Burnett & Williams

What is Tort Reform?

What is Tort Reform?

Frederick County courthouse

Centuries of judicial opinion have led to the creation of common law and the law of torts. The goal of tort law is for an at-fault party to provide full compensation for his wrongs to the victim; if someone injures someone else, he should have to make up for his wrongdoing, an idea summed up in the phrase restitutio in integrum. Tort reform refers to changes to the common law, statutory law, or civil procedural rules intended to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with tort law.

While tort reformers seek changes respecting caps on damages, strict and brief statutes of limitations, venue requirements, limited class actions, and obligating the loser to pay litigation costs, proponents of tort reform typically cite three main reasons for their opposition to the modern day law of torts:

  • Litigation is a terrible method to enact restitutio in integrum, as it’s a costly and lengthy endeavor. Reformers argue that lawyers and expert witnesses reap the rewards of the tort system rather than victims. Legal fees can double, triple, or qudrapule the overall cost of the case; rather than paying attorneys and experts, those costs should be paid to the victim.

  • While the defendant or tortfeasor may have committed a tort that has seriously injured someone else, the insurance company ultimately pays the victim. The insurance company’s payment is spread over throughout the network, which then raises the overall cost of insurance for those who have nothing to do with the tortfeasor or the victim.

  • The law of torts stifles innovation. Proponents argue that because tort law provides a venue to sue for anyone wronged by a product, companies are reluctant to market a product that is otherwise safe except to a small number of people. So, engineers are more concerned with making sure that an item is nearly 100 percent safe instead of researching and developing the next product.

At Burnett & Williams, we view tort reform through a different lens.  Because we work closely with accident victims every day, and see firsthand the longterm devastation many of our clients experience through no fault of their own, we believe that tort reformers are unfairly seeking to undo centuries. At its core, tort law is designed to compensate the victim for an injury with both parties as equals before a tribunal. Both parties are held to the rules of civil procedure and evidence, and have equal protection under the legal process including:  the power of the subpoena; the ability to cross-examine witnesses; the right to a jury as the ultimate fact finder for the case.

While tort reform continues to be a topic of debate, tort law remains an important part of American jurisprudence, providing an avenue for redress for an injury due to the action or inaction of another, and the availability of possible judicial action enhances overall societal safety.