WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The civil justice reforms that pro-business groups are pushing do not register with voters, the organization formerly known as the American Trial Lawyers Association claimed Thursday while releasing the results of a poll it recently conducted.
At a press conference in the National Press Club building, the American Association for Justice, formerly the ATLA, offered proof in the form of a 1,007-person poll that voters worry more about corporate fraud than frivolous lawsuits.
"I think as we begin to move into campaign season, it's important to educate and show what the public is looking for in a candidate," AAJ CEO Jon Haber said. "There is a lot of confusion created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other tort reform organizations, so we decided to ask voters these straightforward questions.
"The results were even more powerful than we anticipated."
The poll, conducted by Peter Hart Research Associates Inc., showed that 24 percent of voters worry about personal injury or medical malpractice cases resulting in "too much money" for the plaintiffs, and only 34 percent worry that trial lawyers are making "too much money" when they win a lawsuit.
Sixty-four percent said they were worried about "corporations giving huge salaries and bonuses to CEOs while cutting the jobs and benefits of employees."
The AAJ also was happy with the result of its candidate choice experiment, which asked the surveyed which candidate he or she would be most likely to vote for.
The first candidate "favors restricting lawsuits and says that they hurt patient care, drive up the cost of insurance and drive jobs overseas when doctors and American businesses are forced to spend billions of dollars on unnecessary legal bills."
The second "favors protecting Americans' legal rights and strengthening the civil justice system so that deserving individuals can get justice, corporations are held accountable and insurance companies are required to pay legitimate claims."
Sixty-five percent of voters polled said they would be more likely to vote for the second, while only 26 answered for the first.
Haber, whose opening comments included the remark, "We all know big corporations want to destroy the system," also reminded those in attendance that 14 of 18 trial lawyers who ran for Congress in the last election were victorious.
The U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform was not impressed with the poll or its results.
"The national trial lawyers poll is notable for what it failed to ask," ILR President Lisa Rickard said. "We know from our own polling that nine out of every 10 Americans believe that there are too many frivolous or unfair lawsuits.
"We know that 84 percent of all Americans say that meritless lawsuits are clogging our courts, denying justice to those who truly have been hurt. And we know that 75 percent of all Americans think that the current lawsuit system benefits lawyers the most, while only 6 percent think that it helps the victims."
The polling of registered voters "likely to vote" took place from June 28 to July 3. Geoff Garin, of Hart Research, said the process of coming up with a series of fair questions took approximately 10 days.
"Ten days is a long time," he said. "We went through six drafts."
Garin could not provide any statistics pertaining to how many of the polled were business owners or stockholders. He did say that the results backed up the trial lawyers.
"If this is the debate that tort reform organizations want to have, it's very much a winning debate for the advocates of protecting the civil justice system," Garin said.
After the conference, Haber took a few shots at tort reform proponents.
"Those are losing arguments. Politicians who blame the ills of America on the civil justice system are incorrect," Haber said.
"(The U.S. Chamber) has built a cottage industry on this issue. This poll shows that people get this, they get this issue."
The Chamber is owner of LegalNewsline.com.
A copy of the released results can be found here.
"Actions speak louder than polls," Rickard said. "Until the national trial lawyers' association comes out against the abusive tactics of some plaintiffs lawyers -- including pushing for trial lawyer earmarks in federal legislation -- it is hard to believe they are serious about improving the civil justice system.
"The trial bar's lack of credibility is also hurt by cases that involve exorbitant settlement demands, excessive discovery, kickbacks to professional plaintiffs in securities litigation and fraudulent medical screening in mass torts."