In the argument to reform tort law, proponents of change often use the word “reform” as an allusion to positive results. Along with this “reform” comes the argument that change in tort law is necessary because there is an “epidemic” of lawsuits which bogs down the legal system, costs too much money, and ultimately affects the pocketbooks of businesses and workers alike.
These hyperbolic arguments can lead any casual observer, and voter, to reconsider the current state of tort law, but before we commit to “reform”, we should pause and ask the question: Is there really a lawsuit crisis?
Tort Reform, as a topic, has been a point of contention between the Governor’s office and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Combined with this ongoing argument at the state level is a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, an organization which advocates for the plaintiffs of civil lawsuits, which ranked “how fair and reasonable the states’ tort liability systems are perceived to be by U.S. business.”
A highlight of the report shows that “frivolous lawsuits” have been reduced by 32%, but did not acknowledge the opposite side of the argument: How fair are states to plaintiffs with legitimate lawsuits?
Most striking is a featured map that grades the states, dolling out various levels of passing and failing. However, half of the states which received failing grades either did have an opinion about the Institute’s poll or simply declined to answer. Interpreted in another way: If you don’t participate in the survey, your state’s pro-business image is damaged.
The tactics and results of the survey should automatically raise questions about how legitimate the argument for tort reform is. If the only question asked is how friendly the court system is to business, then the legitimate plaintiffs and complaints they have tend to be overlooked.
So before we all commit ourselves to change and reform, let’s make sure we know how all parties will be affected by such reforms. After all, when was the last time a business ever got injured on the job?