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The Houston Chronicle published an excellent article on tort reform this week that everyone even remotely interested in the topic needs to read.

Big business interests are making a concerted push for tort reform throughout the country as something that will ostensibly save the government, and thus, the little guy taxpayer, a lot of headaches and a lot of money by eliminating “frivolous lawsuits.” Tort reformers seek to place caps on the damages plaintiffs can receive when they are injured, and juries decide they deserve compensation

But as author Paul Simon points out, truly frivolous lawsuits don’t go to trial, and are thus not affected by these damage caps.

When someone wins a lawsuit, [it’s because] the judge, jury, court of appeals and Texas Supreme Court all believe that the case was valid — which proves just how wide the gulf is between the reality and the rhetoric of tort reform: These proposals don’t stop frivolous lawsuits; they simply limit liability in meritorious ones. The BPs, Halliburtons and Wall Street interests aren’t spending millions to stop frivolous cases. Their aim is to make it so difficult for you to sue them that they are effectively immunized from personal responsibility in valid cases.

One example is when legislators took away from judges and juries the power to assess damages in medical cases and set a one-size-fits-all cap, regardless of how badly a patient was injured. Touted as ridding us of frivolous lawsuits, the cap only comes into play after a jury decides that the patient was so badly injured that his damages exceeded $250,000. (Remember how we were told the cap would make health care affordable? You know how it didn’t.) The truth of the matter is that the cap was not aimed at frivolous cases to reduce health care costs; it was aimed at making medical cases so difficult that patients wouldn’t file valid claims, much less frivolous ones. –Houston Chronicle

For big businesses, tort reform makes wonderful economic sense: they can actually factor in x number of lawsuits at the pre-set damage cap when they make the decision to save money for the company by neglecting safety standards that affect American workers and consumers.

For the American taxpayer, tort reform makes no sense. All it does it create unfair advantages for big businesses, who already have an unfair advantage in every aspect of our political system. As Simon says, “It’s really no different than if a sports league capped half of the teams’ salaries and allowed the other half to pay market rates for the best talent. Who do you think would win most of the time?”


  1. Gravatar for Mark B.

    Not to say that the effects of tort reform aren't important, but something had to and still has to be done. In 2009, 64 percent of all medical liability cases were dropped or dismissed due to a lack of merit. Further, only one percent of those cases resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff. Now, what can be done to even the playing field for the average taxpayer and big business alike?

  2. Gravatar for Mike Rothrock

    The judicial system already has rules in place to level the playing field for the average citizen and big business. If a lawsuit is truly without merit, it gets dismissed and the defendant often has a right to have their associated expenses in the form of attorney fees and costs reimbursed by the plaintiff. Damages caps do nothing but benefit the insurance companiess at the expense of the average citizen and seek to permanently unbalance the scales of justice. It's a direct contravention of the entire point of the system. The problem is nobody attempts to educate themselves on how the system actually works and are content to believe 30 second sound bites from interested talking heads and skewed, often inaccurate statistics.

  3. Gravatar for William Eadie

    Camryn, great post on an important topic.

    @Mark B., unsurprisingly, you don't provide any support for your statistics, and you link to an insurance provider.

    The fact is that the best way to reduce the cost of malpractice lawsuits is to reduce malpractice. That's what they found in New York, yet "tort reformers" still want caps.

    Just doesn't make sense if the concern it patient care.

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