You’ve probably heard a lot about tort reform. Debate about this issue has been going on for a while now, but since the Republicans won control of the House in 2010, the talk on tort reform at the federal level has certainly increased. But while it’s increased in volume, the same can’t be said of its quality. Most of the heated discussions are filled with empty claims, ambiguous language and conflicted chatter. And the whole issue has been tainted by jibes from both sides: the opponents referring to it as tort deform and frustrated supporters besmirching it as tort “reform” because they doubt that proposed laws will actually reform the system.
Enough with the jib jab. Let’s set the story straight: What is tort reform and what it effects in personal injury law?
The Story On Tort Reform, Minus The Jib Jab
First of all, what’s a tort? Basically, a tort is a civil crime — it’s illegal, but not criminal. Think car accidents, slip and fall mishaps and medical malpractice. As for tort reform: It isn’t a single idea or law. It’s a group of proposed changes that seeks to reduce tort litigation or damages. In other words, it’s an attempt to limit one’s right to full compensation for noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering and mental anguish, when injured by another’s wrongdoing.
Each tort reform law is different, but they all share one or two of the following goals:
- Make it more difficult for injured people to file a lawsuit
- Make it more difficult for injured people to get a jury trial
- Limit the amount of monetary damages that injured people can obtain in a lawsuit
What Happened To “Underdog Nation”?
Our nation is often thought of as a land of “underdog supporters,” so it’s hard to believe that many people are siding up with big corporations and their bottom lines. But what these supporters are trying to combat, so they say, is “runaway verdicts” and “politically motivated, frivolous lawsuits.” They generally base their claims on an “explosion” in the costs of tort litigation, referencing studies by major insurance industry consultant Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, Inc.
Here’s an example: In 2005, the U.S. Congress proposed a bill that would immunize gun manufacturers for most negligence and product liability actions. This was in response to lawsuits filed against gun manufacturers by several municipalities. The bill also threatened to prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from revoking a dealer’s license, even if the dealer is identified as selling a relatively high number of guns that are used in violent crimes.
President George W. Bush signed the bill into law. This was the birth of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, more commonly known as the “Gun Protection Act” and making members of the National Rifle Association very happy … and upsetting many, many others who strongly disagree that there’s anything “frivolous” about the behavior of gun dealers.
The recent Newtown tragedy has bitterly revived the gun violence issue, especially since the same type of gun used in that horrible school shooting was also used by the 2002 Washington, D.C., snipers to shoot more than a dozen people.
There’s More To Tort Reform Than Guns And Explosives
It’s not just gun laws that tort reform is targeting. There are countless bills being put before the Senate that seek to immunize some very reckless companies — not just gun manufacturers, but also those that make dangerous children’s toys and fireworks — from financial responsibility.
Another proposal is aiming to put a cap on punitive damage burdens for companies with less than 25 employees and five million dollars in revenue. Many deduce that a company with so few employees and such substantial revenue may be doing something that blurs the line between legal and illegal.
There’s even talk of putting a cap on all awards for injury, and if this goes through, our nation’s children will be the victims. With no real claim for lost wages, health benefits, insurance and pensions, children are very vulnerable when it comes to tort reform — especially when it comes to the toy manufacturing industry.
Here are some tangible numbers to help you understand the gravity of the issue: With a $250,000 monetary cap on damages, a two-year-old child who has been blinded by a defective toy or who has suffered trauma due to medical malpractice would only receive about $3,650/year. Does this seem fair? No, not in the least.
There Is Power In Your Voice, So Let’s Make It Heard
We must make sure that the legal system affords all persons, including children, the right to full compensation for injuries as determined by a judge or jury. As a firm believer in the compensation rights of all people, regardless of age, race and gender, I hope that you join me in fighting tort reform … for children’s sake, for justice’s sake and for the sake of this country.
To contact me, Personal Injury Lawyer Howard B. Segal, about your personal injury case and fighting tort reform, click the button below. There is power in your voice, so let’s make it heard.