In his letter, Mr. Jones, has bought into the lawsuit reform myth and feels lawsuits have gotten out of hand. He gives a number of examples based solely on hearsay and suggests that we need tort reform. Not so. The legal system already has three safety mechanisms in place to prevent, dismiss, and correct “frivolous lawsuits” and “runaway jury verdicts.”
1) A lawyer with a Contingent-Fee agreement would not be willing to spend thousands of his own dollars and hundreds of hours on a case with no legal basis and little chance of success.
2) The Summary Judgment, when counsel advises the court that there is no need for trial since the facts and law applicable to the case would prevent the other side from winning.
3) The Directed Verdict, were a judge tells the jury that they must make a certain decision because something comes out at trial that prevents the other side from winning as a matter of law (e.g. statute of limitations).
Here are a few statistics from the National Center for State Courts and the Bureau of Justice:
Tort cases have declined by 25 percent in the last decade.
Tort cases only make up five percent of the civil caseload while business and corporation contract cases makeup 51 percent of the court’s work.
Punitive damages are uncommon and are sought in just five percent of all tort trials resulting in plaintiffs winning a median punitive damage award of $55,000.
Medical malpractice payments have steadily dropped over the last 10 years.
Malpractice constitutes only 2.4 percent of national health care costs and states enacting caps on non-economic damages haven’t experienced any lower costs.
If there is a problem with litigation, it lies with America’s big business interests, rather than with the ordinary citizen. By and large corporations, businesses large and small, operate without being negligent or engaging in misconduct. That’s due, in part, to a strong civil justice system which allows deserving individuals to get justice and hold wrongdoers accountable. However, the deck is stacked against every day Americans; take the SLAPP lawsuit, usually brought by big business with the sole intent of censoring, intimidating or silencing their critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon the criticism or opposition. If legislation is enacted to solve this non-existent problem of “frivolous lawsuits”, what recourse will the average citizen have?
John Kocovsky, Hazelhurst