Tort Reform

What is Tort Reform?

Tort reform refers to the proposed changes made in the civil justice system that directly reduces tort litigation or damages. The tort system was created to outline compensation methods and amounts for wrongs and harms committed by one party to another person's property or protected interests. In addition to tangible damages such as property and physical harm to a party, the tort system also includes damages inflicted on an individual's reputation (under libel reform and slander laws). 

Tort reform, in the United States is a heated political issue as a result of the avocation of procedural limits on the ability to file claims and placing a ceiling on the awards of damages. In contrast, in Commonwealth countries,  any party who initiates liability lawsuits must pay court fees as well as a variety of legal expenses should they lose their claim. This procedural mandate effectively reduces the number of tort cases. Furthermore, there are numerous proposals to replace the system of tort compensation with a social security framework to serve victims without respect to causation. 

The fundamentals of the tort system requires that those responsible (meaning those at fault) for causing harm to other parties must compensate the victims with a financial package. In a general sense, typical harms include any action that precipitates a loss of income (medical costs associated with treatment and lost wages while the victimized party recovers payment for pains accrued by the victimized party and any future payments that are threatened by the aggressor's actions). 

The primary purpose of tort law is to award a full compensation for the actions that are proven and the harm that is affirmed through the aggressor's actions. Tort law, in essence, aims to offer the damaged party a chance to restore their financial state back to its point of origin; in other words, the point of tort law is to place a financial obligation on an individual who causes harm to another party. 

In a general sense, tort reform advocates believe that an excess of the 15+ million lawsuits filed annually in the United States of America are “frivolous” and superfluous. This notion places blame on the foundation of the court system in America and the ability for any citizen to file a personal injury or tort claim in the hopes of seeking a monetary award. The problem, however, with tort reform lies within the true purpose of tort law; tort law serves to compensate victims for their losses and secondly the threat of liability or court action serves to deter future incidents of harm from occurring. 

The term “frivolous lawsuits” includes not only the over-saturation of filed claims, but also those suits that are used without merit or claims that seek high damage awards relative to the actual damages absorbed. 

Tort Reform Proposals: (Taken from article on Medical Malpractice Tort Reform)

Non-economic damage caps are established, often statutorily, to impose limitations on the amount of compensatory or punitive damages that can be recovered in a tort action.

Collateral source rule reforms are designed to alter the application of the collateral source rule, which holds that, if an injured party receives compensation for injuries from a source, such as an insurer, independent of the wrongdoer, such payment shoul d not be deducted from the damages that the tortfeasor would otherwise have to pay.

Reforms limiting contingency fees place restrictions on the fees char ged for a lawyer's services if the lawsuit is successful or is favorably settled out of court.

Tort reforms concerning statutes of limitation generally reduce the amount of time allowed to file a lawsuit.

Laws making apology statements inadmissible in civil proceedings (also known as “I'm sorry” laws) allow a physician to express sympathy or apologize to a patient without concern that such an expression will be used in court as evidence of liability.

Forum shopping reforms establish rules to limit the practice of choosing the most favorable jurisdiction or court in which a claim might be heard.

Expert witness reforms are aimed at changing the standards that must be met by a witness qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to provide specialized medical opinions about the evidence or a fact issue who testif ies in a medical malpractice case.

Joint and several liability reforms are established to adjust limits on the ability of plaintiffs to recover damages from any of the defendants, regardless of their individual share of the liability.

ABA opposes tort reform bills that amend court rules and limit damages

American Tort Reform Association

Who Pays When the Loser Pays?

Center for Economic Justice: Debunking the tort reform "savings"


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