Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Tort Reform" is Unnecesary and Harmful

"Tort reform" is a buzz word that has been circulating around North Carolina and the rest of the country for several years.

"Tort reform" laws set arbitrary caps on the amount of money that injured parties can recover from negligent parties.  Many times, these caps are far below the injured parties' projected future medical expenses, much less past medical expenses, lost wages, other out-of-pocket expenses, and pain, suffering, and inconvenience.  Large companies love these caps because it limits how much they have to pay for hurting innocent people.  In this way, "tort reform" advocates want to protect wrong-doers from having to pay the full price of their wrongs.

Sometimes, people who do not work in the legal system hear about large jury verdicts, and it outrages them.  However, they may not know the whole story.  First, large jury verdicts are the exception, not the rule.  Second, jury verdicts must be based upon the injured person's actual damages.  Large jury verdicts, when they do occur, are not a windfall:  They are a reflection of how badly the negligent party hurt the innocent party.

Some people do not deserve to be compensated.  The law already takes care of those people.  Plaintiffs must prove that they were actually injured by the defendants' negligence.  Defendants are free to try to prove at trial that they were not negligent, or that the plaintiff was not actually damaged.  Under the rules of "contributory negligence" and "comparative negligence," defendants are free to try to prove at trial that the plaintiff was the truly negligent party.  These are a few examples of the mechanisms that the law already has in place to prevent plaintiffs' unjust enrichment.  The law's existing mechanisms are more reasonable than "tort reform's" arbitrary caps.

Ultimately, arbitrary caps on damages hurt the American taxpayers.  When injured people cannot recover all of their damages from negligent parties, the compensation that they do recover runs out before the cost of their injuries do.  Then, they are forced to go on public assistance.  Negligent parties go free while ordinary taxpayers pick up the tab.

"Tort reform" protects wrong-doers and screws injured people and taxpayers.  It claims to address problems with the legal system that are best solved by existing mechanisms.  It is unnecessary, and, more than being simply unnecessary, it is harmful.

HBO is airing a new documentary on "tort reform," called "Hot Coffee."  "Hot Coffee's" web site has more information.