The Truth About Tort Reform
Our Civil Justice System, Tort Law and Who's Behind the Attacks
The one place where every individual, workers or small business is equal to the world’s most wealthy and powerful corporations is in our courtrooms. It is because of this that corporate special interests are focused on restricting your access to our courts and changing state and federal laws so our civil justice system can no longer hold them accountable. This is being done through what those special interests call “tort reform.” In reality, those changes are providing corporate immunities and allowing those corporations to increase their profits at the expense of consumers, workers, policy holders, small businesses, the government and others.
Our Civil Courts and Tort Law
Our civil justice system and tort law protect both individuals and businesses. A tort is “a wrongful act that results in injury to another’s person, property or reputation or the like, and for which the injured party is entitled to receive compensation.”
For individuals, these laws protect us from:
Violations of our civil rights
Toxins in our environment
Cheating and financial fraud
Tort law is also very important for our local businesses. Business torts protect them from:
Intentional interference with contracts
Interference with business or employee relations
Misappropriation (stealing) of trade secrets and ideas
In civil cases, a plaintiff (person or business) files a claim charging that harm has occurred because another person or company has violated tort law. As is provided in the 7th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the case is tried in a courtroom before a jury. Unlike criminal cases where the defendant is found guilty, in civil cases the defendant is found liable for the damages. Compensation to the plaintiff can be comprised of both economic and non-economic damages. Sometimes a jury will also award punitive damages when a defendant’s conduct was willful and reckless and led to the plaintiff being harmed. Punitive damages are the only source of real accountability for egregious misconduct by corporations, because corporations cannot go to jail. Punitive damages are intended as punishment for the worst kinds of conduct.
A lot of the media coverage and attacks on our nation’s civil justice system is focused on tort cases, but these cases involve just 3.5 percent of all civil filings nationally. Of that total, nearly one-third of the cases are business v. business tort cases.
According to independent data from the National Center for State Courts, West Virginia ranked 39th in the country for the number of civil cases based on population—38 states had more cases than we did. Civil cases continue to decline here. In 2010, there were 4,302 cases filed in West Virginia. That number decreased to 4,098 in 2012, a decline of 4.7 percent.
The Push for "Tort Reform"
So-called “tort reforms” limit or prohibit the ability for you and our courts to hold negligent corporations and individuals accountable. This allows corporations and their insurers to increase profits at the expense of the public. Sometimes the costs for these injuries have to be covered by taxpayers because those harmed are forced to take public assistance. It also affects overall public safety because wrongdoers aren’t held accountable.
Insurance corporations claims that these tort reform laws are needed so they can “afford” to do business.
Early estimates show that the property/casualty insurance industry had a net profit of $50 billion in 2014 (Hartford Courant - January 7, 2014).
The industry's net worth totaled a record $673.9 billion as of September 30. The industry's gains on its investments totaled $8.8 billion just through the first nine months of 2014, with net investment income totaling $34.3 billion. (Verisk Analytics - January 26, 2015).
The 2013 net profits for the industry totaled $63.8 billion (Verisk Analytics – April 21, 2014)
The corporate special interests behind the effort also claim that the reforms are needed to protect small business interests—but the “cost and frequency of lawsuits” ranked 71st of 75 concerns in the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ 2012 poll.
“Threat of lawsuits” ranks dead last among problems associated with business costs
In 2008, it was 65th. In 2004, it was 64th.
Prior to 2004, it was never even listed as a concern