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WHAT BIG OIL PROFITS CAN BUY

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By John Bisnar
Outrage hit a fever pitch when Exxon Mobil released its latest record quarterly profits. There was no denying that the results Exxon posted amount to a lot of cash.

But where do they spend it all?

Here’s one source: funding phony think tanks that advocate eliminating the minimum wage, deny global warming, and hope to prevent Americans from receiving justice through the legal system.

Look no further than San Francisco based Pacific Research Institute (PRI). Like other “tort reform” groups, PRI’s funding comes from tobacco, oil, and drug corporations, according to past public donor lists. All have spent millions of dollars to close the doors of the civil justice system, or at a minimum, stack the deck against everyday Americans if they do get in.

PRI has concocted yearly studies that purport to rank state legal climates or put a value on the justice system. The legitimacy of this fiction was illustrated by the 2008 edition, where PRI cited themselves or other tort reform groups no less than 34 times in the footnotes.

Thankfully, serious objective academics reviewed one of PRI’s reports. Three law professors concluded that their claims are “without scientific merit and present a very misleading picture of the American tort system and its costs.”

The professors leveled several criticisms on PRI’s report, calling it “advocacy disguised as science,” “pure fiction,” “lack[ing] scientific merit,” and containing “highly dubious extrapolations.” Additionally, they discovered that none of the statistics or figures were from academic publications or peer reviewed by independent experts. PRI’s assertion that Americans are paying a “tort tax” also holds no water; its origins are a discredited insurance industry appraisal.

It is obvious that PRI went to incredible lengths to dupe the public into believing their research was legitimate and genuine. But why do they care so much about the legal system?

Ultimately, PRI serves at the behest of its financers. Not only are oil, drug, and tobacco corporations footing PRI’s bills, but they are notorious for injuring consumers while resisting every effort to be held accountable for their actions. By funding phony research that says our legal system is broken, seeds are being planted to let corporate wrongdoers operate without accountability.

Tort reformers will say that an “out of control” legal system is hurting small businesses and responsible for all of America’s ills. This is nonsense. Without our tort system to hold them accountable, one can only imagine the potential shenanigans of negligent corporations.

Here are the facts. Stories of “frivolous lawsuits” are largely fiction devised to create a problem that doesn’t exist. Surveyed judges do not view “frivolous lawsuits” as a problem. A real problem: “frivolous defenses” that wrongdoers and insurance companies employ to deny and delay justice for deserving victims.

A recently released survey from the National Federation of Independent Business of over 3,000 small business owners ranks “costs of lawsuits” 65th in a list of their top 75 concerns. “Tort reform” will only protect giant corporations that are negligent, and leave the rest of us holding the bag.

Everyone deserves a level playing field when seeking justice through the legal system, even when taking on the most powerful corporations. Don’t let Pacific Research, Big Oil, or anyone else tell you otherwise.

John Bisnar is the founder of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys law firm and the editor of California Injury Blog.

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