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Aaron House

Do We Really Need Tort Reform?

Tort reform refers to proposed changes in our civil justice system that aim to reduce the ability of victims to bring lawsuits for their damages or to reduce damages they can receive. For several decades, large businesses, the insurance industry, and even our politicians have been telling us that tort reform is needed to stop juries from awarding damages in “frivolous lawsuits” and to keep juries from awarding damages that the legislature arbitrarily deems to be too high. Advocates for tort reform also argue that these limitations will help prevent increased insurance premiums, health care costs, and consumer prices even if such reform is at the expense of injured victims. Sadly, it benefits the wrongdoers in our society and further harms those who have been injured or killed because of that wrongful conduct.

Examples of Tort Reform

Examples of tort reform include eliminating certain types of cases that can be brought, shortening the statute of limitations in medical malpractice claims, restricting the discovery methods available to a plaintiff, and eliminating or placing caps on punitive damages and non-economic damages (damages for a person’s pain and suffering). An injured person’s actual damages are also limited because of collateral source doctrines that reduce a plaintiff’s actual damages if they have been paid by another source such as a health insurance company, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Tort Reform Only Causes More Harm

Unsurprisingly, proponents of tort reform typically include businesses, trade organizations, insurance companies, and medical providers. In 2018, Missouri legislators were sent letters and emails from constituents urging them to back tort reform measures. One state representative began receiving these letters and was surprised that he did not recognize the names of any of his constituents. After driving to several addresses, he learned that some addresses that had been used were actually sent from abandoned homes or homes that hadn’t even been constructed yet. Other emails purported to be sent by real constituents, but many constituents denied ever sending them or having any knowledge of the letters. In the end, identity theft was used to influence Missouri legislators to bring about additional tort reform measures. This unscrupulous behavior should not be backed by legislative action. The truth is that people who are injured or have lost their loved ones need protection from the negligent conduct of others. Tort reform serves only to further harm them.

The business and insurance industry have done a phenomenal job at making Americans believe that tort reform is needed. The famous McDonald’s case is one such example that I’ve written about previously. Interestingly, PBS recently aired a report entitled “The Truth About the Lawsuit Over Hot McDonald’s Coffee.” As discussed at length in the video and in my prior blog, many media reports about the case were simply wrong.

Injured People Need Our Protection

Sadly, we have been sold the lie that tort reform is needed to protect businesses and insurance companies from injured people. But injured people are the ones who need our protection. Any legislative efforts to limit the damages awarded to an injured person should be considered with enormous skepticism. Indeed, such efforts undermine the 7Th Amendment (“the right of trial by jury shall be preserved”) and similar provisions in our state constitutions. As a final matter, it doesn’t encourage our business and people to behave more safely. Instead, it puts profits over people and makes it more likely that people will be seriously injured or killed.

If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, please contact House Law today.

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