Tort reform debates have been around for decades. That is why it is unfortunate that the same, stale gimmicks and stale arguments continue to be trumpeted time and again by those hoping to change laws to take away rights. Just last month, for example, the constantly recycled “Judicial Hellhole” report was released which made headlines by arbitrarily selecting a few areas and claiming that they were the “worst” places for big businesses.
For those of us concerned about legal fairness, it is long-past time that these misleading and unhelpful “reports” be retired to the dustbin. That is essentially one of the points made in a recent letter to the editor which was published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch in response to yet another story labeling one county in Illinois one of the “worst” in the country.
The letter was written by the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association. The attorney explains how one of the main purposes of these tort reform groups is to discourage citizens for exercising their legal rights. When an individual or a business acts negligently and causes harm, it is common sense that the one harmed should be able to seek recompense from the wrongdoer. Yet that very principle is what is pointed to as some egregious wrong by these big-monied groups.
Of course, the true motivation behind these groups becomes apparent when one looks closer. Funded by big corporations, these tort reform groups mainly hope to further insulate these large companies from being held legally responsible when their conduct harms others. As the letter reiterates, while railing against legal responsibility, the hellhole report, “fails to explain why corporations shouldn’t be held accountable in our courts when they produce unsafe products, pollute air and water, swindle their employees, or otherwise harm or even kill individuals.”
Nothing To Fear
When selling these misleading reports and “rankings,” tort reform groups usually rail about “frivolous lawsuits. Usually one or two cases are plucked out of nowhere and used as if they individually have any bearing on the system as a whole and the need to fundamentally take away rights of all community members.
It is telling that statistics or individual cases are always cherry-picked, because the truth of the overall system is that “frivolous” lawsuits are not a problem. Those who work within the civil justice system are acutely aware of the many checks in place which make it virtually impossible for a case to advance very far in the process if they do not have merit. All that happens is that an attorney who brought such a suit would lose significant funds and their time advancing a cause which would be booted from the system.
Instead, the suits that are filed have merit. Some are close calls, and there are disagreements about details, but most of those disagreements are hashed out by the end. That is why the majority of cases settle beforehand–both sides understand what happened and are willing to end it amicably.
If frivolous lawsuits are not a problem, then what is the push for tort reform all about?
The truth is that these groups are mostly worried about meritorious suits and being held fully accountable for their conduct. Instead of working within the system and paying for any harm caused by their negligence, many big interests have no problem trying to simply take away the rights of community members to sue at all. That, or limit what they can recover regardless of the extent of their injuries. These laws often target medical malpractice cases and Illinois birth injury lawsuits. We urge residents to be educated about these proposals and to stand against them.
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