Tort Reform has been a big push by Big Business. Why? Because if they do not have to pay for their mistakes, then they do not have to spend money on proper engineering and they can make decisions that help them and harm you. When the safety of many products is concerned, it is often a zero sum game. That is to say that if every unit of your blood and pain is worth a dollar and a negligent company no longer has to pay for taking that from you, then it is a dollar in the company’s pocket and dollar taken from you, the victim. The tort reform issue is truly about David and Goliath. I would propose to you that there are far morefriviolous defenses to bona fide lawsuits brought by poorly funded plaintiffs, then there are friviolous claims brought by plaintiffs. Jurors are smart. If a claim is truly frivilous, there will be no award to the plaintiff. In fact, to win a lawsuit, you almost have to be perfect.
It is time for some truth on lawsuit statistics. Records maintained by the National Center for State Courts show that population-adjusted tort filings declined from 1992 to 2001. The average change in tort filings was a 15% decrease. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), found that the number of civil trials dropped by 47% between 1992 and 2001. The DOJ also found that the median inflation-adjusted award in all tort cases dropped 56.3% between 1992 and 2001 to $28,000.
Unfortunately, because tort reform is pushed by big business, millions, if not billions, of dollars is spent on advertisements (both subtle and in-your-face) as well as back-room lobbying and secret political get togthers a la the famous Koch Brothers gatherings bringing together all branches of government. On the other side, are a group of diverse individuals who, until they are serious injured, do not care about the issue. Since these individuals usually do not have a dog in the fight until they are injured by a negligent company, they do not put money to find the frivioulous arguments made by the tort reform movement. Thus, the argument becomes one sided. Big Business versus nobody. And that, from my perspective, is a major reason why the tort reform movement finds success. The law is like insurance. You probably feel that it is worthless until you actually need it. And the great irony that I have found is that many of my clients, whose lives now depend on access to real justice, were believers in the tort reform movement. Until, that is, they were hurt.
Access to justice is not just a philosophical issue. It is a moral issue. It is an American issue. I submit that if free access to the courts for the purposes of righting a wrong is curtailed, then we strongly dilute the American brand and we move one step closer to socialism or worse down the ladder.