As we approach the presidential election this year, I predict that the issue of tort reform will emerge once again, as it often does in elections. Tort reform is the disingenuous idea that there is a lawsuit crisis, and reforms are needed to keep America safe from personal injury lawyers and lawsuits arising from accidents. The word “tort” comes from French, and means “wrong.” A tort is generally defined as “a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability.”
The main problem with tort reform is that it is based on lies and hypocrisy. Study after independent study has shown that there is no lawsuit crisis, no insurance crisis, and our capitalistic system is not falling apart due to frivolous lawsuits. In states where damage caps have been put in place to limit awards from personal injury lawsuits, there has been no resulting decrease in insurance premiums for automobile or medical malpractice insurance.
A complete analysis of tort reform and all of its fallacies is not possible in a short blog post. However, here are some of the biggest hypocrites of the tort reform movement.
Considered by many as one of the founding fathers of the modern tort reform movement, Bork went on to hire a personal injury lawyer when it suited him. Bork had a distinguished legal career as a Yale Law School professor, Federal Judge, and Solicitor General (arguing cases before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government.) Throughout it all, he was staunchly in favor of tort reform and derided essentially all lawsuits as frivolous. Yet when he tripped and fell and allegedly was injured at the Yale Club in Manhattan, you can guess what he did. He hired a personal injury lawyer and sued, asking for $1 Million. This is the typical reasoning of tort reformers. “Victims of accidents don’t deserve compensation, unless of course the person injured is ME.”
Senator Trent Lott
Senator Trent Lott was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. He toed the party line and was in favor of many tort reform issues such damage caps for medical malpractice awards. However, when Lott found himself in a jam with his insurance company after Hurricane Katrina, he hired a well-known personal injury lawyer and sued. Those in favor of tort reform often claim that those who file lawsuits are seeking to win the “lawsuit lottery.” This is just one more example of a prominent tort reformer and life-long enemy of the civil justice system taking advantage of it when it suited his own personal interests.
Former United States senator Rick Santorum was one of most outspoken proponents of damage caps for personal injury lawsuits in history. He even sponsored a bill in 1994 seeking to put a federal limit on damages on medical malpractice cases. The proposed bill would have capped damages in personal injury lawsuits stemming from medical malpractice at $250,000 for pain and suffering. This would have meant that even in a case where a doctor amputated the wrong limb, the injured person could only be left with $250,000 to compensate him or her for a lifetime of pain and suffering. As with many tort reform politicians, Santorum didn’t feel that any of these laws should apply to him or his family.
Santorum’s wife was allegedly injured by a chiropractor and she wasted no time filing a personal injury/medical malpractice lawsuit. Mr. Santorum even testified at his wife’s trial. The family’s personal injury lawyer asked the jury for $500,000, twice the amount Santorum believed others should be able to get under the bill he sponsored. When asked about this blatant hypocrisy years later, Santorum gave double-speak, cringe-worthy, nonsensical answers that are difficult to watch. His is another case of a crusading politician who wants to shut the courthouse doors except when it suits him.
This election cycle, if politicians start talking about how personal injury lawyers are ruining the country and driving up the price of insurance, keep an eye out for which one of them has used a personal injury lawyer and taken advantage of the civil justice system when it suited their own interests.