Tort reform laws won’t affect most lawsuits. But it’s not a good thing.
In the 1980’s, insurance companies and manufacturers – as well as doctors – began complaining that people were using lawsuits to collect money they did not deserve. They thought people were filing too many lawsuits and getting too much money.
They wanted to get rid of the lawsuits and keep juries from making large awards. They called it “tort reform.” (A tort is a personal injury lawsuit)
The insurance companies and manufacturers started advertising, trying to win over people who would become jurors. They started contributing money to representatives and senators they thought would vote for them, and contributing money to judges’ campaigns.
In Ohio, they got the laws they wanted. In some lawsuits for serious injuries, you’re limited in the money you can get for pain and suffering – the new law “caps”, or limits what the jury can award. This does not affect most cases, but it’s there.
It’s harder and more expensive to sue a manufacturer for a bad product, or a doctor for malpractice, than it ever was.
The new laws made punitive damages – which juries have awarded for centuries – much harder to collect than ever. But most car crash cases do not involve punitive damages.
The biggest change, though has been in the people sitting on juries. The advertisements and publicity about strange cases – a lot of it urban folklore – has made most people highly suspicious of the motives of any person bringing a lawsuit.
I don’t think this is fair. I believe the man or woman who hires me, and I won’t present a lawsuit to a jury unless I believe my client.
But you can’t blame the jurors. If I were a juror, after hearing all the publicity, I would be suspicious too.
Honestly, most car crash and fall lawsuits aren’t seriously affected by the change in law. One way to look at it is that if your lawyer is willing to take the case on a percentage fee, he must think it’s worth something or he wouldn’t take the case.
As for jurors’ attitudes – most of us agree that jurors are still willing to award fair money for injuries. It always pays to emphasize certain things that apply to your particular lawsuit – the severity of the crash, the permanency of the injury, the fact that the doctor is saying that you won’t be able to work as long, or do as much as you were before – and this applies more than ever now.
But jurors still listen. They really listen if you are suing someone who did something bad, or if you sue a company they don’t like or haven’t heard of. Best of all, they don’t think like lawyers or judges. They are independent.
Most of the laws that were changed by tort reform are a mistake. Even if they only affect some lawsuits.
The changes are unfair, and they keep some people from getting a fair recovery for serious injuries.
Almost as bad, the changes have made jury trials too complicated. And whatever the insurance companies wanted, they got when they started persuading jurors.
I’ve noticed something as a lawyer. People always think that the money paid to an injured person is unfair or unreasonable – unless they are the injured person.
“Tort reform” will be undone in ten to twenty years. I’m looking forward to it.
I have been a lawyer over 30 years. What tort reform means depends on your case. If you want to know what your lawsuit is worth talk with an experienced Attorney. Call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed.