The Albuquerque Journal recently featured an article, “What happened to the AG’s promise to use in-house counsel for large lawsuits,” by Washington D.C. resident Bailey Aragon of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), arguing against New Mexicans’ access to justice and financial compensation for corporate wrongdoing.
Tort reform, championed by ATRA, is a regressive agenda prioritizing corporate interests over individuals’ rights and well-being. ATRA’s vested interest in limiting lawsuits is best demonstrated by its primary funding sources: tobacco, insurance, big pharma, and chemical companies.
Aragon’s article raises concerns about the State’s pursuit of accountability in cases involving contaminated drinking water and the opioid epidemic. Instead of challenging the contingency fee system, which ensures attorneys are only paid if they win cases, our State must continue its relentless efforts to address corporate harm to citizens, often with specialized counsel. Without the contingency fee system, justice would be accessible only to financially privileged New Mexicans.
The opioid epidemic, a result of corporate misconduct, necessitated action to hold companies like Walgreens, Albertsons, CVS, Kroger, and Walmart responsible. The State generated over $1 billion in settlements from these entities, which will be allocated to local governments to help with the ills caused by the epidemic. While the adequacy of these settlements is debatable, pursuing cases against these entities was necessary to ensure justice for victims, demonstrating that the State will not tolerate corporate wrongdoing. The Attorney General’s office is a highly capable group of individuals, but in some specialized cases, obtaining outside counsel is necessary. Placing the burden of litigation on employed attorneys rather than taxpayers preserves State funds while enabling redress.
The contingency fee system, far from being exploitative, empowers individuals and communities to seek justice, especially when confronting deep-pocketed corporations. The successful outcomes of these efforts are evident in the funds returned to the State.
ATRA’s concerns regarding out-of-state counsel and alleged high fees are merely distractions. Tort reform seeks to limit access to justice and undermine victims’ ability to hold wrongdoers accountable by convincing citizens that enforcing their rights in court is inappropriate. Instead, we must strive for a fair and equitable legal system.
ATRA aims to render litigation unviable by impeding access to justice for harmed citizens, partially through curtailing attorney’s fees. Recognizing that the rate Aragon complains about is common in contingency fee cases is crucial. ATRA, funded by corporate interests, presents itself as a “neutral” voice criticizing law firms while attempting to strip New Mexicans of their civil justice rights.
New Mexico has a proud history of upholding individuals’ rights to seek compensation for corporate misconduct through the court system. This system ensures full and fair compensation, holds wrongdoers accountable, deters corporate negligence through penalties, and reduces the burden on taxpayers caused by such negligence.
We must reject misguided tort reform efforts and protect access to justice for all New Mexicans. By safeguarding the rights of individuals and local communities to seek redress for harm, we promote accountability, empower victims, and create a safer New Mexico. Let us champion a fair and equitable legal system prioritizing justice over corporate interests.