As an American, I am proud of our country’s heritage which embraces a broad spectrum of ideals including what are traditionally known as “liberal” or “progressive” values as well as “conservative” values. I think both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were great leaders in their own right who probably embody these two traditions the best. While it is apparent from the last few elections that Americans seem to be embracing many centrist views as well, there are many who, at least in part, have a stronger ideological lean towards what they believe to be “liberal” or “conservative” values. In my opinion, no matter where you come down on the political spectrum, the notions promoted by “tort reformers” are not supported when you truly understand what this “reform” movement is all about.
What is “Tort Reform”?
Our American system of jurisprudence developed from Anglo-Saxon law over hundreds of years. As I’ve blogged about before (see here) , our founding fathers fully supported the right of the individual to redress through the civil justice system by enacting the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil cases. From colonial days until now, this system has continued to develop to allow individuals and classes of persons who have been harmed by wrongdoing or negligence (i.e. “torts”) to seek monetary compensation through a civil jury trial. What “tort reform” aims to do is to issue, by government decree, that individuals and classes of people should not be able to bring civil actions in certain instances and/or should be limited in the amount they are able to recover by a predetermined structure as opposed to the judgment rendered by a jury of their peers. It comes in many forms but, includes proposals to limit class action lawsuits, to shorten the statute of limitations (time deadline) for filing personal injury claims, and to put a cap on the amount of damages for out of pocket losses like medical bills and lost wages and/or general damages for the pain and emotional distress caused by a catastrophic injury or death caused by the wrongdoing of another individual or business. The vast majority of “tort reform” advocates are large corporations that have disseminated false information that there is a “tort crisis” in America and that “run away juries” must be kept “in check”. In fact, civil lawsuits related to personal injury claims and average jury verdicts have been declining for almost three decades and now constitute a mere 4-5 % of the total number of civil claims being filed in the U.S. (the vast majority of which are business to business disputes and not injury or death claims).