Tort Reform

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Conservatives routinely blame trial lawyers (a historically Democratically leaning group) for all matter of economic woes from rising medical costs (see Health Care), for everything that goes wrong in the civil court system and more. Trial lawyers are accused of being the litigious bad conscience of America.

The reality, of course, is different (conservatives often have trouble with reality because the Bush Administration is not part of The Reality-Based Community). For example:

  • Businesses bring four times as many lawsuits as individuals and are 69% more likely to be sanctioned for frivilous conduct than Plaintiffs' lawyers. See here (full report here).
  • Tort reform advocates routinely confuse court ordered compensatory damages that are awarded to prevailing Plaintiffs with litigation costs. Yet, even simple economics shows that the actual payment of compensation from someone who breached their obligations to someone who was harmed by the breach is economically a good thing and not a bad one, even if the transaction costs themselves may be a necessary evil.
  • Tort reform advocates often create the impression that punitive damage awards are the norm, when in fact, they are exceedingly rare, awarded only for intentional quasi-criminal conduct, and are often reduced on appeal (hence showing that the system works to prevent excessive judgments).

Tort reform also presents an interesting test case for conservatives' oft-stated views on federalism. Conservatives profess to believe in states' rights, and they generally decry the expansion of the powers of the federal government vis-a-vis the states. In the case of tort reform, however, their current ascendancy in Congress gives them the opportunity to implement a policy that has been accepted by some states but rejected by others. Hence, they have the opportunity to achieve their goal of shielding their wealthy donors from being held accountable for negligence, but they can do so only by disregarding one of their core principles. Most conservatives have chosen expedience over principle and have supported sweeping federal legislation in an area that has traditionally been left to the states.

External Links

Washington Monthly (Tort Reform Myths).

National Review Online (a pro-tort reformer's summary of the results in 2004 on ballot issues and judicial races which were definitely bad for progressives).

Daily Kos Links

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