We needed lawsuit reform long before a New Mexico woman dumped hot coffee in her lap and won a $2.9 million judgment against McDonald’s.
Consider these recent legal events:
In Omaha, Neb., an offended man filed a $40 million lawsuit against a software manufacturer and a retail outlet because his computer encyclopedia contained a racial slur.
In Coeur d’Alene, a wealthy father plans to sue North Idaho College because a referee’s error cost his son a chance to go to the national wrestling championships.
In Spokane, Sacred Heart Hospital is bracing for a huge suit because its physicians diagnosed Nghia Nguyen as terminally ill and wanted to stop his kidney dialysis.
The system is broken. As such, the tort (personal injury) reform offered in the GOP’s “Contract With America” is long overdue.
Manufacturers and businesses need reform because runaway litigation has driven up the cost of consumer goods, stifled innovation, and hamstrung U.S. competitiveness. Manufacturers cite numerous examples of life-saving drugs and products that never were sent to market because of the high cost of litigation.
Doctors and hospitals need reform because soaring malpractice insurance premiums have forced some of them to quit providing valuable services such as obstetrics. Physicians are sued more than any other professional group. Sixty to 75 percent of those suits are judged to be unmerited and are dismissed.
One tort reformer correctly described litigation as “a hidden tax on the American economy.”
The wealthy Association of Trial Lawyers and its Democratic allies in Congress argue that a loser-pays provision in the reform bills will freeze out the “little guy.” But the controversial element applies only in federal cases involving more than one state and when one side offers to settle.
The three bills, which include a cap on punitive damages, will force flamboyant attorneys to think twice before filing frivolous suits, designed to wring out-of-court settlements from plaintiffs.
Supporters say insurance rates will fall if these bills pass.
Who knows? At least, they should make us all a little more cautious when we order a cup of restaurant coffee.
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