What Could the Annual Cry of Tort Reform Mean to You?

Every year, without exception, we hear about tort reform as legislative and congressional sessions approach. Should we applaud or fear? I'll give you my perspective and some examples. I admit my leanings against tort reform, because I have been a personal injury attorney representing badly hurt people for many years.

As a result of that experience, I have also been privy to the huge abuses of those huge corporations called insurance companies. They are the AIG's of our world. When AIG was bailed out by our government from financial ruin, it was known to be so bad that it had to change its name. Let's reveal it. Now, it is known as Chartis Insurance.

Back to the question, should we applaud or fear the cries by some legislators for tort reform? Well, let's go beyond the recent Toyota unexpected acceleration claims to the more recent broad spread salmonella infections from contaminated eggs. It's now recognized that the egg farms' practices were despicable. Feces, rats, and every other known form of contamination were present. It's no wonder that people across this country got deathly sick.

Regulation is crucial to a level playing field for consumers, particularly in this era of growing corporate power. However, regulation alone has never been enough. Consumer agencies like the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been swamped by huge workloads.

They cannot keep up. Furthermore, lobbyists for the corporations are skilled at weakening and fending off regulations that would protect consumers. Against this, for example, the FDA's caseload by the mid-2000s extended to more than 11,000 drugs, over 100 new drugs a year, and products spanning medical devices to vaccines. It cannot do everything.

Another example of the inability of government alone to thwart, prevent, or obtain compensation for bad products that are rampant in the market is that during last month, I was a leader in obtaining a settlement of millions of dollars in a case, because the government was unable to regulate the manufacturers of the product, guarantee the safety of people exposed to it, or get compensation for the injured people. As a result of the inability of government to ensure safety, consumers are increasingly left with the courts not only to compensate them when the regulatory system fails to protect them but also to deter manufacturers from cutting corners in the future.

The annual tort reform crusade by manufacturers weakens our efforts for public safety. Strong product liability laws remain vital to public safety and health, no matter how passionate the political debate on tort reform.

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