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Great Moments in Hypocrisy; The Tort Reform Edition

10/28/2009
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There is certainly no shortage of tort reform crusaders who have, in their private lives, sought the assistance of trial lawyers to bring exactly the type of lawsuits that they decry in public: then-Gov. George W. Bush filing suit over a minor fender-bender involving one of his daughters in which no one was hurt; Sen. Rick Santorum and his wife recovering $350,000 in “pain and suffering” damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit;Sen. Trent Lott enlisting a well-known trial lawyer to sue his insurance company over Hurricane Katrina damages; Judge Robert Bork asking for punitive damages (!) after tripping on some steps at the Yale Club. But no group has more forcefully championed tort reform over the years than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One of their mottos is “Jobs, Not Lawsuits.” But, in recent months, filing lawsuits seems to have become one of its jobs.

When, in August of this year, the Chamber threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, I just added that to the list of tort reform hypocrisies. But the Chamber jumped straight from the ridiculous to the sublime with its lawsuit, filed this week in federal district court, against the Yes Men. The Yes Men have made quite a name for themselves pretending to be spokespersons for prominent organizations, making false announcements that generate publicity and, they hope, pressure the organizations to make real changes. On October 19, they held a fake press conference announcing that the Chamber of Commerce had reversed its position on climate change policy, and promised to immediately cease lobbying against the Kerry-Boxer pollution reduction bill. They even had cable news organizations fooled for about an hour. The only “damage” that the Chamber of Commerce suffered was having public attention focused on its views about climate change. Yet the Chamber responded by filing a multi-count federal lawsuit. Or maybe the lawsuit itself is another hoax??? If not, this may rank as the Greatest Moment in Tort Reform Hypocrisy … for now.

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