Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011” should be renamed the “Miscarriage of Justice Act of 2011.” Since 1977, the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act has protected Tennesseans and their families from fraudulent and abusive business practices. But now, because the country has entered into an era of blaming the hardworking people of Main Street for the economic fiasco caused by the fraudulent business practices of the large corporations and unregulated traders of Wall Street, dismantling it seems to have become a priority. Tennessee Citizen Action maintains that depleting the strength of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act is yet one more way of placing undeserved blame for our state’s economic stagnation on hardworking Tennesseans.
If passed, this bill will not create jobs. It will not make Tennessee more competitive. Nor will it make Tennessee more attractive to large corporations that, in place of jury awards, will grace us with gobs of jobs. It is widely known that Tennessee juries do not dole out excessive jury awards. So, if this bill is passed, there will be no marked difference in the amount of income businesses will retain and therefore no marked increase in the amount of jobs businesses will create.
This bill is a solution in search of a problem. Tennesseans do not have a history of filing excessive lawsuits. In fact, since 2008, when a unique Tennessee solution was put in place to make it more difficult to file non-meritorious claims, there has been a 44 percent decline in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed and, more to the point, an increase in medical malpractice insurer profits.
Tennessee Citizen Action believes that businesses are run by intelligent people who will be attracted to the state because they can see that, one, we are not known for excessive jury awards, and two, we already have a solution in place that streamlines the process in malpractice suits and weeds out non-meritorious claims. But most importantly, businesses will be attracted to the state when it begins to treat its people as its No. 1 priority, producing a well-educated and highly motivated workforce that stands on a firm foundation of a well-developed public infrastructure.
Now, knowing that the bill will do nothing to decrease unemployment or fix any existing problem, it remains a mystery why anyone would see a need for the provision that would remove the right of a hardworking Tennessean to bring a private lawsuit against a large corporation and its rogue stock broker “for engaging in any act or practice which is deceptive to the consumer or any other person.” If passed, it would mean that the victims of the 14 or so Ponzi schemes operated since 2007 who lost millions of dollars would not be able to sue for damages under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Nor does it make sense to take away the right to a jury decision on issues of fraud or abuse by capping a monetary award at $750,000 per occurrence. If passed, this provision would mandate that, for example, the families of the 16 elderly nursing home residents who died in a deadly fire in 2003, as well as all the injured residents, would have had to share a $750,000 reward.
Tennesseans rely on the TCPA to keep their loved ones safe and well cared for. They also rely on it to hold large corporations accountable for their actions and to act as a deterrent against repeated incidences of fraud and abuse. Gov. Haslam should make the people his No. 1 priority and allow the TCPA to stay intact.
Mary Mancini is executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a public interest and consumer rights organization.