Tort reform is a series of proposed laws intended to change the way in which the civil justice system works. In many cases, tort reform laws focus on personal injury. Those who support these changes believe they will fix problems within the justice system, including the overwhelming number of personal injury cases, statutes of limitations, excessive damage awards, and indirectly, increasing insurance costs. Those against the changes believe they interfere with an individual's right to justice in the legal system.
One of the most common approaches to tort reform focuses on statutes of limitations – which would limit the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit following his or her injury. Critics point out it can take years – decades, even – for injuries to develop following the initial incident, removing the legal recourse many would have to seek compensation. Those who support statutes of limitations believe it makes it difficult to reconstruct a case and create a clear indication of how injuries occurred.
Another approach to tort reform is to limit monetary damages courts can award to a plaintiff. Reforms focus on punitive damages, which are given to plaintiffs above and beyond compensatory damages. Over the last few decades, juries have increasingly awarded huge punitive damages in addition to what a plaintiff receives for medical care and property damage compensation. This is sometimes referred to as what the plaintiff receives for his or her “pain and suffering.”
How Tort Reform Puts Legal Rights at Risk
Though it might seem beneficial to limit the number of cases in the court system and/or to control the amount of money a plaintiff gets for pain and suffering, tort reform has its fair share of critics. Some believe tort reform accomplishes its goal of restructuring the legal system, but does so without truly fixing anything. Some also believe it allows businesses and other defendants to cut corners and put safety on the back burner.
Others are concerned about the way in which tort reform would affect the average person's ability to afford quality legal representation. A 20-year study by authors Stephen Daniels and Joanne Martin explained in their book Tort Reform, Plaintiffs' Lawyers, and Access to Justice explored how changes to the Texas tort process affected plaintiffs' ability to obtain judgements.
Attorneys in personal injury cases work on a contingency basis and collect their compensation when and if plaintiffs win. Their fees are based on a percentage of the award their client receives. The authors examined how attorneys selected cases and how limiting awards affected their choices over the course of two decades. They also found that tort reform in Texas resulted in limited options for some individuals who were injured through no fault of their own. They referred to these people as “tort reform's hidden victims.”
Tort Reform and Your Personal Injury Case
Though tort reform might seem beneficial or an action for the greater good, when you are a victim and faced with high medical bills and an unsure future, the abstract goal of reforming the civil justice system has personal consequences. It would be devastating to learn that legally, you are forced to deal with your injuries alone because symptoms did not arise until 10 or 20 years following the implantation of a medical device or use of a drug. It would be equally disturbing to receive only enough money to cover your medical costs, despite a complete change in your quality of life.
If you would like to learn more about tort reform or you have questions about how it could affect you and your personal injury case, the attorneys at Andrus Wagstaff law firm at 866.534.5014 or visit the firm's website at www.andruswagstaff.com