By David Soll
We have all heard the term “tort reform.” First, a “tort” is a non-criminal civil wrongdoing that is caused either on purpose or through negligence in which the act, intentional or otherwise, has caused physical, mental or monetary damage. You, the injured party, has the legal right to sue the wrongdoer for damages.
To use one layman’s example, if you are harmed by people who run a chemical company that have decided to save a few dollars by dumping their company’s toxic goo into the ground — and that goo reaches the water table and directly results in your cancer diagnosis — you can sue for the pain and suffering you would not have otherwise endured if not for the negligence of that chemical company.
(Of course, the company is incorporated, so there are legal protections in place for the actual wrongdoers, but that is for another discussion.)
So, you are injured and you sue. Ever see the movie Erin Brockovich? (If you haven’t, I highly recommend doing so.) I won’t go into specifics, but in the end, the company in question lost the case to the tune of approximately $330 million and the many grievously injured families were able to get some financial redress to the various sicknesses that were the direct results of that company knowingly and illegally dumping a cancer-causing chemical in the ground.
Over the years, many lobbyists have been paid to get politicians to change the laws that govern how much financial redress you can receive if you are damaged by a negligent company. We are told that the reason for tort reform is to eliminate fraud and to lessen the number of questionable lawsuits and to deter people from filing false claims. This is total bunk.
If we want to rid ourselves of frivolous lawsuits, we need to reform how lawyers and the courts accept cases. I suspect most judges can smell a frivolous suit a mile away and simply toss the case out, perhaps even go so far as to threaten the lawyer with disbarment. We need to give our judges the incentive to do just that — and to do so in the interest of the public as a whole, not just the business.
The kind of tort reform the GOP has been attempting the last several decades would limit the amount you can recoup to $250,000 for medical damages. What would you do if your bills reached $1 million, but tort reform only allowed you $250,000 in redress? You would lose, and the company and the people who run it would win.
I urge all Americans to be vigilant on the information we seek as it pertains to this very important issue.
David Soll is a Democratic candidate for Winnebago County Board in District 20.
From the Aug. 1-7, 2012, issue