The American civil justice system is the best in the world because it provides even our most humble citizen with an opportunity for a fair hearing regarding a grievance, whether the opposing side is someone who lives on the next block, a wealthy individual, a large corporation or even our own government.
Supporters of so-called “legal reform” legislation at national and state levels claim that too many lawsuits have led to excessive costs and delays in our civil justice system. They say juries can no longer be trusted to render fair verdicts, and they allege the American civil justice system is broken.
While our system isn’t perfect, it is a great exaggeration to call it “broken.” And limiting your access to the courthouse or your rights to recovery is not improving the system.
Much of what we hear about “reform” of the civil justice system originates from wealthy individuals, corporations and organizations who want one-way justice. They also seek greater control over our nation’s political agenda. In fact, a report released in late 2003 by the Commonweal Institute examined the so-called “tort reform” movement and the groups behind it. The report, “The Attack on Trial Lawyers & Tort Law,” details the methods these groups has used in a long-term campaign to alter the tort system for the benefit of their supporters and, indirectly, to weaken the progressive causes and politicians that trial lawyers tend to support.
The facts speak for themselves. Look at the following data compiled by the American Association for Justice:
Tort claims do not clog our courts. In fact, such claims accounted for only about 5 percent of all civil claims filed in state courts in 1992, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Center for State Courts (NCSC).(10)
Tort filings in state courts declined between 1989 and 1998, according to an NCSC study of tort filings in 28 states — by 1 percent. This is particularly significant because over 95 percent of all tort cases are filed in state courts and states' populations increased between 1989 and 1998. In a study of 16 states, NCSC found that the number of tort filings decreased 16 percent between 1996 and 1998.(2)
Tort system costs pale in comparison to costs associated with injury. A Rand study estimated that medical spending for the treatment of injuries cost the U.S. economy nearly $154 billion in 1997 (about 20 percent of the nation's health care bill) and that lost work time adds another $100 billion.(3) The National Safety Council estimates that accident costs totaled $480.5 billion in 1998.(4)
About 6,000 deaths and millions of injuries are prevented each year because of the deterrent effect of products liability, according to the Consumer Federation of America.(5)
When juries speak, corporate America listens. That's why: Defectively designed cribs no longer strangle infants.(6) Flammable children's pajamas have been taken off the market.(7) Once-harmful medical devices have been redesigned.(8) Auto fuel systems have been strengthened.(9) Cancer-causing asbestos no longer poisons homes, schools and work places.(10) And farm machinery has safety guards.(11)
(1) National Center for State Courts, Examining the Work of State Courts, 1994 (1996). (2) National Center For State Courts, Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 (1999). (3) M. Susan Marquis & Willard G. Manning, Lifetime Costs and Compensation for Injury, Inquiry, Oct. 1, 1999, at 244. (4) National Safety Council, Costs of Unintentional Injuries by Class, 1998, (visited June 23, 2000). (5) See Hildy Bowbeer, Todd A. Cavanaugh, & Larry S. Stewart, Timmy Tumble v. Cascade Bicycle Co.: A Hypothetical Case Under the Restatement (Third) Standard for Design Defect, 30 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 511, 544 (citing Product Liability Reform: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Consumers of the Senate Comm. on Commerce, Science & Transp., 100th Cong. 54 (Sept. 18, 1987) (testimony of Gene Kimmelman, Legislative Director, Consumer Federation of America)). (6) See Jon Burstein, Hit by Tragedy, Couple Work for Crib-Safety Bill, The Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 26, 1999, at 1B; Angela Curry, Coaster Company Settles Lawsuit Over Two Models of Baby Cribs, The Kansas City Star, Mar. 26, 1998, at E8. (7) See Gryc v. Dayton Hudson Corp., 297 N.W.2d 727 (Minn. 1980). (8) See, e.g., Tetuan v. A.H. Robins Co., 738 P.2d 1210 (Kan. 1987) (dealing with dangers of Dalkon Shield). (9) See Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 174 Cal. Rptr. 328 (1981). (10) See Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Prods. Co., 493 F.2d 1076 (5th Cir. 1974). (11) See Friederichs v. Huebner, 329 N.W.2d 890, 906 (1983).
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