Today the U. S. Supreme Court decided three new cases which further erode the rights of injured people to seek their damages in court. Perhaps the Court’s five anti-plaintiff members should start wearing logo shirts and caps like NASCAR drivers or at least pro golfers?
Here are the decisions:
1. Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett
A sharply divided 5-4 court reversed an excellent federal court jury verdict obtained in 2009 by Fort Worth attorney Keith Jensen that awarded $21 million to a New Hampshire woman who suffered “tragic” injuries. Karen Bartlett was crippled after she took a generic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug in 2004 to relieve her shoulder pain.
Within weeks, two thirds of Karen Bartlett’s skin had fallen off due to burn-like lesions and she had to spend 70 days in a Massachusetts hospital. Karen has a great deal of trouble breathing and moving, and after 14 eye surgeries this poor woman is practically blind. Her final recovery of money after today’s decision? $0.
2. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar
A foreign born doctor who was denied permanent employment after he complained about discrimination sued the UT hospital under Title VII. The same 5-4 majority twisted a statute that Congress had enacted to overrule a prior anti-employee Supreme Court decision and held these claims to an even stricter standard of proof than required by the statute.
3. Vance v. Ball State University
The same majority ruled against the employee who had filed suit because her “supervisor” had not committed the harassment, even though the word “supervisor” is not even mentioned in the statute under review.
4. American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant,
Last week the Court ruled in favor of large corporations when it required American Express cardholders and merchants — and everyone else — to take their disputes to expensive and frequently biased arbitration rather than file more efficient class action lawsuits.
I’ve been stunned by how the rights of individuals have been pummeled over the last decade in our state and federal appellate courts, with no end in sight. These four decisions are just the latest gifts to corporate America. They blister the right of individual Americans to seek access to the courts when they have been injured and make it harder for them to prove their cases in courts . . . assuming they can even file suit at all.