“Tort Reform” is the rallying cry of a multitude of business and insurance groups who claim that our personal injury (“tort”) system causes everything from physician shortages to competitive disadvantage in the global economy. The subtle message is that personal injury lawsuits are motivated by greed, and that injured plaintiffs and their lawyers are perpetrators of social harm. That message is wrong.
Modern American tort law keeps the scales of justice balanced between the average citizen and those with money and power. The foundation of tort law is the simple principle that every person or corporation owes a duty of reasonable care to others. If they act carelessly and cause harm, they must compensate the victim of their carelessness for the injury they caused. The principle is so obviously fair that most Americans recognize and support it. Personal injury lawsuits have led to the removal of dangerous products from the marketplace and have forced manufacturers to pay more attention to safety. Lawsuits have resulted in the placement of warnings on many products that have prevented inummerable deaths and injuries.
Tort law has evolved as our society has evolved. Modern tort law began during the industrial revolution as it was recognized that allowing businesses to engage in dangerous practices to enhance profits, with no remedy for the victims of their negligence, was unfair and socially destructive. Today, a coalition of medical, business, and insurance lobbies, want to reduce the rights of the average citizen so that their members can increase profits without accountability. These “tort reform” salesmen for “tort reform” are not reformers at all. They want to destroy rights that are necessary for elemental fairness – rights that evolved over the course of a century.
The tort system is not unchangable, nor should it be, but the basics must remain. An injured individual should be compensated if he is harmed by another’s negligence. Juries should decide fault and compensation. These basics are essential to civil justice. Anyone who brings a legitimate personal injury case is invoking a great American institution and should be proud to do so.