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Statement by Joan Claybrook President, Public Citizen

April 15, 1998

Statement by Joan Claybrook President, Public Citizen

Tallahassee, Florida

Good morning. I?m Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a nationwide grassroots organization with more than 120,000 members. I have come to Tallahassee today to urge Gov. Chiles to summarily veto this bill and stand up to the greedy corporate bigwigs who are pushing this wholesale slaughter of our civil justice system. In all my years of public advocacy, this is one of the most sinister, odious pieces of anti-consumer legislation I have ever seen get passed by a legislative body.

The legislation currently being considered by the House and Senate conferees is the worst form of corporate welfare, because not only will it cost taxpayers, it will lead to untold human suffering and misery. And it is bad business for innocent tourists and your number-one industry. There is truly nothing good in this legislation, unless you are a greedy corporate mogul who wants to rake in even greater profits by stomping out the rights of innocent victims and escaping all accountability for your actions.

Please don?t refer to this bill in your stories as “tort reform.” Don?t fall into the web of lies that the big corporations and their spin-meisters have spun so carefully. Don?t deceive the people of Florida that way. This legislation is the License to Kill Bill.

This bill is the culmination of a well-organized, well-financed — and incredibly deceitful — drive by America?s largest corporations over the past 15 years to relieve corporate wrongdoers, manufacturers of defective products and hospitals of their accountability under the law. And believe it or not — rental car companies. We all know billionaire Wayne Huizenga has personally lobbied for this blockbuster trash heap to benefit his corporate empire. Unfortunately, $200,000 in campaign contributions can buy a lot of votes. But for the legislators it?s a pretty cheap price for selling out real access to the courts for the entire population of Florida.

This effort is clearly focused on dismantling, not improving our civil justice system. Call it what it is — a vicious attack on every resident and tourist in Florida. And for what? So out-of-state businesses like General Motors and DuPont can reap even greater profits at your expense? So a rental car tycoon like Huizenga can make another billion dollars by callously disregarding safety? So manufacturers of defective drugs and medical devices can get off scot free when their products maim and kill innocent people? So that operators of daycare centers, hotels, theme parks and restaurants can forget all about providing a safe and secure environment in which their patrons won?t be beaten, raped, robbed or mugged?

Rep. Jim King, the third ranking Republican in the House, got it right when he admitted in the Miami Herald last week that this bill is a quote payback to business interests who paid to elect this legislature in 1996. Is this what our representatives have become — prostitutes to those with the most money?

The stench rising from this bill is a black cloud hanging over the state of Florida. It weakens virtually every aspect of Florida?s tort system.

For instance, it would let drug and medical device companies who sell defective products off the hook simply because the Food and Drug Administration approved their products. Well guess what? These industries recently succeeded in ramming through Congress a bill that severely weakens the FDA?s ability to regulate their products. So they are attacking safety regulations in Washington and then in Florida saying we won?t pay for the human suffering our products cause — because they were approved by the federal government! With this law, we will see more medical disasters like the Dalkon shield, more drugs like DES, and more Bjork-Shiley heart valves.

What if you had bought a defective Ford Pinto? In Wayne?s World, if its gas tank exploded in a rear crash one single day past an arbitrary 12-year time period, you have no recourse.

In Wayne?s World, women, children and low-income workers are treated as second-class citizens, because this bill arbitrarily limits economic damages. It says that a housewife?s life is not as valuable as a rich executive?s.

In Wayne?s World, rental car companies can hand over the keys to dangerous, uninsured drivers knowing taxpayers will pick up the tab for costly medical care of innocent crash victims.

In Wayne?s World, there will be no incentive for corporations to behave responsibly, to ensure the products and services they provide are safe and sound.

If this bill passes into law, who will stand up for consumers? Who will punish wrongdoers? Who will keep unsafe products off the market?

The answers should be obvious — no one! And that?s exactly what this bill?s supporters want.

Thank you.