civil litigation brought by consumers who have been wronged.
 
She cited a report by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts that found the number of civil filings stands at half what it was a decade ago. In addition, Drabble noted, the number of class action cases is only one-half of one percent of all unlimited civil filings.
 
Drabble also noted that dramatic changes in the tort system could have unforeseen costs to society and California taxpayers. Consumer litigation helps deter the sale of dangerous products and encourages innovation. It also ensures that the costs of care for injured consumers are borne by businesses that commit wrongdoing instead of the taxpayers.
 
Advocates of dramatically altering California’s civil justice system told lawmakers that “frivolous lawsuits” are costing the state jobs in places like Los Angeles and the Bay Area – but that claim drew a swift rejection from Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
 
After tort-reform advocates suggested that San Francisco is plagued by lawsuits, Leno noted that despite the economic downturn the Bay Area remains one of the most vibrant economies in the nation and its cities have the lowest unemployment numbers in the state.
 
Recent surveys of businesses big and small around the nation have found that lawsuits simply aren’t the big worry for captains of commerce that tort reformers suggest. A study by the National Assn. of Manufacturers ranked lawsuits dead last among top problems for business, while a survey by the National Federal of Independent Business put litigation 65th out of 75 concerns.