In the United States, a fundamental value that frames our democracy is that government must be accountable to its citizens. Our civil justice system ensures that every citizen, regardless of stature, economic status or power, has the ability to hold our government accountable. This means when government wrongfully and negligently harms individuals, communities, or businesses through wrongful acts, Washington citizens have equal access to a remedy through our civil justice system.
Despite attempts to create special protections for government, Washington state has upheld citizens’ rights to access the civil justice system. Our civil courts play a pivotal role in mandating a checks and balances between our three branches of government. It ensures that the power of one branch of government (executive, legislative or judicial) is not unchecked. We oppose legislation that does not protect the legal rights of Washington citizens.
On Jan. 4, 2007, Hailey French was driving to work. At 4:30 a.m., the 22-year-old was hit head-on by a drunk driver on the Mount Baker Highway in Whatcom County. She sustained massive injuries, including a broken knee, femur, pelvis, ribs and left wrist. Her right foot was crushed, one of her lung collapsed. She underwent 16 surgeries, spent 45 days at Harborview and three months in care facility before she could return home. Her medical bills skyrocketed to more than a million dollars.
An investigation into the collision revealed that the drunk driver’s car should have been fitted with an ignition interlock device. The drunk driver had been negligently released from a prior drunk-driving arrest by a state trooper just hours before the accident. Rather than booking the drunk driver into jail or impound her car, the state trooper drover her home, returned her car keys, and admonished her not to drive again “until she sobered up.” Instead the drink driver called a taxi, returned to her car, got back on the road, and crossed the center line hitting Hailey head-on, nearly killing her.
In court, the jury found Whatcom County, the State and the drunk driver responsible and accountable for Hailey’s life-altering injuries. The $5 million verdict paid for Hailey’s astronomical medical bills and ongoing care for the rest of her life. We strongly support Hailey’s right to hold government responsible for failing to prevent this horrific crash.
Washington’s workers’ compensation system is designed to help workers injured on the job receive the treatment and benefits they need after sustaining an on-the-job injury or illness. In exchange for giving up their right to hold negligent or unsafe employers accountable in court, injured workers rely on this state-funded and administered program to be fairly compensated for their injuries. Washington is the only state in the nation in which workers pay a share of the premium.
Unfortunately, big corporations are constantly lobbying the Legislature to erode workers’ rights and game the system in favor of big corporations and employers. We work with local allies, unions and injured workers to ensure the state system is fair and not rigged in favor of negligent employers.
Our workers’ compensation system is a great success story. While maintaining low rates for employers, it is one of the largest workers’ compensation insurers with some of the highest benefits in the nation. Risk and Insurance Magazine, a bible of risk managers, rated Washington as one of only four states with a “AA” rating, for both employers and employees. The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services’ biannual state-by-state study of workers’ comp premiums published in October 2012 found that Washington’s state-run system ranked in the middle of states for overall premiums in the nation, after South Carolina and California.
However, in recent years our workers’ comp system has been under systematic attack. Major corporate interests attempted to privatize the system through an initiative in 2010 which was rejected by voters in every county and every district in the state. In 2011, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed the most sweeping reforms of the 100-year history of the workers’ comp system. This series of changes stabilized the fund with a projected savings of $1.5 billion over four years, $300 million higher than originally estimated. Employers did not see premiums increase for two straight years. The legislation made dramatic changes that included claim-closure settlement agreements for older workers and creating a medical provider network, among other provisions.
We will continue to oppose one-sided attempts to overhaul the workers’ comp system in ways that will undermine its strong foundation. This includes politically-motivated legislation cloaked in “job-killing” competitiveness rhetoric. The political momentum for improving the business climate must be tempered by a responsibility to ensure that it remains an excellent place to live and work.
In the United States, 440,000 people die every year because of preventable medical negligence. It is the third leading cause of death in our country. It costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year.
Despite this serious epidemic, corporate front groups are working hard in the U.S. Congress and Washington state to limit accountability and access to the civil justice system when patients are harmed or killed by medical negligence.
The civil justice system gives families of patients who have died or have been injured by medical negligence an avenue to seek accountability and independently investigate negligent cases. The civil justice system provides an incentive to health-care providers to improve patient care and keep patients safe. Removing that accountability and incentive leaves people at risk for more injuries from negligent care.
Our top priority is always patient safety and protecting a patient’s constitutional right to the civil justice system.
Over the last three decades, major corporate interests have fought to take away consumer rights in Congress, legislatures and courtrooms across the country, all while pushing for more deregulation for themselves. Their successes have led us to a taxpayer-bailed-out financial and insurance industry, a family-home foreclosure crisis, and the greatest wealth disparity in American history.
We work alongside consumer and employee advocates in Olympia to ensure that when powerful interests infringe on the rights of individuals, they will have access to justice.
We support pro-consumer legislation and over the years have fought for:
We oppose legislation that strips citizens’ of their legal rights or tips the balance of power in favor of big corporate interests.
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