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This is an industry euphemism for the systematic emasculation of the product-liability laws. The 'reforms' the big companies are seeking involve a reduction in the legal levels of damages claims, the removal of "punative damages" imposed because of company wanton breaches of laws (or innaction), and severe restrictions on the rights of thiose injured to join forcs in class-action suits.
Tort reform has becom a major project by a very large group of American corporations and trade associations; especially those who make products which can poison or pollute (P&P). They have cooperated in a number of trans-industry coalitions (ATRA, PLCC, CCJR & etc) since 1988 to dilute product-liability laws and to remove or reduce the possibilities of class-action lawsuits.
The coalitons have a special focus on legislating to remove or reduce laws which allow sympathetic juries to impose substantial punative damages on wayward corporations for harmful products (usually a jury reaction to gross corporate negligence or a callous disregard for health and safety).
Tort reform has many different aspects. In general, the Republicans want to reduce product-liability for the major corporations who provide them with most of their campaign funds, while the Democrats (who are often generously supported by very wealthy 'plaintiff lawyers') are happy to see the public's right to sue retained in all its glory. Occasionally, tort reform is justified.
This subject therefore involves corporations with special interests; legal firms earning hefty fees; cases which are appealed and appealed, delayed, distorted and supported by massive funding; top political figures on both sides eager for campaign contributions; lobbyists wallowing in the mire; politicized legal institutes and think tanks becoming involved through amicus briefs; PR campaigns ad nauseum; media manipulation (especially the generation of urban myths about lawsuits); and the media willing to sensationalise. See Stella Awards, etc.
Those involved professionally in promoting tort reform, have deftly manipulated the reporters' weaknesses for the 'gee-whiz' anecdote. Editors are always imploring their writers to find ways to sum up and sensationalize complicated personal stories in 40 words or less, and this has created a wealth of opportunities for corporate-generated urban legends about ridiculous damages claims, extraordinary jury decisions; massive pay-outs for trivial harms; insurance fees skyrocketing, etc. These are all blamed on manipulative plaintiff lawyers.
In Deccember 2000, Newsweek's cover story blared: "Lawsuit Hell: Doctors. Teachers. Coaches. Ministers. They all share a common fear: being sued on the job." The article claimed that because "Americans will sue each other at the slightest provocation," the country is suffering from an "onslaught of litigation" that [they claimed] costs Americans $200 billion a year!
The story was full of tales claiming to illustrate Americans' overarching sense of legal entitlement and desire to "win a jackpot from a system that allows sympathetic juries to award plaintiffs not just real damages ... but millions more for the impossible-to-measure 'pain and suffering' and highly arbitrary 'punitive damages.'
This story rested almost entirely on pseudo-information generated by a corporate-funded think-tank with the [inverted] title of "Common Good" . It was a highwater mark for the tort-reform movement (and a lowwater mark for Newsweek journalism)
In fact the majority of tort-claims are made by large corporations, and most are made on another corporation. In 1995, 61% of the fees to lawyers for product liability cases were made by corporations, and only 29% came from personal and small business.
The tort reform movement has been the best-funded, longest-lasting, and possibly most-successful project run by the major poisoning and polluting companies in America, and its effects on legislation have extended world-wide.
See also Philip Morris 1994 list of candidate organisations for help in a tort reform campaign:
• Philip Morris List
[Some of these hot-links should work]
• APCO & Associates
• Neal Cohen
• Product Liability Coordination Committee
• Victor Schwartz
• Manhattan Institute
• Peter Huber
• Walter Olson
• urban legends - tort reform
• Stella Liebeck (coffee spill)
• Washington Legal Foundation
• Business Roundtable
• Coalition for Civil Justice Reform
• Wayne Valis
• Dan Quayle
• Common Good