Access to Justice Key Reports
Medical Malpractice Payments Rose Slightly in 2013 as Liability Insurance Costs Declined
October 22, 2014
Both the number and cumulative value of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors increased slightly in 2013, marking the first such increase a decade, according to a new report released by Public Citizen. Medical liability insurance rates, which are not precisely tied to claims data and may lag behind payment trends, continued to decrease. Read the report.
Cases That Would Have Been: Three Years After AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, Claims of Corporate Wrongdoing Continue to Pile Up
May 1, 2014
In the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past three years, consumers, workers and others harmed by unfair fine print in contracts are increasingly being shut out of the courthouse, a new Public Citizen and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) report shows.The report identifies 140 cases affecting thousands of consumers or employees over the past three years where a court enforced an arbitration clause and barred the claimants from participating in class actions. Read the report.
Righting a Financial Wrong: Debt Settlement Services, Private Student Lenders, and Auto Lenders Use Forced Arbitration to Escape Accountability When They Harm Consumers
February 27, 2014
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in December 2013 released preliminary results of a study called for in the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on financial services businesses’ use of arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. Such terms, or forced arbitration, call for disputes to be settled before a private arbitrator instead of in a court of law, and usually prohibit consumers from pursuing cases as a class.
The Bureau can make these industry sectors answerable for some of their shady practices by restoring consumers’ ability to enforce their rights on their own. The Bureau has the authority to write a rule to require the regulated consumer financial services industry to eliminate predispute binding mandatory (or forced) arbitration from consumer transactions involving all products under its jurisdiction. Read the report.
Private Actions, Public Benefits: Private Litigation Aids Public Enforcement of Consumer Protection Laws
September 20, 2013
When functioning effectively, private and public action form an effective, complementary enforcement system that provides multiple levels of remedies for consumers. Private lawsuits often provide relief to consumers who have been defrauded or mistreated, while public actions provide both relief to consumers and result in systemic changes that prevent future abuses. State officials have acknowledged that private litigation—particularly class action litigation—is an essential tool that complements their enforcement work.
However, business practices limiting the rights of consumers, coupled with recent Supreme Court decisions that have given businesses significant latitude to use such practices, threaten the ability of private actions to deliver compensation to consumers. This report reviews four examples in which private actions seeking damages for harms caused by violations of consumer protection laws were mirrored by successful litigation by state attorneys general or other public entities. Read the report.
No Correlation: Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs
August 6, 2013
A decade after reaching their peak, the quantity and cumulative value of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors were at their lowest level on record in 2012, according to a new Public Citizen analyzing data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).The facts surrounding the prevalence of medical malpractice litigation are important for several reasons, the report contends.
Medical malpractice has been singled out by many in Congress as the culprit for rising health care costs. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have made it a perennial priority to pass legislation what would restrict patients’ ability to seek redress in court. The facts clearly contradict contentions that malpractice litigation significantly influences health care costs. Since 2003, medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent, yet national health care costs are up 58.2 percent.Lawmakers intent on serving their constituents should focus on reducing the errors that lead to litigation, not reducing accountability for the errors. Read the report.
Armed Forces and Forced Arbitration: Despite Efforts, the Fine Print Still Casts a Shadow on Financial Protections for Military Members
October 8, 2012
Predatory lending is a widespread problem affecting millions of consumers. Due to unique circumstances, the U.S. military in particular has compelling reasons for shielding its service members from unscrupulous financial products and services. The Department of Defense has observed that pre-dispute binding mandatory (or "forced") arbitration clauses, present in most lending and credit contracts, inhibit service members’ ability to resolve disputes and seek remedies for lenders’ misconduct. The most effective solution to address forced arbitration for military borrowers is a law or regulation that covers all consumers. A single rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau restricting the practice in all contracts for financial services and products will restore the rights of military members and civilian consumers. Read the report.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Courthouse Doors Shut for Aggrieved Private Student Loan Borrowers
July 23, 2012
When potentially aggrieved private student loan borrowers seek to redress alleged harms committed by the lending industry, many borrowers discover that they are shut out of the legal process. First, many are blocked by pre-dispute binding (or forced) arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of their promissory notes or their for-profit college enrollment contracts. Second, borrowers in deep financial despair are largely unable to seek assistance in bankruptcy court because their student loan debt cannot be extinguished unless they meet an arbitrary and undefined standard. The result is that borrowers of private student loans lack a meaningful opportunity to seek relief in either civil or bankruptcy court.
By restricting forced arbitration clauses in private student loan contracts and allowing private student loans to be dischargeable in bankruptcy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Congress can restore consumers’ access to justice in the private student loan market. Read the report.
Medical Malpractice Payments Sunk to Record Low in 2011
July 11, 2012
By almost any measure, medical malpractice payments were at their lowest level on record in 2011, a new Public Citizen report shows. Both the number of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors and the inflation-adjusted value of such payments were at their lowest levels since 1991, the earliest full year in which the government collected such data. But, contrary to the promises of policy makers and leaders of physician groups who have spent the past two decades championing efforts to restrict patients’ legal rights, there is no evidence that patients have received any benefits—economic or otherwise—in exchange for ceding access to legal remedies. Instead, the evidence suggests that malpractice victims, taxpayers, and ordinary patients are almost certainly bearing significant costs for uncompensated medical errors. Read the report.
