Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, June 11, 2010

The BP Oil Spill, Deregulation, and Litigation

CNN's website is reporting this story about a survivor from the oil rig fire that started the now infamous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. CNN is presenting this as a story about the worker, his family and oh by the way, he's suing BP, Tansoceon and Haliburton for negligence.

Aside from this being an example of journalists doing their best to trivialize the important and turn every news event into a human interest story, the story also sheds some light on how the US regulatory state functions - or rather doesn't.

For the last 30 years the US has steadily reduced the level of regulatory protection for workers, consumers, and the environment. In Republican administrations, even the residual regulatory authority gets defunded or coopted or otherwise hindered. The secret meetings Vice President Cheney had with energy company big shots is an example. Another example is the scandal about Bush administration regulators recieving drugs and sex from oil companies in exchange for looking the other way on safety and evironmental standards.

So what constraint is there on big corporations? Litigation. That's it. When a company like BP or Transocean or whoever, ignores repeated indications that the rig is unsafe until it kills 11 workers and destroys the ecosystem (and economy) of the Gulf of Mexico, there is no consequence for them other than being sued in civil court. Most of the time, the big corporation can use their deep pockets and expensive teams of lawyers to deter any law suits at all. But once in a while, a case is big enough news or clear cut enough that a plantif will step forward. In those rare cases, companies can find themselves being judged by juries that slap them with huge judgements. It is only the - slight - fear of this possibility that keeps companies like BP in check at all. So don't scoff at the class action law suit. Don't hate the "trial lawyer." After 30 years of essentially privatizing our regulatory protections, they're all that stands between us and a Dickensian nightmare.

This is why Republicans constantly harp about "tort reform." What they want to do is eliminate even this anemic constraint on corporate abuses.

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