Three years ago, Public Justice established the Illuminating Justice Award to recognize and provide financial compensation to people who were injured and should have been made whole through the justice system but failed to get what they rightfully deserved.
The 2015 Illuminating Injustice Award was given to Rosa Moreno, a Mexican worker who was catastrophically injured on the job but was denied compensation because of a technicality.
“I think it (the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” ) would be disastrous,” says Bland. “It is just an extremely radical bill."
Rosa was working the overnight shift in Reynosa, Mexico at the HG Electronics factory in February, 2011.
Around 2 o’clock in the morning the foreman moved Rosa over to machine #19 -- a very heavy, difficult to operate machine that cut and ripped metal that no one liked to work on. As she reached forward to position the metal in the machine it suddenly malfunctioned. Both hands and arms from the forearm down were crushed and had to be amputated.
She would never be able to work there again – or anywhere for that matter. The company, headquartered in the US, offered Rosa $14,400 or 75 percent of her wages for two years as compensation.
Rosa found a Texas lawyer who offered to help her sue the company in the US but the judge ruled the company had not been served with the proper notice and her lawsuit was dismissed.
After seeing an editorial in the Guardian newspaper about Rosa’s story Public Justice made Rosa the 2015 Illuminating Injustice Award recipient.
In 2014, Public Justice’s Illuminating Injustice Award was given to a woman injured by a pharmaceutical who was denied her day in court because of the Federal Food and Drug Act’s pre-emption clause despite clear evidence her injury was the result of a dangerous drug.
For 35 years Public Justice has offered advocacy and legal assistance to people and communities where there are important public issues at stake, or there are barriers to justice, or there is new ground to be broken.
“We are trying to do cases where we are going to get a precedent that will affect a large number of people,” says Public Justice Executive Director, Paul Bland. “We take cases where we will be able to aggregate a large number of people through some procedural means or draw publicity to an issue that will change systems or impact broader practices.”
At or near the top of the list for Public Justice at the moment is the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” which is making its way through the legislative system in Washington – a bill that should it pass through the senate and be signed into law by President Trump, would severely restrict class actions as a remedy for consumers who are financially harmed. It could affect everything from pay equity cases to victims of Ponzi schemes.
“I think it would be disastrous,” says Bland. “It is just an extremely radical bill.
“Under the bill securities class actions would largely disappear. Think about what that would mean. If it became dramatically easier to commit securities fraud then our stock market could become substantially vulnerable and weaker.”
This is the second time the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” bill has been put forward by Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He argues that class actions benefit lawyers more than plaintiffs.
However, study of some 400 class action suits by the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) found that on average attorneys received 15 percent of the money and most of the compensation went to plaintiffs.
“They found that after attorney’s fees consumers had received several billions of dollars of cash compensation, plus injunctive relief and people had their credit scores repaired and that sort of thing,” says Bland.
“The anti-class action bill (should it get through the Senate and be signed by President Trump) will make it dramatically harder for plaintiffs in a case. The radical nature of the bill makes me think it won’t happen but I don’t want to take for granted that it can’t happen.”
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Paul Bland has been the executive director of Public Justice since 1997. As staff and senior attorney, he was responsible for developing, handling, and helping Public Justice’s cooperating attorneys litigate a diverse docket of public interest cases. Paul has argued and won more than 30 cases that led to reported decisions for consumers, employees or whistleblowers in six of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the high courts of nine different states.
LawyersandSettlements.com will publish updates about the work Public Justice is doing in future "Illuminating Injustice" columns.