NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 17, 2008

After 20 years of state and federal efforts to reform a runaway legal system, the trial bar is reviving the monster, says the Wall Street Journal.

At the federal level, lawyers and law firms invested in 2006 more than $85 million to get pro-lawsuit Democrats elected.  Congress's new leadership has begun a political repayment plan -- packing legislation with provisions to increase the number and size of lawsuits.  So far, this effort has been largely stymied by President Bush's veto threat.  The tort bar sees 2008 as the real prize; it has already thrown $107 million toward increasing Democratic majorities.

The trial barons are making more progress at the state level, as described in a report by the American Tort Reform Association.  States had been making progress:

  • New laws cleaned up venue requirements, reformed punitive and noneconomic damages, and enacted medical malpractice reform.
  • So-called "judicial hellholes" like Texas and Mississippi have seen insurers return and premiums fall.

The trial bar is fighting back, with success, says the Journal:

  • In last year's legislative session, Michigan lawmakers proposed repealing safeguards for prescription drug providers.
  • Maryland legislators wanted to revoke medical liability reforms; and Florida's legislature entertained the nullification of its joint and several liability reforms.
  • The trial bar's big coup was in Colorado, where Democratic Governor Bill Ritter signed a law increasing previous limits on noneconomic damages.

Lawyers have also been laboring to create opportunities for more lawsuits, more money and more time to sue, says the Journal:

  • Last year, Alabama saw legislation that would allow a tort claim to continue even after a plaintiff had died, while California proposed authorizing lawsuits for any violation of privacy.
  • New Mexico and New Jersey passed laws authorizing citizens to file "false claims" suits on behalf of the state -- in effect turning private individuals into state bounty hunters.

Source: Editorial, "The Tort Bar's Comeback," Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2008.

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