Posts Tagged ‘access to justice’

You’ve probably heard members of Congress spouting off lately about how the imposition of caps on medical malpractice payouts in Texas has been so great.

Well, those lawmakers are wrong.  Public Citizen today released a report showing that the caps have failed to improve the health care system.

Not only has the percentage of uninsured people in Texas increased — remaining the highest in the country, with a quarter of Texans now uninsured — but the cost of health insurance in Texas has more than doubled.

So no, we don’t want to do as Texas did.

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Jamie Leigh Jones

That’s right, more than 125,500 signed our petition to demand an end to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying against Sen. Franken’s (D-Minn.) amendment to bar defense contractors like Halliburton/KBR from forcing employees with sexual assault and discrimination claims into arbitration.

Public Citizen, along with MoveOn.org, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Consumer Action, Workplace Fairness, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Take Back Your Rights PAC, Alliance for Justice and the Jamie Leigh Foundation, sent the following petition to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue:

Defense contractors routinely force their employees to give up their legal rights to press charges if they are sexually assaulted on the job. I urge the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stop lobbying in favor of this terrible practice and to stop protecting rapists.

It’s a horrifying story that began with Jamie Leigh Jones’ rape and subsequent denial of justice. Sen. Franken championed the amendment on behalf of Jones and others like her, and the grassroots support from Public Citizen and others was impossible to ignore. 

Now the amendment is on its way to restoring victims’ rights against and defense contractors’ shadowy attempts to conceal these injustices.

If the Franken amendment passes in the defense funding bill, it means that U.S. contractors must allow victims of sexual assault and discrimination to take their claims to court – a right that has been systematically denied to them through a forced arbitration clause slipped into their employment contracts (along with workers in numerous other sectors ).

Finally, workers who are victims of these injustices will be able hold the defense contractors who employ them accountable.

Nevertheless, the fight is far from over for the millions of other workers, consumers, home owners, patients and others who are e stripped of  their right to go to court just by using a product or service, or taking a job.

Nobody should have to give up their right to go to court if harmed by a company as a condition for a contract. Congress now needs to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act  (H.R. 1020 / S. 931) and end forced arbitration once and for all.

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New numbers from the Medical Liability Monitor show that 94 percent of medical malpractice insurance premiums have remained steady or dropped. Maggie Mertens over at NPR’s Shots Health Blog observes that the timing of this release is bad news for efforts to slip “tort reform” into the federal health care package.

No doubt it will be (and should be) tough to muster the political will to “rein in” costs that have remained constant or dropped for more than four years. Our recent report showed that the number of malpractice payments from medical providers to patients have fallen to a record low. If doctors’ liability insurance costs and medical malpractice payouts are both falling, Congress should be asking who the losers are in this system. Hint: It’s not the medical or insurance industries.

Between three and seven Americans die from medical errors for every one who receives a payment for any malpractice claim. The fact of the matter is it’s the medical errors that need to be reined in, not the claims. Congress should avoid the “tort reform” distractions and focus on real solutions to real problems, such as the decline of patient safety. Maybe if Congress sought to eliminate the epidemic of medical errors through simple important safety measures, then everyone would benefit.

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By now, you’ve probably heard about the story of Jamie Leigh Jones. In 2005, she was working for a Halliburton subsidiary in Iraq when she was gang-raped by coworkers. Four years later, Jamie is still being denied justice.

Jamie can’t pursue justice in criminal court because the rape took place overseas, and a forced arbitration clause in her contract takes away her right to file a lawsuit in the U.S. Big corporations, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have worked for years to prevent workers from suing their employers in almost any circumstance, even sexual assault, by inserting forced arbitration language into their contracts. No one should ever be forced into arbitration just by taking a job.

Sign our petition telling the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stop opposing the rights of rape and discrimination victims!

