We take it as a sign of progress that The Washington Post editorializes today in favor of tort reform, “A Fall and a Lesson.” With major criminal convictions of high-profile trial lawyers in recent months — Lerach, Scruggs, Weiss — the paper’s failure to comment was starting to look like an abdication, untenable for a editorial page that takes its responsibilities seriously. (And the Post publishes a very good editorial page, certainly not as mindlessly predictable as the NYT.)
It’s a typical, begrudging editorial, to be sure — on the one hand, on the other hand — and it includes a straw-man argument in responding to The Wall Street Journal’s call for “loser pays.” While “loser pays” is the legal standard in most of the world, and the U.S. business would generally find it preferable, it’s really not a priority for the tort reform movement right now. Political reality precludes it.
But let us not begrudge the begrudging. The conclusion is sound, and it’s a sign the topic of tort reform must remain a major issue for policymakers.
The truth is that there have always been and will always be voracious and ethically challenged lawyers, just as there have always been and will always be voracious and ethically challenged people in business. Both sets of scoundrels deserve to be punished. What is needed now is a sober discussion about how best to achieve a fairer, more balanced legal system through comprehensive tort reform. Such a system would not be lopsided but would shield businesses from legal blackmail, just as it would protect the rights of legitimate plaintiffs to win just compensation from negligent businesses that caused them real harm. Smart and ethical businesspeople and lawyers — and, yes, there are many who fit the bill — would be wise to start working together to craft such a fix.
UPDATE (1:50 p.m.): A good video from the Wall Street Journal with Paul Gigot, Kim Strassel, Daniel Henninger and Jason Riley, discussing lawsuit abuse by the Scruggs and Milberg Weiss.
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