Tort Reform Part I: Progress IS Possible

By January 8, 2007Briefly Legal

Every week on the NAM’s radio program, “America’s Business,” host Mike Hambrick talks to The American Justice Partnership’s Renee Giachino about judges, jury awards and the economy-killing excesses of the trial bar. We usually plug the segment by saluting AJP’s efforts to “keep up the battle” or “fight the good fight” for legal reform.

But AJP and other like-minded groups like the American Tort Reform Association, those that strive to restore common-sense to the legal system, do more than fight or battle. THEY WIN!

The successes are highlighted in a recent Business Week cover story and online package, “How Business Trounced the Trial Lawyers.”

In state after state, the tide has turned in one of the most protracted, hard-fought political struggles of the past two decades–the battle over so-called tort reform. Few other business issues have generated more controversy, polemics, and campaign spending than the effort to scale back the types of lawsuits people can file and how much they can recover. In a speech on Nov. 20, for example, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. charged that “the broken tort system is an Achilles’ heel for our economy” and exhorted his audience to tackle “one challenge that will take a concerted effort over the long term to correct–the need for reform of our legal system.”

But what Paulson and others have overlooked is that in large areas of the country, that “reform” has taken place, and business has emerged triumphant.

The articles focuses on Texas where the voters and lawmakers have worked to replace a system of “jackpot justice” — rewarding the most outrageous of claims to the detriment of business owners and the state’s economy — with one that provides fairness and certainty. (Congrats to those who contributed to the progress, folks like Texans for Lawsuit Reform.)

Business Week oversells the story’s thesis a lot, we think, because excessive legal claims are fungible, flowing to jurisdictions still marked by capriciousness and out-of-control awards. Thus, it’s important that the good fight still gets fought and the battle keeps up, particularly at the state level (since congressional prospects for tort reform are a bit dimmer these days). But at the same time, we can acknowledge the successes, thank the hard workers and savor the alliteration: “Trouncing…Trial Lawyers…Trouncing.”