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BG Falcon Media

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BG Falcon Media

The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Big business needs tort reform

Corporate America has waged a lengthy public relations campaign in favor of so-called “tort reform,” calling for laws to prevent individuals represented by trial lawyers from filing lawsuits or collecting monetary awards.

Both major presidential candidates have openly endorsed tort reform, and commentators often suggest that too many individuals file lawsuits.

Yet corporations file four times as many lawsuits as individuals and are sanctioned by courts for filing frivolous lawsuits 69 percent more often than trial lawyers or their clients, according to a recent report by Public Citizen.

Consumers outnumber businesses by 40-to-1, suggesting businesses are far more litigious than any individual.

Even those who protest the loudest against lawsuits file many suits themselves.

Insurance companies often sue each other and uninsured individuals. In Cook County, Ill., insurance companies filed 8,000 suits in 2002. Insurers are so litigious that in 2003 the industry lobbyist American Insurance Association asked that insurers be exempted from a model tort reform bill they had proposed to govern consumers.

Further, the perception that individuals sue at the drop of a hat is factually incorrect.

A survey by the Institute for Civil Justice estimated that only approximately 10 percent of all accidental injuries resulted in claims. Of these, about two-thirds were motor vehicle-related claims. Thus, outside of car accidents, as few as seven percent of those with work-related injuries and 3 percent of others actually complain.

Similarly, a Harvard study of medical malpractice in New York estimated that eight times as many patients were injured by doctors’ negligence as filed as a malpractice claim.

This is not a case of plaintiffs in potential frivolous lawsuits wisely choosing not to sue. It means that a large majority of those with legitimate complaints simply sit on their rights and get no compensation at all.

Although trial lawyers are often accused of greedily filing frivolous lawsuits, they actually file fewer frivolous claims than corporate attorneys. Federal courts have the power to impose sanctions including reprimands, fines and injunctions on future litigation on those who bring frivolous claims.

Of the last 100 cases in which federal courts have done so, 27 were against corporations and their lawyers and only 16 were against trial attorneys. The only group sanctioned more than corporations were individuals who brought suit without the assistance of lawyers.

This suggests that trial lawyers actually reduce the number of frivolous suits. Trial lawyers are normally paid on a contingent fee. They get a specified percent of a verdict and nothing at all if the client does not win.

Trial lawyers have an incentive not to take cases lacking merit because they cannot make any money on them.

Every lawyer who represents individuals has had to turn away a potential client who feels intensely that they have been wronged, but to whom the system offers no recourse.

Individuals who do not seek legal counsel might proceed to court despite lacking a valid case, risking court sanction.

The case for tort reform rests on a variety of anecdotes relating how various undeserving plaintiffs have scored millions for virtually nonexistent injuries.

But it is statistics, not anecdotes, that capture the truth of the legal system. The big picture is clear that most people with good claims don’t sue, and of those that do, only about 56 percent win. This number has stayed the same for several decades, suggesting careful judges and juries continuing to make good decisions in close cases.

Horror stories also often suggest that unsympathetic plaintiffs receive enormous pain and suffering awards and punitive damages. Damages for pain and suffering have been shrinking since 1977 and punitive damages are given in only 1.5 percent of personal injury verdicts.

This is not a legal system gone mad. Corporate America has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a 25 year campaign to discredit the lawyers who sue them for fraud and negligence.

The vast majority of people use the system appropriately.

We are not a litigation nation. There is nothing wrong with anyone taking a genuine dispute to court when necessary, but corporations should stop demonizing the legal system that they use all the time.

Everyday people deserve as much access to court as do businesses.

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