As trial lawyers, we are proud and often humbled to represent families who have had a loved one seriously injured or killed as a result of carelessness or recklessness. Our clients regularly inspire us with their life stories of courage and perseverance in their long roads of physical recovery, and in the legal process to recovery as well. When one's life has imploded due to someone's carelessness, trial lawyers are the ones to help pick up the pieces and fight to get one's life back.
We fight because we care deeply about safety and preventing senseless tragedies from recurring. Our members seek to ignite positive change in their communities by making sure the person or company that caused the harm changes their ways to prevent additional injuries from occurring.
Prevention is a trial lawyer's expertise. Almost every case involves showing how a tragedy should have been prevented in the first place.
In the real world, this has meant that some lawsuits have resulted in cars being recalled or refitted with safety equipment (Ford Pinto), prescription drugs being withdrawn from the market (Fen-Phen), and unsafe practices being changed (nursing homes increasing staff levels). Because of lawsuits, child car seats and strollers are safer, dangerous toys have been recalled, and Vioxx was pulled from the market because of the demonstrated increased risk of heart attacks.
It has been jurors, 12 ordinary citizens, sitting in courtrooms around the country who have addressed safety and prevention issues and what should be done in a particular case. This is the American way as guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Wisconsin Constitution.
But new laws are making it harder and harder for people to have their day in court and as a result Wisconsin citizens are less and less safe.
Right now "immunity" is a popular word around the Capitol. The Wisconsin Legislature has granted immunity to a wide variety of people and businesses over the past 25 years. It can be seen from the "castle doctrine" laws to shielding unreasonably dangerous conditions at ski hill operations. While immunity may be appealing on the surface, no one is thinking through the consequences. Immunity is a blank check to act unreasonably and can lead to serious injury or death without accountability.
Immunity removes the key incentive for research and development of methods and products that better protect the public's safety and health. If there are no consequences to unreasonable conduct or unsafe products, then our lives and the lives of our children are needlessly endangered.
So let's promote safety and prevention. The Legislature should stop providing immunity and allow juries, their constituents, to hold people and corporations accountable if they act unreasonably.
Christopher Stombaugh, of Platteville, is president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice.