Sustained Outrage

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue. AP photo.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like lawsuits — unless it’s filing them.

That’s the bottom line from a new report issued today by the American Association for Justice,  the group formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

The report is called The Chamber Litigation Machine: How the Chamber Uses Lawsuits to Keep Americans Out of Court, and it concludes:

For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has led the charge to undermine and destroy America’s civil justice system. The Chamber has spent hundreds of millions of dollars financing efforts to close the courthouse doors to American consumers through massive lobbying campaigns, advertising and bankrolling anti-consumer political candidates. It has its own multimillion dollar affiliate, the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), whose sole mission is to restrict the ability of individuals harmed by negligent corporations to file suit.

Yet ironically, the Chamber is also one of the most aggressive litigators in Washington, D.C., appearing in hundreds of lawsuits a year. The Chamber has its own litigation arm, the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), which both files its own lawsuits and enters into the lawsuits of others more than 130 times a year.

The Chamber spends an unrivaled amount of money lobbying to restrict access to the courts for ordinary Americans, then files copious lawsuits and briefs in defense of the likes of AIG, Wal-Mart, Firestone and a slew of pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

In almost every case, the Chamber’s litigation on behalf of corporations has come at the expense of Americans’ health or financial security.

A few examples:

—  When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued rules to ensure employers adopted safety standards to protect workers from job hazards like toxic chemicals and dangerous machinery, employers began forcing workers to pay for the cost of necessary safety equipment. The Chamber led the fight to prevent employers from having to pay for safety equipment when workers’ groups campaigned to halt efforts that would force workers to bear the burden of safety costs. The Chamber argued that employees should be forced to bear the cost of their own safety equipment, saying that OSHA did not have authority to issue the rule because it was “not directly related to worker safety and health.”

—  The Chamber came to the aid of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest public corporation, when it tried to narrow the definition of disability to make it easier to discriminate against employees with physical or mental limitations.

— The Chamber is very upfront about its efforts to prevent the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, admitting that “NCLC is challenging the regulations as part of its multifaceted strategy to make clear that the Clean Air Act is not the appropriate vehicle for greenhouse gas regulation.

—  Chamber President Tom Donohue decried the tobacco litigation in the late 1990s as “not really about tobacco.” Ever since the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, the Chamber has been actively pursuing litigation to make the issue “not really about tobacco,” but about preventing people who have been harmed by Big Tobacco’s deadly product and deceptive advertising from holding them accountable.

AAJ President Gibson Vance said:

The Chamber’s ‘one rule for corporations, another rule for everybody else’ motto has come at the expense of ill-treated workers, defrauded investors and injured consumers. It readily spends millions of dollars to prevent Americans from holding wrongdoers accountable in the courtroom, and then aggressively uses the very same legal system to advance the agenda of its multinational corporate membership.