Concepcion Anniversary: Justice Denied
April 25, 2012
In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, consumers have regularly been blocked from pursuing class-action cases. Several judges have expressed frustration that the decision has forced them to stop consumer actions that are best suited to proceed as class actions. Class-action lawsuits historically have provided a means to combat illegal payday lending practices, contest poor business practices and confront discriminatory auto lending. But Concepcion has left many consumers without a means to pursue redress. Read the report.
A Failed Experiment: Health Care in Texas Has Worsened Since State Instituted Liability Caps
October 12, 2011
A common perception among policymakers and pundits is that medical malpractice litigation is significantly, or even chiefly, to blame for skyrocketing health care costs and steadily diminishing access to care. But analysis of data in Texas, which in 2003 imposed some of the strictest liability caps in the country, tells a far different story. While litigation over malpractice in Texas has plummeted dramatically since the caps were imposed, residents of Texas (except for people with financial connections to liability insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, doctors) have realized few, if any, benefits.
Medical Malpractice Payments Declined Again in 2010
May 24, 2011
By almost any measure, the prevalence and cost of medical malpractice litigation were at their lowest levels on record in 2010, according to data released earlier this month by the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and analyzed by Public Citizen.
Defensive Medicine: The Doctored Crisis
March 30, 2011
In the vast majority of circumstances, doctors act based on their clinical judgment and other factors, not liability concerns, according to a new Public Citizen report. Common claims about “defensive medicine,” a term for doctors performing unnecessary tests and procedures due to the fear of litigation, are wildly overblown. Much stronger evidence points to other causes of unnecessary tests and procedures, such as a fee-for-service system that pays providers more for every additional test and procedure. Read the report.
Medical Malpractice Payments Fall Again in 2009
March 3, 2010
As Congress debates ways to reform the country's health care crisis, Public Citizen released data showing that payments for medical malpractice continue to fall, despite the rising cost of health care nationwide. Changing the liability system would be a detriment to patients and creating alternative "health courts" would be overly costly. Read the report.
Liability Limits in Texas Fail to Curb Medical Costs
December 17, 2009
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the data show that the health care system in Texas has grown worse since 2003, when the state instituted liability caps. This finding is crucial because the Texas experiment is being held up as a model by proponents of proposals to limit patients' rights that are now pending in Congress. Read the report.
Back to Basics
August 6, 2009
A report issued today by Public Citizen proposes 10 cost-cutting, patient-safety measures that would save an estimated 85,000 lives and $35 billion a year. In contrast to the high-tech tests and procedures that many experts blame for staggering increases in the nation’s health care costs, most of the reforms in Public Citizen’s report involve fundamentals as simple as practitioners consistently washing their hands, sufficiently tending to patients to prevent bed sores, and following simple safety checklists to prevent infections and complications stemming from operations. Read the report.
Medical Malpractice Payments Fall to Record Lows
July 2, 2009
Medical malpractice payments were at or near record lows in 2008, but the decline almost certainly indicates that a lower percentage of injured patients received compensation, not that health safety has improved. Medical malpractice is so common, and litigation over it so rare, that between three and seven Americans die from medical errors for every one who receives a payment for any malpractice claim, Public Citizen’s analysis of medical malpractice payment data and the best available patient safety estimates indicate. Read the report.
Forced Arbitration Key Reports
Forced Arbitration: Unfair and Everywhere
September 14, 2009
Our report, “Forced Arbitration: Unfair and Everywhere,” shows that mandatory binding arbitration, or “forced arbitration,” is nearly ubiquitous in many industries. We found that seventy-five percent of companies in eight industries use forced arbitration. In most forced arbitration cases, consumers are stripped of their right to go to court over disputes when they open a bank or credit card account, obtain cell phone service, hire a stockbroker or buy a house. Read the report.
Home Court Advantage: How the Building Industry Uses Forced Arbitration to Evade Accountability
May 20, 2009
Millions of new home purchasers each year are forced into binding mandatory arbitration by deceptive “warranties,” and those warranties may violate the law in as many as 17 states. These warranties are particularly insidious because consumers often do not learn of their details until after moving into their new houses. The process is inherently secretive, and arbitration firms routinely flout the few laws that require them to disclose basic information about their cases. Read the report.
The Arbitration Debate Trap: How Opponents of Corporate Accountability Distort the Debate on Arbitration
July 29, 2008
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has painted a grossly inaccurate picture of the empirical evidence on binding mandatory arbitration, a comprehensive study issued today by Public Citizen reveals. In this type of arbitration, consumers lose their right to settle disputes in court and instead are routed to a private, secretive system that favors the company. Read the report.
The Arbitration Trap: How Credit Cards Companies Ensnare Consumers
September 27, 2007
This report details how arbitration firms and credit card companies enjoy a cozy, mutually beneficial relationship at the expense of consumers they force into binding mandatory arbitration. With only data from California available, the findings provide a glimpse of how arbitration traps consumers throughout the country in unfair, secret proceedings where for-profit arbitrators make the rules. Public Citizen's research uncovered consumers who spent years fending off collection agencies, cleaning up identity theft messes and struggling to bounce back from credit rating hits. Read the report.