Ken Connor

"America needs more lawsuits. That's the message hundreds of plaintiffs' trial lawyers from across the country are taking to Capitol Hill this week as they lobby Congress to make it easier to bring more lawsuits." It was clear from the opening paragraph of Lisa Rickard's article "Lobbying for Lawsuits" (posted 10/3/07) that Town Hall readers were in for yet another trip into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's fantasy land, where "greedy trial lawyers" abuse the legal system with "frivolous lawsuits."

No one should be surprised that this latest excursion was led by Ms. Rickard. She is head of the Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform and its chief in-house advocate for measures to erode individuals' rights in the civil justice system.

But Ms. Rickard started this trip off on the wrong foot. The lawyers who were on Capitol Hill last week were there primarily to lobby members of Congress to support the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007, a bill that supports voluntary arbitration while preserving the constitutional guarantee of citizen access to the courts.

You see, what the Chamber of Commerce and its corporate members want is mandatory binding arbitration—the kind of arbitration that permanently precludes deserving individuals from ever seeking legal redress in the courts when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others.

As a trial lawyer who specializes in cases of nursing home abuse of the elderly, I am frequently confronted with the Chamber's model of arbitration in my practice. In many small communities across America, the elderly and their families often have only one nursing home conveniently available to them. Capitalizing on their monopoly, these facilities often require incoming residents (many of whom are demented, medicated or otherwise suffering from some form of diminished capacity) to check their rights at the nursing home door by waiving their right to receive justice through America's court system. No waiver of rights, no admittance! The alternative that's offered to residents who may suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of their caregivers is "mandatory binding arbitration," a system rigged in favor of nursing home owners. The owners provide a steady flow of business to those arbitrators who predictably "low ball" residents victimized by abuse or neglect. A tremendous boon to the corporate bottom-line, of course, but it has little to do with justice.

The elderly in nursing homes are not the only Americans affected by mandatory binding arbitration and the loss of their legal remedies to achieve justice.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.