Statutory Causes of Action
The state or federal government can create civil causes of action through legislation. The most sweeping creation of such civil remedies were the Civil Rights Acts. The first were passed immediately after the Civil War. These were dramatically strengthened by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These acts allowed persons who were discriminated against because of race to sue both state governments and private businesses for compensation and to prevent further discrimination. These Acts were broadened to include discrimination based on sex, ethnic origin, and religion. The Americans with Disabilities Act included discrimination based on disability status.
Individuals and the government, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, may bring civil actions to enforce the provisions of the Act. If the behavior affects more than one employee, it can be litigated as class action lawsuits where the court will craft a remedy that benefits all the members of the class. Such actions can result in multimillion-dollar settlements and sweeping changes in workplace rules.
Some statutory cases of action give the plaintiff an easier way to recover for injuries that are already covered by civil remedies such as medical malpractice litigation. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is an example that should be familiar to every medical care practitioner involved with emergency medical care. While claims for improper transfer or failure to stabilize a person in need of emergency medical care may be brought as state law medical malpractice cases, EMTALA allows these to be brought in federal court and simplifies the case the plaintiff must prove.
Government agencies often use civil litigation to enforce regulatory rulings. The FDA may seek an injunction or institute a seizure or embargo action to take possession or forbid the sale of potentially contaminated food or drugs. These are very powerful measures in the food and drug industry, where seized or embargoed inventory can go out of date faster than the defendant can get a trial to contest the court’s order. The Office of the Inspector General often brings civil claims for reimbursement against health care providers who have submitted what it believes are false claims for Medicare/ Medicaid reimbursement. These civil actions can be almost impossible for the defendants to win. In the FDA action, the agency has great leverage to negotiate a settlement if the defendant has 1000 tons of fresh fruit that cannot be moved off a ship until the claim is resolved. In the false claims lawsuit, the defendant risks complete financial ruin if the jury finds against it because the potential damages are so large. This makes a settlement necessary even if it costs several million dollars.