Victims who count on the civil justice system to attain fair compensation for losses may soon face substantial limitations. A series of federal tort reform bills could undercut the ability of Mobile injury claimants to file a claim and receive adequate compensation for losses.
According to the Washington Post and Center for Justice and Democracy, the proposed bills would undermine the purpose of the civil justice system, which is to carefully weigh all relevant claims and issue decisions based on what is fair - not just who has the deepest pockets.
The civil justice system is often the only way for victims of car accidents, bad faith insurance, medical malpractice, defective products or other wrongs to recover damages and hold the responsible party accountable.
While the civil justice system will still provide remedies even if reforms are made, it will likely be much more of an uphill battle for plaintiffs. Although tort reform supporters say their intent is to clean up the system, unburden the courts from frivolous claims and make it tougher for greedy lawyers to prey on hapless doctors and companies, that's not an accurate reflection of the current system. Nevertheless, this narrative is being effectively sold to a public that still largely believes that the so-called "hot coffee lawsuit" was really about a greedy woman who haphazardly spilled her drink on purpose to make $1 million.
How Could Changes to the Civil Justice System Impact Consumer Rights?
Consumer rights could be impacted in profound ways by these proposed tort reform measures.
One of the biggest changes could be the disincentives being put into place for bringing civil rights claims and for bringing claims under laws like environmental laws and employment laws. The change which would make these claims more difficult to file involves imposing sanctions on attorneys for frivolous lawsuits. When a similar rule was put into place before, Center for Justice and Democracy indicated it had to be rescinded because meritorious claims were not being brought before the courts.
Changes in rules for certifying federal class actions would also make it harder for plaintiffs to use an important tool to get justice when many victims suffer similar harm. Often, it makes sense to file cases only if they can be brought as class actions because each person hasn't suffered enough individual harm to bring an independent claim.
Without class actions, many companies would get away with releasing defective or even harmful products because it wouldn't be worth any individual victim's time to sue. Proposed reforms would allow class actions only in cases where victims suffered the same type and scope of harm, which would make it much less likely these cases could be successfully filed.
Another proposed change would involve capping damages for medical malpractice plaintiffs for non-economic losses, such as those caused by pain and suffering. A senator has also proposed limiting the ability of federal officials to provide money in settlements to third parties who can best use the money to help people who have been hurt by wrongdoing.
These changes would make it harder for plaintiffs to be made whole, especially in cases where damage caps prevent victims of negligence from getting the full compensation they deserve.