According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, “The tort system is truly broken and in bad need of repair.” Tort cases are becoming an extremely common fight in the U. S. legal system. Since 1986, 38 of the 50 United States have assumed some sort of tort reform. Though, with many flaws of the tort system today, the distressed U.S. economy will go on falling behind if the public doesn’t insist on fighting for justice in our legal system. The governing bodies of these U.S. states are required to continue to search for reform and recommend strategies to fix the exploitation in the tort system. The legal system set up by the predecessors will be subjected to corruption that in itself is negligence from these governing bodies. A tort law is a law that governs injuries or harm caused by one person to another person. Tort laws cover every conceivable type of harm, such as physical injuries, property violations, and deprivations of rights (Clarke, 2018). Crimes involving tort occur when negligence or intentional civil wrong is done, and it does not arise out of a contract or statute. A tort is an act that injures a person mentally, physically, emotionally, or any other way. Acts of tort also include damage to one’s property or reputation (Clarke, 2018). Tort crimes usually pursue compensation which regularly results in a money changing hands to cover the damages. As a result of the tort system, victims pursue compensation for a wrongdoing which has been done against them, making that person legally responsible for the wrongdoing and wanting to prevent it from happening again to another person. However, since tort cases involve compensation, the U. S. legal system has started to develop into a more corrupt system and is starting to experience abuse. Victims are misusing the legal system and requesting excessive compensations for their injuries. The U. S. people and the economy will suffer if each state does not adopt tort reform.
Even though tort law was originally implemented to rectify the wrongs done against another person separate from criminal acts, tort cases have been taken to extreme levels that have begun to damage the economy and the nation (Clarke, 2018). Reform is needed.
In 2009, the estimated cost of the tort system in the U.S. was approximately 248.1 billion dollars. Broken down, every U.S. citizen spends approximately 808 dollars annually on “litigation taxes” which fund United States tort cases (Balik, Carl). Understanding these numbers, it is ridiculous to think that a family of 6 devotes around $5,280 each year on frivolous cases in the U.S. judicial system. You can see that the system is being abused, with each U.S. citizen paying almost $1,000 on tort cases. Caps on the money in a tort case will put a limit on what the jury can award a victim. These need to be put in place to prevent further damage and abuse to the U. S economy and legal system.
Lawsuits of medical malpractice may be the greatest threat to justice in the legal system. Tort cases are constantly filed against medical practices which cause health care prices to dramatically increase in states lacking caps. Medical practitioners are forced to undergo an unnecessary number of costly tests and procedures to defend themselves from frivolous lawsuits. The expenses of these precautions cause hospitals and other medical facilities to charge more for the care given to the patients, which adds to the rising prices of medical insurance coverage. A recent study in the Journal of Law and Economics has shown that doctors cut back on the number of hours they work each week to protect themselves from medical malpractice lawsuits. Litigation threats are the greatest concern when deciding which treatments used to treat patients, according to 85% of these doctors. As liability risks increased, physicians treated fewer patients weekly; however, as liability risks decreased, the number of patients treated by doctors weekly increased. The study found that doctors cut back their workload by almost two hours each week when the expected liability risk increased by 10 percent (“Fear of Malpractice Lawsuits Prompts Doctors to Work Less”). It is estimated to cost medical practitioners as much as 100 billion dollars each year to defend themselves from medical malpractice lawsuits. Because of these outrageous fees, some doctors have been forced to no longer perform lifesaving procedures if they could possibly result in a lawsuit (“Medical Liability Crisis Fact Sheet”).
More than 80 percent of all the medical malpractice lawsuits worldwide are filed within the United States. However, only one-fourth of these cases are successful, leaving 60 percent of the cases filed within the U.S. to frivolous and unnecessary causes. These lawsuits are both expensive and time consuming and result in negative effects to the country’s economy. Between 1996 and 1999, the number of medical liability claims nationwide rose 5 percent (“Medical Liability Crisis Fact Sheet”). Since 1994, the average jury award has risen 76 percent to 3.5 million dollars (“Medical Liability Crisis Fact Sheet”). As the numbers of these outrageous lawsuits increase, the price of health care also increases.
President Obama has referred to the rising cost of medical care as “a threat to our economy” and a “ticking time bomb.” However, because many states do not have legalized tort caps, doctors are forced to either move their practice to states with lower premiums or close their practice entirely. With fewer doctors in an area, the service of a physician is more demanded resulting in more expensive doctor visits. With doctors moving over state borders to continue their practices, states with tort reform caps are experiencing an increase in doctors which result in a decrease in death tolls. However, states lacking tort reform caps are experiencing a decrease in doctors, therefore resulting in a rise in death tolls. Without tort reform, President Obama’s analogy of the “ticking time bomb” will only continue to worsen.
