Tort reform is a pleasant-sounding moniker given to a series of efforts aimed at slashing protections for plaintiffs in civil lawsuits. If you are hurt by a negligent doctor, a defective product or a careless motorist, you have the ability to pursue damages against wrongdoers via the court system. The myth of tort reform is that the civil justice system requires overhaul to prevent greedy lawyers and plaintiffs from taking advantage of hapless doctors and companies with frivolous litigation and multi-million dollar payouts. That depiction couldn't be further from reality.
Unfortunately, tort reform proponents have been emboldened of late and have filed a series of measures aimed at undercutting the rights of plaintiffs in civil cases. The Washington Post reported on a series of tort reform bills introduced by federal lawmakers. If passed, these measures could affect the ability of victims to use the civil justice system to obtain full and fair compensation for harm they have endured.
Tort reform has been a top priority of some lawmakers for years. Some believe the civil justice system is being abused and too many frivolous lawsuits are being filed. Some are concerned lawsuits against doctors which result in large verdicts for plaintiffs are impacting the cost of healthcare. Reducing damages available to plaintiffs, they surmise, could help make care costs lower. Unfortunately, this has been proven false on many occasions.
One of the more recent studies, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that medical malpractice payouts in excess of $1 million totaled $1.4 billion annually. That sounds like a lot, until you consider it is actually less than 1 percent national medical expenditures.
If these bills are signed into law, victims will need to ensure they work with an attorney who understands how to navigate the reformed civil justice system to help plaintiffs file claims and get the compensation they deserve when damages have occurred. Although plaintiffs may be unable to be fully made whole under tort reforms, an experienced attorney will help them to maximize the compensation they can collect for the wrongs they have endured.
The rights of victims could be impacted in many different ways under tort reform proposals.
- It could become more difficult to clear the proof burden hurdle to file a claim in the first place;
- It could become more difficult to obtain just compensation above a set arbitrary cap.
A number of different reforms would affect the claim's filing process.
Victims would have a more difficult time getting federal class action lawsuits certified unless the victims not only suffered the same type of harm but also suffered the same scope of harm.
Attorneys might also be more reluctant to file certain kinds of claims on behalf of plaintiffs because the reform rules would require federal judges to impose sanctions on lawsuits attorneys file which are vaguely deemed "frivolous." It should be noted that when there was a rule in the past, it ultimately had to be rescinded because of a purported chilling effect on civil litigation. Plaintiff attorneys were reluctant to take on even meritorious cases for fear of sanctions.
Another proposed reform involves a federal damage cap on medical malpractice claims. Damage caps mean instead of juries and judges familiar with individual facts on medical malpractice cases deciding what compensation should be available to injured plaintiffs, the amount would be arbitrarily capped. Victims would be allowed no more than $250,000 in compensation for non-economic damages under the proposed rule. Particularly in cases of egregious negligence resulting in lifelong disability or death, this amount would be insufficient to cover losses.
It is unclear if these or other proposed reforms will become law or not. If they do, it will be vital for victims to get help from experienced personal injury attorneys who understand the civil justice system and who can help those who have been harmed to maximize the compensation they are able to obtain when someone has hurt them.