First up, I'll address Steve, who blogs at The Otter Limits and his post here. He provides a link to Wikipedia on tort reform then summarizes by stating,
Basically, it reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits.
No, Steve, it doesn't. It caps damages and takes options away from jurors, you know, peers, otherwise known as the American people.
See, our founders left a land of propertied elites who pranced around in powdered wigs ruthlessly prosecuting feudal serfs for encroaching on the propertied elites interests. A New Deal and a new country was formed, where the power of law and government was laid into the hands of the people.
Tell the folks around those parts who were gathered in as jurors what happened and let them judge. Many, many laws since have been written to enlarge the importance of lawyers and judges, mainly to diminish what the good people of the jury is allowed to hear. And now some people want to further limit the American people from punishing dangerous and negligent practices of very powerful propertied elites.
It's Deja Vu, all over again. But back to Steve, who attempts to define a frivolous lawsuit:
In my opinion, a woman that sues McDonald's (and wins) because she spills her hot coffee on herself, is afrivolous lawsuit.
Now, if I were a member of the Bush defending, warmongering, 101st fighting chairborn trike force, I would say something like, oh, I don't know, "Hey Steve, why do you hate America?" but since I am not like that I won't say it.
Everyone knows of this case and it is the canard poster child for tort reform because very few people know the details of the case. Allow me to introduce you to Stella Liebeck.
This 79-year-old grandmother was a passenger of her grandson when they went through the drive-through at McDonald's for a cup of coffee. He pulled to the curb so Stella could add cream and sugar. She placed the cup between her knees to remove the lid and dumped the entire cup of coffee in her lap.
The coffee was so hot, she received 3rd degree burns, required skin grafts and hospitalization for 8 days. She lost 20% of her body weight during this time, reducing her weight to 83 pounds. She required 2 years of medical treatment. It sounds like it damn near killed her.
But how is this the fault of McDonald's? I'm glad you asked.
She asked for a settlement of $20,000. Her medical bills were $11,000 and McDonald's offered $800. So a lawsuit went forward. Further investigation revealed that in the previous ten years McDonald's had received literally hundreds and hundreds of complaints about the scalding and dangerously hot coffee and McDonald's had paid out over half a million dollars to settle them, but their coffee remained virtually the hottest in the industry.
So, in short a massive corporation realized it was producing an injurious product and yet continued to do so and refused reasonable settlement offers. A jury awarded Stella nearly $3 million, the judge cut that to $640,000. During the appeals process, both parties reached a settlement for less than $600,000.
I am opposed to huge corporations giving boiling cups of hot lava to old ladies and giving free coupons for sundaes when they get burned.
When a massive multi-national corporation becomes aware of an injurious product they are making, I want the fear of a trial lawyer to cause them to cease and desist. When a "cap" is placed on liability, corporations will do a cost-benefit ratio, much like the infamous Ford Pinto Memo.
In 1972 the auto industry needed the value of a human life so they could do cost-benefit ratios. I mean, if it costs more than the benefit, why bother to do it? To remove their fingerprints from coming up with such a morbid and absurd dollar figure for a human life, the auto industry pressured the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to do it for them.
The NHTSA placed the value of a human life at $200,725. Ford plugged in this number with 180 fiery deaths a year and found a full recall with an $11 fix per car would make the cost of fixing the pinto outweigh the benefit of 180 lives. It just warms the heart, doesn't it?
It was a trial lawyer, with a sky-is-the-limit damages, coupled with public outcry that caused the NHTSA to force Ford to recall the Pinto. Then, as now, the Government watchdog organization was wholly captured by corporate overlords.
Judges throw out most frivolous lawsuits. Some get through. Oh well, I can live with that. But tort reform limiting caps, no way. Those of us who understand history and the corporate mentality don't want any part of it.
Trial lawyers are the good guys.