Another division that is seeing problems with the nation’s legal system is small businesses. It is estimated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that small businesses in the United States spend approximately 88 billion dollars each year on litigation costs, ranking this second to healthcare costs in the problems that small businesses face (NERA). Every 2 seconds, a lawsuit is filed in the U.S. Businesses fear lawsuits because of the court costs and liabilities that often cause many careers to end in bankruptcy. According to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, “Every small business is just one lawsuit away from going out of business.” To avoid lawsuits, 62% of business owners have claimed to have been forced to make certain business decisions (“Small Businesses: How the Threat of Lawsuits Impacts Their Operations”). These decisions have in turn affected consumers because 61% of these decisions have caused products and services to be more expensive to cover possible tort cases. The national economy has continued to experience damage as 11% of these decisions have forced small businesses to lay off employees.
However, if small businesses would gain protection from unfair and frivolous cases, many business owners stated that they would be able to improve their corporation and give back to the economy. Specifically, 6 out of 10 companies claim that the overall revenue of their corporation would increase along with their facilities, services, market expansion, and employee benefits if they would be able to feel assurance and protection from frivolous and unfair lawsuits (“Small Businesses: How the Threat of Lawsuits Impacts Their Operations”).
Frivolous lawsuits are continuously being filed against small business owners. One example was filed by a judge in Washington D.C. when he dropped a pair of pants off at a dry cleaner. The owners of the neighborhood dry cleaner were sued for $54 million over misplacing Judge Pearson’s pants. Although the owners attempted to replace the pants and found the original pair a week later, the plaintiff denied that the pants were the ones he had dropped off and stated that the company was not delivering their promise of “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Pearson refused later settlements offered by the owners of amounts up to $12,000.
Although the owners of the dry cleaners ended up “winning” the case, they were forced to declare bankruptcy because of the outrageous cost of the lawsuit. Even though the overseeing judge found the owners of the business to be innocent, they still “lost” in the end because they no longer had their company or a source of income. One would assume that a Judge in the District of Colombia would know better than to sue an outrageous amount of 54 million dollars for a pair of misplaced pants, but this case just acknowledges the corruption of the tort system in the United States.
Tort reform would prevent lawsuits such as the case of Judge Pearson from destroying small businesses which force hard working Americans to unjustly lose their jobs. Small businesses would again thrive in the corporate market and more jobs would be created due to the growing diversity in the business world. With creating more jobs, the nation’s economy would begin to climb out of the recession that the nation is experiencing today.
Small businesses are experiencing cases which often result in bankruptcy to their company. However, large businesses are “feeling the sting” of the tort system as well. Large corporations often suffer from outrageous lawsuits because the judicial system has made it very difficult for companies to safely establish themselves in major corporate areas.
Judges make corporate growth very difficult for some companies with the creation of “judicial hellholes.” The American Tort Reform Foundation defines these locations as a place where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, gen¬erally against defendants in civil lawsuits (Lanter, Ann W.). These hellholes leave a limited amount of space for major companies to launch businesses without feeling threatened by frivolous lawsuits. Judicial hellholes attract lawsuits nationwide because judges are known to favor the plaintiff’s plea in most of the cases brought to trial in these areas. Sherman Joyce, the president of the ATRA, stated, “Personal injury lawyers bring cases to judicial hellholes because they know these courts will produce a large verdict or settlement, a favorable precedent, or both.” Judicial hellholes make it very complicated for large corporations to succeed.
These judicial traps are common in many of the major corporate areas of the nation: including parts of South Florida, West Virginia, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlantic City, and most notably, New York City (Lanter, Ann W.). Large businesses are understandably hesitant to establish businesses in these areas because the threats of million-dollar lawsuits often outweigh the benefits of being in these cities.
Tort cases are becoming far too common in U.S. cities. New York City spends more money on lawsuits than the next five largest American cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia—combined (Avion, John P.). One case out of New York in which the judicial system was undoubtedly abused occurred in 2006. A man with a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 stumbled onto the tracks of the subway and was hit by an oncoming train, severing his right leg. The man was awarded 2.7 million dollars as his lawyer argued “They’re not allowed to hit you just because you’re drunk and, on the track,” (Avion, John P.). In no way was this accident a fault of the train company. If this “victory” is not a sign of corruption in the legal judicial system of the country, it is uncertain of what one would consider corrupt. Actions must be taken to prevent further cases like this to continue harming the collapsing economy.
