Top Consumer Legal Stories of 2012
With 2012 in the books, it’s time to look back at the landslide of legislation, lawsuits and judicial decisions that have had far-reaching effects on Americans’ access to health care, marriage, voting, Second, Fourth and Seventh Amendment rights and more. Lawyers.com takes a peek at the top consumer legal stories of the year:
Obamacare survives legal challenges: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is set to change the face of health care as we know it, mandating a number of reforms on insurance companies, expanding Medicaid, offering subsidies for low income families and requiring that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance or face a penalty. The law faced two huge challenges in 2012: A Supreme Court hearing, and a presidential election in which challenger Mitt Romney vowed to repeal the reform if victorious. The Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional, President Obama won re-election and the ACA is poised to cruise into full implementation by 2014.
The creeping police surveillance state: New technology hits the market every day, which gives police more and more options to track you– in most cases, without a warrant. The Supreme Court put the brakes on warrentless GPS trackers on a car, but police are still free to trace you through your cell phone, read your emails or listen to your overseas phone calls without a judge’s permission.
Binding arbitration robs consumers of right to sue: Binding arbitration is showing up in more and more contracts that consumers must sign, especially for credit cards, telecommunication devices and nursing homes. Companies force their customers to sign away the right to sue if they are wronged, instead agreeing to air their grievances in front of an arbitrator who is chosen by the company and follows company rules. Though the right to a jury trial in civil cases in ensconced in the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled twice last year that binding arbitration clauses are valid.
Tort reform exposed as a sham: “Tort reform” is a measure pushed by conservative interests to limit the rights of consumers to seek recourse if they are injured or killed, particularly by doctors and hospitals. Advocates claim that by capping non-economic damages, tort reform will save hospitals, and by extension, taxpayers, big money. This is a lie, according to a landmark study released last year: The study found that tort reform does not reduce health care costs; rather, its main effect is to boost insurance company profits at the expense of injured consumers.
The never-ending gun law debate: What a year for gun laws. We started with George Zimmerman initially escaping arrest for shooting Trayvon Martin based on a controversial “stand your ground” law that allows gunmen to fire at will if they feel threatened. Gun rights activists pushed for open carry laws around the nation. Then, rampage shootings at the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook elementary school and several other locations reignited the conversation on implementing tighter, not looser, gun restrictions. The debate will continue well into 2013 and beyond.
Voter suppression laws pushed back: Republican legislatures in states across the nation fought to rob minorities, women, the elderly and college students of their right to vote by implementing bogus “Voter ID” and other laws in the guise of combating non-existent voter fraud. However, judges and/ or the federal government intervened in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Texas and South Carolina to preserve the people’s right to vote, at least for the 2012 election cycle.
Marriage equity voted in: Maine, Maryland and Washington became the seventh, eighth and ninth states to allow LGBT marriage, and the first three to approve marriage equity via popular ballot. This year will see Supreme Court rulings that could strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act as well as state laws banning gay marriage nationwide.
Marijuana decriminalized at last: Green consumers can now puff freely in Washington and Colorado, thanks to referendums that legalized marijuana and will allow the states to set up a tax and regulatory structure, absent intervention from the federal government.
Prescription drugs face endless lawsuits: Consumers who take prescription drugs saw a continued erosion of faith in pharmaceutical companies in a year where lawsuits advanced against seemingly every high-profile prescription drug, for hushed-up adverse affects or illegal labeling and marketing. Meanwhile, fatal side effects are on the rise.