Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, now MAJ, will recognize this past president at 2015 Annual Banquet
For the last two decades, beginning in 1995, Michigan has been savaged by tort reform that has gradually spread to other states. Some states have beaten it back. Others, like Michigan, have seen entire areas of laws meant to protect consumers and the injured be gutted, dismantled, and capped with draconian restrictions on monetary recovery and pain and suffering awards.
The fight to protect consumers and stop “tort reform” financed by the insurance industry has been a long and bitter one. And this fight continues even today, as our No Fault law is under attack at this very moment.
Today, during the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) 70th Annual Convention at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, the organization will honor its past presidents. These leaders of the state’s consumer protection laws have sacrificed hundreds of hours of time and have been instrumental in protecting consumers and making our auto laws and consumer protection laws more fair and just under the onslaught of special interests and the insurance industry.
Our own Michigan Auto Law attorney Bobby Raitt served as the leader of this organization for the 2007-08 year. Bobby still is very active and continues to advocate for balanced laws that will protect auto accident victims, both through the Michigan Association for Justice and through the Negligence Section of the State Bar of Michigan, where Bobby sits on the executive board and council.
Bobby is a Michigan Auto Law partner and an exceptional trial lawyer. He has been an attorney with the firm for 23 years. Below, Bobby is sharing his reflections on his time as president of the MAJ:
“In the spring of 2007, I started as the third youngest president of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association (Bryan Waldman [of Sinas Dramis law firm in Lansing] who proceeded me was a few months younger). When I finished serving my one-year term in the spring of 2008, I was the first and youngest president of the Michigan Association for Justice. The official name change took place on September 1, 2007 and as we explained to members was done because “Michigan Association for Justice best captures our mission to ensure a strong civil justice system in which deserving individuals will receive justice and wrong-doers are held accountable – even when taking on the most powerful interests.”
There could be no doubt that the words “trial lawyers” had been bashed around by big business, insurance companies and the chamber, and trashed to such a level that the national organization American Trial Lawyers Association had previously voted to change their name to the American Association for Justice. Now our state organization had done in kind.
What I remember most vividly about the 2007-08 year were the constant battles at both the legislative and judicial levels where our organization fought continuously to try to uphold victims’ rights, as well as their right to have their cases heard by a jury.
The title of my president’s column seen in the MAJ spring 2008 journal says it all: “Can You Stand The Rain?”
The era of the “Engler Court” coupled with a Republican-lead legislature made affective change virtually impossible where our focus had to be as it always had been in the years that preceded my presidency, a solid defense. Cases coming out of the Michigan Supreme Court during this time had one thing in common, the business interest, corporation or insurance company to the right of the “V” would generally win with the individual and victim losing their right to have a jury of their peers hear their case.
There was no better example of the highest court’s impact on victims and our inability to move offensively in the legislature than the case of “Kreiner v Fisher,” a Michigan Supreme Court opinion that came down in 2004 which devastated Michigan automobile negligence cases in the years to follow. The statistic most often quoted was that of 165 unpublished court of appeals decisions concerning Kreiner, Plaintiff’s had their cases thrown out 140 times.
Due to this devastation, the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association’s focus in the few years that proceeded my presidency as well as the year of my presidency was two-fold; look for the next case that could change this opinion and try to get a legislative fix statutorily.
The first avenue of offense could not occur until the makeup of the highest court changed.
A legislative fix, although attempted many different times in many different ways before, during and after my presidency would not happen. We never had the numbers. Fortunately, we would get a fix at the judicial level because of a “sleeping judge” and a beautifully-written opinion by Justice Michael Cavanagh in “McCormick v Carrier,” decided July 31, 2010.
A large majority of the 200-08 year was spent like many years – raising money trying to change the makeup of the courts and the legislature and fighting against TORT reform.
In early 2008, due to the retirement of Rick Duranczyk as our legislative counsel after 16 years, Bill Flory took over. He recognized the importance of Kreiner legislation as well as FDA immunity legislation and the Affidavit of Merit problem. He also realized he would need to keep an eye on legislation dealing with caps, contingency fees, loser pays, licensing of expert witnesses and additional TORT reform measures that were always floating in Lansing. I authored an article entitled, “Tort Reform: A Failed Experiment in Legal-Social Engineering,” which found its way to Michigan Lawyers Weekly, The Lansing State Journal and The Detroit Legal News in an effort to counter the Chamber of Commerce cry for yet more tort reform.
I thoroughly enjoyed being an officer of the organization, serving as its president and making life-long friends.”