In addition, in the case of New York City, it seems that trial lawyers are a large problem in the judicial system. For example, groups like the New York Trial Lawyers Association set up the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Corporation which mapped out 11,000 miles of defective New York City sidewalks. The Association then gave a written notice to the city with the reasoning explained “so that injured people could sue” (Avion, John P.). Through the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Corporation, anybody seeking a cause to sue may do so with an injury along the sidewalks that are pointed out with help from New York State trial lawyers. The state now sets aside more money to settle personal-injury lawsuit than it does to parks, transportation, homeless service or the City University system (Avion, John P.). State wide control is needed to keep unnecessary cases such as this out of the hands of the trial lawyers and judges.
Trial lawyers profit from the abuse they cause to the legal system. The average annual salary of a trial lawyer is $75,000. However, lawyers, such as Richard Scruggs, who exploit the nation’s tort system, can make millions of dollars on given cases. Richard “Dickey” Scruggs was one of America’s highest paid attorneys until he was jailed in 2008 for attempted bribery. His net worth is estimated to be worth more than 1 billion dollars. Scruggs gained his legal fame in the 1998 when he represented the state of Mississippi in a class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Each of the trial lawyers involved in this case earned $15 billion; however, because it was a class action lawsuit, the people defended received very little compensation.
Trial lawyers continuously benefit from the abuse they cause to the legal system. Many plaintiff lawyers have manipulated the courts so that they stand to gain millions — and even billions — in legal fees at the expense of their clients, consumers, patients, employees, average investors, small business owners, corporations assaulted by frivolous and unwarranted lawsuits, and the state and national economies (“Have You Been the Victim of Lawsuit Abuse?”). It is essential that the national and state governments enforce laws to control the excessive gains of these legal representatives.
Thanks to the awareness of the growing public, actions are being taken in the hopes of finding an end to this corruption in the legal system. The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 was set up to allow the federal government to oversee large class-action lawsuits and prevent abuse to the cases filed in the U.S. Under this act, any lawsuit exceeding 5 million dollars receive jurisdiction from the federal government. However, because this has proven to not be as successful as hoped, experts developed other suggestions to potentially find an end to the abuse in the tort system.
One way suggested by experts to end abuse in the legal system would be to avoid paying lawyers up-front; instead lawyers should have to wait to be paid until the victim’s collect their compensation resulting in reverse-action lawsuits. U.S. District Judge of Manhattan, Lewis A. Kaplan, came up with a creative plan: forcing plaintiffs’ lawyers to bid for the job in a reverse auction. The firm that promised to give the biggest sum to the victims won. This is one of the best ways ever devised to ensure that the tort system effectively fulfills its compensation function (“How to Fix the Tort System”). This would encourage lawyers to make their cases more public and get the information about the case to larger members of the class. If people feel they have not been harmed by the case, they will not feel that the case is worth fighting and as a result, not join the lawsuit. Another tactic that could aid in the end of frivolous cases is inflicting more serious crimes on lawyers who bring about these cases. Judges need to recognize frivolous cases and enforce their disciplinary powers upon the lawyers who are attempting to rob the judicial system. A third proposal for resolving problems in the tort system is limiting the number of cases brought to court involving the same litigation. Many cases are repeatedly fought in courts which continue to cost defendants millions of dollars. By reducing the punitive damages for injuries caused by products that are already overseen and controlled, these corporations could be saved from repetitive lawsuits. Finally, as proposed by the AAEM, defendants deserve the right to countersue a plaintiff and their attorneys for negligent institution of a lawsuit (Weiss, Larry D.). With the threat of a countersue lawsuit, many frivolous lawyers would reconsider their plaintiffs case to determine if it is valid and able to withstand fair trial.
Although these suggestions could help monitor the tort system, they would not be able to help the corruption come to an immediate and complete end. Congress needs to continue searching for ways to administer fair and just trials to help raise the country out of the economic state that that the U.S. is facing today.
The tort system was originally adopted to rectify the wrongs done against another but has turned into a dishonest and corrupt money-making system. The intent of tort system could have ultimately benefited U.S. citizens had it not been for the recent corrupt practices of the trial lawyers. Now, the United States’ tort system has turned into a damaging legislation and because of it, the American economy is suffering. State and Federal legislators must act to fix the growing crisis of the corrupt legal system. The entire nation will continue suffering from this abuse and the economy will suffer at the hands of unjust leaders if action is not taken. Reform is needed.
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