Theories Of Leadership Essay, Research Paper
Tort Reform: New York: Shutting Off the Money Faucet
A tort is wrongful interference against a person or property, other than breaches of contract, for which the courts can rectify through legal action. The reform effort is aimed at reducing the number of unnecessary lawsuits that burden the court system while still allowing injured parties compensation when they’ve been wronged. This latest effort at tort reform has given rise to the same spirited rhetoric that might be found in a courtroom.
With the prominence of the tort reform debate on state legislative floors across the country, many states have introduced and even passed bills that address reform issues within their respective states. Many reform proponents feel that changes in the civil justice system should be left to the states. The alternative, congressional regulation, presents more old big government solutions and the problems that accompany it.
Thirty-nine states have already enacted statutory ceilings on pain and suffering awards, which may be recovered from public entities. Thirty-seven of these states cap economic damages in addition to the capping of pain and suffering damages. Two states limit pain and suffering damages regardless of whether the defendant is public or private. Two other states do not permit a pain and suffering recovery at all unless the claimant has suffered permanent loss of a bodily function, dismemberment or disfigurement; and satisfies a medical expense threshold. New York urgently needs to follow suit, because it is a sitting duck for frivolous tort litigation.
New York is in the grip of a litigation explosion that is clogging their courts and slowing their economy. According to the “Tort Reformer” over 84,000 new lawsuits are brought every year…that’s the equivalent of more than 300 suits being filed on every business day. When a deranged tort system destroys an industry – driving people out of jobs, panicking customers – and does so based on junk science admitted to the courtrooms by injudicious judges – there really is the possibility of making sure it doesn’t happen again.
When criminals fleeing the scene of a crime can win damages in court against the police for using force to stop them, something is wrong. When a drunk who falls in front of a subway can sue the transit authority and win in court, something is wrong – and every fair-minded person knows it. New Yorkers want a civil justice system that provides real justice, grounded in common sense and fairness. New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform that consists of over 1,000 small and large businesses, professionals, and local governments has been working for three years to change the laws that govern civil suits.
The Problem: Civil In-justice. Approximately every sector of New York’s economy is affected by the threat of virtually open-ended liability created by the state’s current tort laws. Few issues have as great an impact on the bottom line of so many different companies and industries, as well as municipalities, school districts and non-profit groups, throughout the state of New York.
In the last four years New York City taxpayers have paid out approximately $1 billion in awards for personal injury actions. Well over half of that amount was attributable to “pain and suffering,” a highly subjective and amorphous concept, as opposed to economic damages such as lost earnings or medical expenses. Of the total amount paid, 33 to 40 percent went to attorneys in the form of contingency fees or to experts or other in reimbursements for expenses. In FY 1977 the City’s total payout in tort actions was less than $25 million compared to $120 million in FY 1987 a mere ten year difference, and a staggering $282 million for FY 1996. Would you believe half of that money could have been used to hire 2,800 police officers or over 3,600 teachers? The time for corrective legislative action for New York has come.
New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform, prompted by outrageous damage awards (like the nearly $5 billion judgment against General Motors and the $600,000 won from the State of New York by a cop killer), backs a comprehensive reform program that will protect the rights of injured victims to recover damages while restoring a measure of fairness and balance to the system. Below are some of the key changes supported by New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform.
Repeal joint and several liability in most cases – when there are multiple defendants in a tort suit, the rule of joint and several liability can force any one of them to pay the entire amount of damages – regardless of their actual degree of fault. This often produces unfair outcomes, especially when the defendant who is mainly responsible is insolvent, uninsured or outside the jurisdiction of the court. NYCJR recommends abolition of the rule of joint and several liability. Each defendant would liable for damages only to the extent they are actually responsible. Moreover, where governmental entities clearly are responsible for damages, they should pay their share.
Cap non-economic damages – non-economic damages include such highly subjective concepts as “pain and suffering,” emotional distress, and “loss of consortium” or “companionship,” which do not involve cash loss and have no precise cash value. NYCJR recommends capping these awards at $250,000 to reduce general liability and medical malpractice insurance rates.
Limit lawyer contingency fees – plaintiffs’ lawyers customarily collect up to one-third of damages awarded to their clients in all tort suits no matter how much money is involved, and even if the award results from a settlement after relatively little work on the lawyer’s part. This is one reason why injured parties end up pocketing less than half of all the money that is awarded. NYCJR suggests a scale where an attorney, after expenses and other limited deductions are accounted for, would recover; 30% of the first $250,000; 25% of the next $250,000; 20% of the next $500,000; 15% of the next $250,000; and 10% of any amount over $1,250,000. Scaling back these attorney fees would put more money in the plaintiff’s hands.
Adopt a “statute of repose” – The statute would protect New York from damages on any construction project once completed. To establish a reasonable framework, NYCJR proposes a law limiting liability to 10 years both for product cases and for actions against engineers, architects, landscape architects and contractors.
Bar recovery for injuries caused mainly by a plaintiff’s own negligence – persons injured in accidents caused mainly by their own negligence can now recover money from third parties who were less than 50% at fault. The City recommends that no award be available to a plaintiff whose “contributory negligence” is greater than the defendants’ combined negligence or whose injury was the direct result of alcohol or drug abuse.
Stop felons from collecting from crime-related injuries – A convicted felon was injured while fleeing the scene of a crime successfully sued New York City for damages. To prevent such cases from arising in the future, NYCJR favors adoptions of a rule barring criminals from suing after they are hurt in the course of committing a felony. Taxpayers should not have to pay claims to people injured while violating the very law the taxpayers rely on for their own physical safety. Such a provision would prevent the kind of unjust awards paid out in cases like McCummings v. New York City Transit Authority.
Fix the statute of limitations – Unreasonably long statutes of limitation for liability can unfairly hold defendants to standards of practice that were not in effect when the item was manufactured or the service offered. NYCJR recommends the adoption of a three-year statute of limitations for product liability cases (beginning from the time of the discovery of the injury).
Tort reform debate has been reviewed at many levels, including the courts and the legislatures. In principle, though, tort reform may also be reviewed within the frame of biblical standards. As commentary of this issue, we offer the following scriptural references:
Proverb 22:16 – He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches…shall surely come
Leviticus 19:15 – Ye shall do no righteousness in judgment…but in righteousness shall
thou judge thy neighbor.
Proverbs 1:19 – So are the ways of everyone that is greedy of gain; which taketh away
the life of the owners thereof.
These tort reform proposals are essential to the financial well being of New York. They can no longer afford to be victimized by unfair and exaggerated claims brought by plaintiffs and their lawyers. The City acknowledges that genuinely meritorious claims must be compensated. But there is a difference between compensating and rewarding. Trial lawyers’ grasp on the tort litigation process has held taxpayers captive to laws no longer suited to the times. The result has cost New York many millions of dollars. It is time New York broke free and responded to the need for an equitable tort litigation process.
Just about everybody loses in the ongoing game of lawsuit lottery. Consumers lose when liability costs drive up prices while reducing the availability of goods and services. Workers lose when jobs are lost to foreign competitors with less product liability exposure. The poor lose when the threat of lawsuits makes it difficult for non-profit groups to deliver services. Taxpayers also lose when local governments are seen as the deepest “deep pocket” of all.
It’s time that somehow, some way, to rein in the lawsuit business in New York. The law is not a lottery. It’s not a game. It’s about justice. New York needs a legal system that throws away mottoes about “an accident and a dream”–a system that meets the needs of the people, not of the trial bar.
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