Critical Section


Tort reform now!

Tuesday,  05/17/05  11:45 PM

I just read something which boils my blood, and needed to share it.

<rant>

When private parties prevail upon the court system to settle a dispute, is called a “tort”.  The U.S. tort system is badly in need of reform.

Currently in a tort each side hires lawyers, makes their case, and the court rules.  In the event either party doesn’t like the ruling, they can appeal, and each side hires more lawyers, makes their case, and the appeals court rules.  This can be bubbled all the way up to the Supreme Court if both parties haven’t run out of money.  In addition to ruling on the matter under dispute, the court can also assign damages to either party.  Very rarely does the losing party have to pay the winner’s legal costs.  And this is the fundamental problem.

Because there is no liability for legal costs, anyone can bring a suit against anyone else with impunity.  In many cases the plaintiff don’t even have to pay their own lawyers, because their lawyers will take a case on contingency.  This means they’ll take a percentage of the settlement.  Most suits are settled “out of court” even when there is no basis for them, because fighting a suit is so expensive.  The lawyers will get paid no matter what.

The solution is simple; make each party responsible for the other party’s legal fees.  This would strongly discourage people from filing suits without merit, because they would be taking a substantial financial risk.  This single change to the U.S. tort system would transform the entire landscape, not merely for patent disputes, but for product liability, organization negligence, etc.  Right now when someone in the U.S. suffers any kind of misfortune, their immediate instinct is to sue someone, and with small effort they’ll probably find to find a lawyer to take their case.  This change would greatly reduce the number of frivolous suits which get filed.  In case you wonder whether this change would have horrible consequences, this has been the way torts have worked in Western European countries since time zero.

We’ve all read about the guy who committed murder in a McDonalds, then sued McDonalds alleging their food made him do it.  Or the student at Columbia who failed a class, then sued her professor and the University for causing pain and suffering.  Or the woman who was awarded $2M because she hurt her back opening a pickle jar.  Or the burglar who sued the owner of a house he broke into, because he cut himself on a broken window.  How about the drum majorette who was cut from the spirit squad, and sued the High School for violating her civil right to perform?  I’m no fan of cigarette smoking, but if you choose to smoke, should you then sue tobacco companies when you get lung cancer?  Recently there have been lawsuits filed by fat people against food companies for making them fat.  It goes on and on.

I am not pro-lawyer or anti-lawyer, I am pro-tort-reform.  And you should be as well.  If you have a chance to support candidates who are pro-tort-reform, take it.  This single issue is hurting U.S. business productivity more than any other.  It affects the price of our products and reduces our global competitiveness.  It is not a stretch to say this one issue has more leverage over our average quality of life than any other.

</rant>

Oh, the thing which boiled my blood?  Remember Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine, while protesting on behalf of refugees?  Her parents are suing Caterpillar for knowingly selling a bulldozer that could endanger lives.  I am not making this up.

P.S. TangoMan agrees, and suggests this was Darwinism in action.

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