There’s a good chance you’ve heard phrases like “lawsuit lottery,” “jackpot justice,” and “sue-happy.” These catchphrases are designed to give the public a false impression – that the majority of personal injury claims are made by greedy fakers who get rich by suing companies that did nothing wrong.
But what if I told you it’s not the claimants, but the insurance companies, who are metaphorically hitting the lottery? They’re raking in more and more money every year, not through skill or even luck, but through actively trying to change rules. In the modern insurance industry, lobbyists are pulling their strings – not to mention, opening their wallets – to infiltrate the legal system at every level, starting with the judicial branch of government.
A judge is supposed to be objective, but insurance companies are actively trying to influence judicial elections – and ultimately decisions. Photo Credit: Brian Turner, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license).
How Much for the Gavel?
No takeover of the legal system is complete without planting a buddy in the courtroom, preferably in a position of power. Insurance companies and the big businesses they represent – businesses who don’t want the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads if they choose to ignore safety hazards – have begun filling courtrooms with corporation-friendly judges.
Often, these judges are former defense attorneys, so you can guess which side they sympathize with during trials: the defense, their old buddies working for the insurance industry. We’ve been at trials where judges didn’t even bother to hide – from our attorneys, the plaintiffs, and even jurors – their blatant loyalty to the defense. It’s not that we want the advantage, but it would be nice if our clients could have their cases heard on a fair playing field and overseen by a judge who is at least not so clearly biased.
When even jurors get impatient with a judge’s obvious partiality, the insurance industry’s influence has created too much unfairness in a justice system that’s supposed to be one of the fairest in the world.
How to Buy a Judge
The insurance industry is essentially buying judicial seats. They contribute millions of dollars to judicial electoral campaigns to make sure that the candidates they want in the judge’s seats are the ones getting the most exposure, the most publicity, and of course the winning votes into office. Opponents who aren’t willing to compromise their judicial duties and can’t be intimidated into running away face the risk of being dragged into phony investigations. Though they’re ultimately exonerated of the trumped-up charges, the insurance industry is sending a message: that all these judicial candidates will accomplish by running for election is wasting their time and having their good names tarnished.
In the six states where businesses are spending the most money on judicial election campaigns, judges voted in favor of their campaign donors 71 percent of the time, according to the Center for American Progress.
The Real Victory for the Insurance Industry
By essentially buying trial verdicts, the insurance industry is conquering the last frontier left where plaintiffs could expect fairness. Surely money runs the executive and legislative branches of government, but until the recent out-of-control campaign contributions, plaintiffs could walk into a courtroom and face off against a company whose millions of dollars in revenue did not exempt them from being held accountable for their actions. But not anymore.
Stacking the courts with judges willing to look the other way when companies neglect their responsibilities isn’t the only strategy the insurance industry has used to undermine the fairness of the courtroom. The industry has infiltrated every level of the legal system, creating laws that tie a jury’s hands when it comes to reaching a verdict and even bar some cases from ever getting to trial to begin with.