Law students learn about “torts” in their first year. That odd term generally relates to injuries caused by the carelessness (“negligence”) or recklessness of someone else. Think automobile and truck accidents, medical malpractice by doctors and hospitals, or injuries caused by a dangerous product. A “personal injury” lawyer can also be called a “tort” lawyer.
Long before the infamous “McDonald’s hot coffee case,” insurance companies and other corporations were clamoring for, and spending a lot of political money to get, as much “tort reform” as possible. Using (and often twisting) the facts behind cases like the McDonald’s litigation, they urge ever more limitations on the average man’s right to have his day in court. This takes the form of limitations or “caps” on compensation (sometimes even where the injury is catastrophic), shorter time limitations, increased procedural hurdles, and on and on. My clients are often shocked when they first hear how laws passed with little notice years ago will limit or destroy their case. Since few people ever expect to be injured and file a legal claim, the resistance to new tort reform laws is often weak or nonexistent.
If these laws and rules only impacted truly “frivolous” cases, even “tort lawyers” would be in favor. But the fact is that tort reform is often intended to limit or destroy perfectly valid cases in a manner which benefits the special interest group which lobbied for the restrictive laws.
Tort reform often rigs the game in favor of the negligent party, making it possible for the wrongdoer to win, but insuring that he will never really lose very much. As someone once commented, tort reform is like “taking away David’s sling and giving it to Goliath.”
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