Supporters of so called tort “reform” bills in Congress claim that too many lawsuits have led to excessive costs and delays. They also charge that juries can no longer be trusted to render fair verdicts. But the truth belies these assertions. Tort “reform” — really “deform”– would gut our system’s ability to force wrongdoers to change their harmful conduct. For the whole story, check out the facts below:
- Tort filings in state courts declined between 1989 and 1998, according to an NCSC study of tort filings in 28 states by 1%. This is particularly significant because over 95 percent of all tort cases are filed in state courts and states’ populations increased between 1989 and 1998. In a study of 16 states, NCSC found that the number of tort filings decreased 16% between 1996 and 1998.
- Tort claims do not clog our courts. In fact, such claims accounted for only about 5 percent of all civil claims filed in state courts in 1992, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
- Richard Turbin, head of the American Bar Association’s Tort and Insurance Practice section, a group which includes plaintiff and defense lawyers, says that the rate of federal lawsuits per capita has not changed since 1790 and that contract claims are responsible for clogging the courts. Mr. Turbin also notes that plaintiffs have steadily won 30 to 40 percent of cases and that the size of awards has increased due to natural inflation only.
- Tort system costs pale in comparison to costs associated with injury. A Rand study estimated that medical spending for the treatment of injuries cost the U.S. economy nearly $154 billion in 1997 (about 20% of the nation’s health care bill) and that lost work time adds another $100 billion. The National Safety Council estimates that accident costs totaled $480.5 billion in 1998.
- About 6,000 deaths and millions of injuries are prevented each year because of the deterrent effect of products liability, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
- When juries speak, corporate America listens. That’s why: Defectively designed cribs no longer strangle infants. Flammable children’s pajamas have been taken off the market. Once harmful medical devices have been redesigned. Auto fuel systems have been strengthened. Cancer causing asbestos no longer poisons homes, schools and work places. And farm machinery has safety guards.
Given the facts, why do opponents of civil justice blame tort cases for clogging our courts and driving up costs? Tort reform limits the rights of individuals to hold wrongdoers accountable while allowing corporate wrongdoers to hide from accountability. (Source: American Trial Lawyers Association)