Concerned activists like you helped urge lawmakers to pass Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3326). The Franken Amendment would prevent defense contractors from requiring their employees to sign away their rights, ending once-and-for-all the practice of covering up sexual assault and discrimination claims by forcing them into arbitration.

But, shockingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fighting the Franken Amendment. It sent a letter to Congress saying that it would “set a dangerous precedent” to allow rape victims into court. Sign our petition telling the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stop opposing the rights of victims of rape and discrimination! Go to http://www.fairarbitrationnow.org.

Jamie has teamed up with organizations like Public Citizen, MoveOn.org, and others to end this injustice. Congress is still finalizing the defense appropriations bill, and considering whether to keep the Franken Amendment. Meanwhile the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is waging a massive lobbying campaign.

Don’t let the Chamber of Commerce kill the Franken Amendment! Stand up for victims of sexual assault and discrimination. Then, forward this petition to your friends so we can deliver a strong message to the Chamber of Commerce and Congress.

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In Virginia, there is a special word for being victimized by medical malpractice – being “Plotnicked.” Virginia doctor Stephen Plotnick became so notorious for injuring patients that his name is now the word for what happens when doctors make mistakes. It is shocking that any doctor could earn such a shameful tribute without being stopped first. But the Virginia Board of Medicine failed to suspend Plotnick’s medical license until after five patients died on his watch and he was sued six times.

The medical profession suffers from a lack of accountability on more mundane matters as well.

In last month’s New England Journal of Medicine, Drs. Robert Wachter and Peter Pronovost write that physicians frequently neglect simple practices such as hand washing. They attribute this failure to “lax enforcement of safety rules.”

The need for enforcement could hardly be greater. In the 17 years since the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank was created to track reports of doctor discipline, nearly 50 percent of U.S. hospitals have failed to submit a single report, according to a Public Citizen study. The deficient reporting stems mostly from hospitals failing to (more…)

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The following letter was published Thursday, October 29, in the Washington Post. Stand up to Halliburton, and sign our petition!

In her Oct. 25 column, Kathleen Parker defended the 30 GOP senators who opposed Al Franken’s amendment to the defense appropriations bill. The amendment would restore access to justice for individuals who are sexually assaulted or harassed while working for defense contractors. Under current law, many defense contractors can use the fine print of employment contracts to strip employees of the right to go to court — even if the employees are assaulted by co-workers in a lawless environment permitted by the employer.

Ms. Parker first argues that contractors might not know what is in their subcontractors’ employment contracts. But that problem is easily solved — by requiring disclosure of the contracts.

Ms. Parker then argues that Congress should prohibit binding arbitration for criminal cases. We could hardly agree more, which is why we support the Arbitration Fairness Act, a bill that would end binding arbitration for all employees and consumers. At the same time, we also urge Congress to pass Mr. Franken’s amendment. That the amendment makes needed progress without ending forced arbitration for every American is no reason to oppose it.

David Arkush, Washington
The writer is director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

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Jamie Leigh Jones

By now, you are probably aware of an amendment to a bill funding the Department of Defense that would prohibit the U.S. government from doing business with defense contractors who deny employees who have been raped or sexually assaulted, like Jamie Leigh Jones, the right to hold them accountable in court. This amendment, introduced by Senator Al Franken, passed the Senate 68-30, with all 30 “no” votes coming from Republicans. The vote has received a great deal of attention and prominent commentators have both criticized and defended these 30 Republican senators for their votes (mostly criticizing).

But the bill has yet to become law – the House and the Senate still need to agree on final language – and there is troubling news coming from Washington. The Department of Defense initially opposed the amendment on the floor, and has cited problems with “enforcement.” The White House has kicked this issue over to the Pentagon and has said little more publicly than that they support “the intent of the amendment,” though it’s unclear exactly what that means. There were also early reports that the provision might be weakened in Congress.

The amendment is currently in limbo, but we need to ensure that it is not removed or weakened. Senator Franken’s amendment is important to the untold number of women who have already been (more…)

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